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Did You Grease the Squeaky Wheel? Or Change the Tire?

Did You Grease the Squeaky Wheel? Or Change the Tire?

by Frank Roche on March 17, 2010

in Management

When I originally shot IT.tv Episode 69 talking about the big management mistake of greasing squeaky wheels, I got a lot of feedback. Most of it was positive and some people even said that I had given them new perspective on an age old problem: employee morale.

I like to think that a new perspective is what I bring to KnowHR. I’m not in the “biz” but I am an employee, and I have been working full time since I was about 16 (yes, I did work off the books for awhile) and I’ve seen lots of mistakes made over and over by different people. This, however, is the biggest and the one that rubs me the wrong way most often. On Thursday, Yahoo! Finance published an article from the New York Times. I want to cite a little bit from it because I think it’s very relevant to what we discuss here on a day to day basis.

About 10 years ago I was having my annual holiday party, and my niece had come with her newly minted M.B.A. boyfriend. As he looked around the room, he noted that my employees seemed happy. I told him that I thought they were. Then, figuring I would take his new degree for a test drive, I asked him how he thought I did that. “I’m sure you treat them well,” he replied. “That’s half of it,” I said. “Do you know what the other half is?” He didn’t have the answer, and neither have the many other people that I have told this story. So what is the answer? I fired the unhappy people. People usually laugh at this point. I wish I were kidding. I’m not. I have learned the long, hard and frustrating way that as a manager you cannot make everyone happy. You can try, you can listen, you can solve some problems, you can try some more. Good management requires training, counseling and patience, but there comes a point when you are robbing the business of precious time and energy.

It’s important to recognize that not only are you responsible for your company, but its morale, its employees, and the general tone of the office. If you allow a toxic person to hang on and keep bribing them to not be toxic, you’re only reinforcing the negative toxic behavior. That’s not to say you terminate every employee who’s not happy. Some have legitimate gripes, and some, while wrong, might give you the knowledge you need to steer the company in a certain direction that you hadn’t thought of. That being said, though, there’s no shame in cutting your losses and there’s an extra special non-shame in cutting your losses with someone who was only dragging down your company to begin with.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Don’t even take Jay Goltz’s word for it. Talk to your employees. Get to know the squeaky wheels and see how the atmosphere changes when they aren’t there. If you see a big change, then get rid of that wheel. Yes, this requires a lot of hands-on management and you may not be used to that, but the benefits far outweigh the amount of elbow grease they’ll require to get done. If you’ve had a similar situation, let us know in the comments how you handled it. Did you grease the squeaky wheel? Or did you change the tire?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }


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