Joanne (name changed to protect privacy) was employee #3 in my small business, Solpak. I liked her a lot. She was dedicated, open to coaching and very friendly with clients. She joined the team when we had 60 active clients, but that number more than doubled over the next few years, which triggered a series of performance issues. Despite my coaching and systematization efforts, she could not keep up. I had to make a tough decision: adapt the business to her or let her go.
Tough decisions stem from a values conflict
1. A decision’s foundation lays on our values
You might think a decision is a rational exercise: If A and B are true, then C is the best option. If not, go with D. Think again. Although our decision process depends on some sort of rationale, its foundation lays on our core values. You will think it through rationally, but unconsciously you will determine if it coincides with your values.
As with Joanne’s case, her repeated mistakes and miscalculations were indicative of a sub-par performance. Once I had tried coaching and knew the workload was still reasonable for one team member, I knew rationally what to do. However, I was feeling a resistance in moving forward.
2. Our values sometimes conflict
You might think you have a clear set of values: You have harmonized beliefs on how the world should ideally be and also NOT be. Think again. These values will, in certain situations, become opposite and clash. Values do conflict, and sometimes more subtly than you might expect.
The idea of letting go of Joanne triggered an internal debate I could not silence. I valued loyalty and dedication, yet excellence in customer service and proper invoicing were essential to building a great business. I was torn between different feelings regarding those.
3. Acknowledge conflicting values consciously
You might think you can ignore these conflicting values. You know what’s right from what’s wrong. You don’t need to revisit that. Think again. What’s right and what’s wrong is not always clear. You need to openly and consciously spell it out.
That internal debate was really about Loyalty versus Excellence. Did I value loyalty more than excellence? Was I willing to let the errors and potential losses keep on going so I could honor Joanne’s loyalty to our team? Or, was it more important that the excellence Solpak was known for was a priority?
As you probably suspect, I ended up letting Joanne go with a package. It was a tough decision that I delayed until I realized why it was so tough. I was really conflicted between loyalty and excellence. A few years later, after the position has been filled a couple of times during our growth, I know now that it was the best decision for all.
We ended doubling clients again over the next few years and the workload got even more sophisticated. The new team members had a background and work experience that had prepared them for these responsibilities.
I still think of Joanne and hope she is doing well. I would still recommend her for a similar position in a company that is not as excellence and growth addicted as Solpak.
Can you think of a tough decision you had to make and what were the underlying conflicting values?