Thomas Cameron, a mentor with the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program, talks about how and when to use compassion as an employer.
If you’ve ever read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you might remember Stephen Covey’s story about riding the subway and seeing a fellow rider whose children were completely out of control. The man just sat there while his kids ran around the car, disturbing the other passengers. Covey wondered—like you and I might—what the heck the man’s problem was.
As it turns out, the man’s wife had died little more than an hour ago.
As human beings, once we have all the facts, our natural response is to sympathize with the man. But what if he were your employee? And what if his personal tragedies were starting to affect his performance at work—or even endanger your company?
Is it possible to react as both a decent human being and a responsible business owner? I believe the answer is to manage the business by numbers and results. Manage the people with feeling and sympathy.
Look at it this way: As the manager of your business, you’re responsible for guiding your company to a secure future—which in turn provides a secure future to all the employees who depend on your company for their livelihoods.
The cold fact is that security comes with profitability, which is very simple to understand and measure. For a company to succeed, every employee has to be accountable for their individual results. This is pure numbers, and as they say, the numbers don’t lie. As a business owner, you have to be able to clearly, dispassionately acknowledge when an employee isn’t cutting it.
But you can still “be a human being” when you try to help underperforming employees become more successful at their jobs. If you show your employees that you understand them and genuinely care about their best interest, even when you’re correcting them, most of them will respond with trust and commitment.
And if that doesn’t work? If the underperformer has done everything he can to succeed, but still can’t do the job? Then the nonemotional reality of the data has to win out. Even then, you can still show sympathy and understanding as you remove the underperforming employee from the company.
And ultimately, you have to remove the employee if your company is going to survive.