The Goal In Business Is To Try and Succeed

Stock ribbonsJames Harrison, an NFL football player of considerable skill and renown that plays on the Pittsburgh Steelers, recently made the news when he posted on his Instagram account that he made his two sons return the trophies they received from their youth athletic league. The trophies were not for any sort of special achievement; instead, the trophies were “participation trophies” given to them for being on the team.

These sorts of awards have become increasingly common over the last 25 years in all sorts of youth activities, whether the activities are academic, athletic, civic, whatever. Whether it’s a trophy for merely showing up, ribbons for finishing in 5th (or 6th or 7th) place, or selecting 21 valedictorians for a single high school graduating class, everyone pretty much gets something. The current class of “Millennials”, who are now in their 20-something years were the first to receive all this praise in an effort to make certain that all children had positive self-esteem, and the practice has continued unabated since then. If anything, it seems to be increasing.

Mr. Harrison stated, “I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best.”

Since that time, Harrison has been both praised and taken to task for his stance.

At this point, you might be thinking to yourself, “All quite interesting, but what does this have to do with business?” Well, a lot, actually.

And if your next questions are, “Oh, c’mon, what are talking about? Does anyone in business think they can keep their job just by trying hard?”, then read on.

If you’ve had to speak about performance issues to one of your employees who happens to be in the age range mentioned above, you may have found the conversation to be both maddening and unproductive.

Maddening because when you tell them they’re not meeting the requirements of their position, their response is, “I’m trying as hard as I can every day. I’m working really hard”. They just keep repeating this, on an endless loop. As if that’s all that really needs to be said, and you (and the company) need to be satisfied with that. When you point out to them that the goal in business is to try and succeed, they’re genuinely perplexed as to why this is a requirement for them specifically, and subsequently stunned when you tell them they’re going to get kicked off the team (fired), if they cannot succeed.

Unproductive, because, since they are brimming with so much self-esteem, after your discussion, they came back to you and critique the reasonableness of the company’s goals, your management style, they make suggestions about changing the requirements of the position so that they can more easily meet their deliverables, they want you to help do some of their work, etc., as opposed to just figuring out how they’re going to redouble their efforts at their position. Because, you know, this can’t be their fault if they’re failing. Because they’re just perfect exactly the way they are. Everyone’s always told them so.

Then, when you have to terminate them, despite all the coaching and extra time you’re put in with them to help them succeed, the responses are so similar as to be generic:

  • “That’s not fair. I tried my best”
  • “I really like it here and I get along well with everyone, and everyone likes me. I can’t understand why you have these rules and these performance criteria.”
  • “The work is just too hard. No one could do this job”
  • “Why are you being so mean?”

It’s very jarring to people that have been praised for everything they’re ever done to be told that they have failed.

And it’s very difficult when you’re managing a business to allocate so much of the optional time you have during the day (which isn’t a lot) to someone that is not receptive to the message you’re giving them. In fact, not only are they unreceptive, they are incapable of receiving this message that they’re failing, and they’re probably not going to be receptive until they hear it for the third or fourth time. Which, depending on how many jobs they’ve had since they got out of school, could be one, two, or possibly three more jobs after the one they have with you.

Now, I don’t want to paint all people this age cohort with the same tar brush; some of them are great from the very first moment they walk through the door. But, some fail – just like employees in other age groups fail. The difference is, when you tell these employees I’m describing that they’re failing, they can’t believe it. And, they can’t believe that you told them that, that you would say such a thing out loud to them.

How can you prevent this as a business owner or manager? Well, you can’t. You had no hand in how they were formed as children and young adults. And any changes in them will not be coming quickly, so your business is probably not going to have enough time to spoon-feed these folks to where they can meet the requirements of their position.

All you can do is offer as much disclosure up front when interviewing and hiring for the job that there are job performance requirements, and it’s important that they meet or exceed those requirements. And certainly be just as upfront as to the inevitable result of not meeting the job’s performance requirements. Additionally, you should also strive to give feedback as soon as possible, so there’s no surprise factor (or at least, as little surprise as possible) if there is cause to terminate an employee for non-performance.

Lastly, just remember, there are plenty of smart, hard-working young people that would be a perfect fit for the open position you have at your company right now, and would be a huge asset to your business for years to come. Just bear in mind that if you have to let one go, the process may be a little different than the one you’re used to.

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