She left a large corporation where she worked long hours, and one of the main reasons she chose to join us was the laid back and relaxed atmosphere of a small company- exactly what we were determined to change. Although talented, she did only the minimum necessary, and was not willing to make any sacrifices and commit to our goal.
I faced a tough decision. On the one hand, firing a talented and experienced employee, in a time when most of the employees were new as we wanted to drive growth we recruited new people , seemed unwise. In addition, I knew that our relationships with major clients might get hurt and a substantial knowledge base would be lost.
On the other hand, not firing her would mean establishing double standards for our employees — most were required to work hard, whereas Jane was leaving early and refused to contribute extra efforts. Her opposition to the change had already begun creating undesired effects, as a few of the employees resented her. In order to solve the problem, I tried to make Jane relate to the new goals and change her attitude.
When all milder measures failed, I had to make a decision. I decided to fire Jane. Although I knew that in the short run things would be difficult, I concluded there was no other way. I needed the most dedicated team possible, a team who was personally committed to the growth of the company. Jane, as head of a major division, would have undermined this effort in the long run.
Personally, making the decision was very hard. It meant firing someone with whom I had worked with closely for a long time. However, In terms of team spirit, matters improved greatly, and we succeeded in building the right team to lead the company forward. The problem has been known in the company for years, but was never resolved. I led and supervised 21 employees, coordinated the work of 40 people, and 2 weeks later implemented a solution.
During the initial discussion with Dan and 5 senior managers, I suggested the methodology for solving the problem. I presented the feasibility of the proposed solution and an initial estimate of the costs, and operational implications. When can you deliver? However, I felt our suggested solution was operationally premature. Despite estimates that we need to come up with a solution within 2 weeks, I asked for 2 more weeks to conduct trials.
I explained that the financial consequences of failure would be tremendous and that we must also ensure we provide a consistent solution. Ultimately, they approved the trials. I presented the issues, emphasized the significance of the business opportunity, and defined a timetable. I also asked the Marketing VP to evaluate the magnitude of the problem in other markets. His report revealed more opportunities that solving the problem will create. This required my direct collaboration with 5 marketing people operating in more than 50 countries, 3 application managers, and our China production facility.
I led the coordination of the full scale trial with senior management, the marketing and operations departments, and application managers. During production I supervised the work of 17 employees. I felt very proud. A shipment was sent to the customer for re-evaluation, and received his approval.
This was the first time in my 3 years at my company that a process was successfully changed on the first try. However, not everybody embraced the solution. After several weeks of discussions I persuaded him this was the only way. The challenge was thus to achieve a breakthrough with a range of limitations. I committed myself to the task and aimed towards achieving a turnaround of 1 team ranking in less than 6 months. After my initial interactions with team members, I realized that my team did have an inherent desire to excel — it was the firm belief in the possibility that was amiss.
The team had a mental block which had been fortified by frequent changes in leadership. On a daily basis, we would discuss the difficulties each person was facing and everyone would suggest solutions.
We also made it a point to brainstorm, share breakthroughs and experiences in such a forum. A culture of healthy competition was encouraged and performers were applauded in group meetings on a daily basis. The results were evident in time-span shorter than expected: We stood by each other in toughest of situations — be it a daunting collection task or resource, skill or knowledge limitations.
I realized that people, when empowered, can contribute not just through deliverables but in a variety of ways — be it team spirit, creative problem solving, a winning attitude or an unparalleled work ethic.
I also witnessed the magic of active engagement daily discussions, meetings and sharing forums with team members — often the toughest problems had been creatively solved by these personnel who were the closest to the task.
When personnel know exactly how their deliverables can be achieved, performance moves towards excellence since the clarity works wonders and encourages independence.
The experience also brought home the fact that I needed to be more patient when it came to people. A further area of improvement is team-building and managing conflicts.
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