Discarding Damaged Goods

Can you save an employee that is seen by your boss (or, worse yet, the CEO) as inadequate?  As a mediocre performer?  As damaged goods?

I've pondered this question repeatedly during my career -- having employed managers whom I judged as wholly capable in their jobs, but that my boss, for some reason, decided were "C players."  The causes of this harsh, and in my opinion erroneous, judgement tended to be all over the map.  Perhaps the employee made a silly mistake during a presentation.  Or perhaps they took the wrong side in a dispute.

I even saw one executive placed in the "discard" pile because he was unfamiliar with a somewhat obscure accounting concept related to asset impairment.  I guess he shouldn't have tried to fake it.

With most of these employees, I tried to somehow rehabilitate their image.  And in every case (with one notable exception), I was unsuccessful.

This might have been due to the personalities of the bosses involved in the various situations -- where they fervently believed in their own infallibility  when it came to the assessment of talents and shortcomings in the company's employees.  In most cases, these CEOs had very limited exposure to, and very limited understanding of, what the employees did on a day-to-day basis.

That never seemed to stop them.

My personal experience is limited to a sample of only four, so I readily admit that there are probably other, more open-minded, CEOs out there that might be willing to give a "damaged" employee a second or third chance.  There might even be CEOs that are progressive enough to accept the judgement of others about an employee.  I like to think that if I had ever ascended that final step to the all-powerful CEO job I would have been such a boss.  (Perhaps that's part of the reason I never got there!)

In my experience, CEOs don't work that way.

In one instance of an employee mis-identified as "damaged goods," I continuously ignored my boss's hints that the executive was "unsuitable" for his position.  That one cost me big, as my stubborn refusal to knuckle under was a contributor to my own ultimate termination -- and I failed to save the employee in question, as well.

In another somewhat similar situation, I worked with the targeted executive to try everything we could come up with to rehabilitate his image with the boss.  This included coaching, special projects to address perceived shortcomings, additional exposure to the boss, and plenty of argument on my part.  All of this proved to be useless.  I somehow managed to hold onto the executive until I was transferred to another assignment.  Shortly thereafter, the employee was moved to a "special project" that ultimately led to his separation from the company.

In the one exception, an extraordinary personal tragedy in the life of the targeted executive seemed to give the CEO pause in his campaign to force me to remove the man.  I was never sure if his opinion of the executive really changed, or if he simply stopped taking shots at him because it would "look bad." 

In every case, however, my resistance to the CEO's demand that I "discard damaged goods" caused damage to my own credibility, and ultimately hurt my career.  For my own part, I simply couldn't stomach the injustice of removing perfectly good contributors from the organization just because the CEO's perceptions were (in my opinion) off base.

In retrospect, I now believe that when the CEO identifies and executive as "damaged beyond saving," there is no point in resisting.  You're fighting a losing battle, and prolonging the agony for both the manager and yourself.  Better to give in to the boss's demands than fight it.

Or, perhaps even more importantly, it is a signal that you should consider moving on.  And when you do, look for a boss that doesn't feel compelled to force his (uninformed) judgements about your subordinates down your throat.  15.3

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If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.

What if the only way to get the CEO's job is to kill her?  How would you do it?

What if the only way to get the CEO's job is to kill her?  How would you do it?

To the right is the cover for HEIR APPARENT.   In this tale, some is killing corporate leaders in Kansas City.  But who?  The police and FBI pursue a "serial killer" theory, leaving Joel Smith and Evangelina Sikes to examine other motives for the killer.  As the pair zero in on the perpetrator, they put their own lives at risk.  There are multiple suspects and enough clues for the reader to identify the killer in this classic whodunnit set in a corporate crucible.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.