Wirtz loves lathes and drill presses. Even though he’s been a manager for years, he still identifies with his production crew in the back shop, not the namby-pambies in the carpeted parts of the building.
So when he dropped by my office the other day, rubbing his palms nervously, I was a little surprised-scared, in fact.
“Are you busy?” he asked. “Never too busy for you,” I said, hiding the sports section under a sheaf of important papers. “Is anything wrong?” “No,” said Wirtz, shutting the door carefully. “I mean, yes, Cumulo, yes. Everything’s gone crazy!”
“What happened?” I asked. “Did Jones spill his Coke in the paint sprayer again?” “No,” said Wirtz. “I’ve been offered another job.”
You could have knocked me over with a table saw. Wirtz has been with Nimbus Co. so long it never occurred to me anyone else would want him. Let me rephrase that: he’s a beloved fixture here, and I couldn’t imagine life without him.
“You know that new building-supply store, Home Zero?” said Wirtz. “They want to put me in charge of professional contractor equipment and staff training.” “But-but-but-” I butted. “How can a retailer afford to pay as much as we do?”
“Volume?” guessed Wirtz. “They’re offering me $5,000 a year more, plus a 20% employee discount. And I can stay late and play with the new machines.”
“I’m very happy for you,” I said. After a pause, I added, “You’re not going to take it, are you?”
Wirtz’s face drooped: “I don’t know. Nimbus is like family to me. But I have a wife and kids to support.”
Later that day I met with Wanda, Kernel and Betty Cash-my brain trust, such as it is. “What do we do?” I asked. “I don’t like cutting Wirtz off from a great opportunity. But we need him here!” “We can’t lose him,” agreed Kernel, our eager young vice-president. “He saved the Boeing contract by getting his whole team to come in New Year’s Day. And when a fuse blew, he fixed it just using tinsel.” “I wondered what happened to the Christmas tree,” muttered Wanda, our GM.
“We can’t counter-offer,” insisted Betty Cash, our controller. “What precedent would that set? Besides, it would throw our whole pay scale out of whack. Before you know it, everyone would be asking for more, and this year’s profit plan would be deader than Madonna’s acting career.”
“Let’s appeal to his loyalty,” said Wanda. “Remind him what he’d be missing if he left Nimbus. Who else would let him keep bowling balls in the boardroom?”
“Or perogies in the cloakroom?” growled Betty. “Let him go. I like Wirtz, but we could replace him with two juniors and boost profit 3Â¢ a share.” We stared in horror at her insensitivity, but she thought we were admiring her math. “Shows what you can accomplish when you work through lunch,” she said.
“Let’s pay him to stay,” said Kernel. “When I started here as vice-president at age 22, Wirtz was the only one who was nice to me. He fixed the brakes on my mountain bike. And he gave me his sandwich the day Mom forgot to make my lunch.”
But Betty knows how to fight fire with fire. “You can’t stand in his way,” she said. “Wirtz deserves a chance to do something new. At his age, he won’t get many more chances.”
“Paying him to stay looks bad,” said Wanda. “It’s like a signal that says anyone who feels underpaid can invent a job offer and demand more. It puts at risk everything we’re trying to build…” “Your point?” I asked. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “There’s nothing about this in the Harvard Business Review.”
“Maybe we could get him to stay without breaking the bank,” said Wanda. “Could we offer him more responsibilities? Are there new challenges we could give him?” “You want to give more responsibility to the guy who almost poisoned everyone at the company picnic with homemade summer sausages?” asked Betty. “C’mon,” protested Kernel. “I’m pretty sure that was an accident.”
The silence lay like a clammy cloak. “What are we going to do, Cumulo?” asked Wanda. Suddenly inspiration hit me. “I know just what to do,” I said. “Ask the readers.”
Should Cumulo let Wirtz go, bribe him to stay or something else? Send your ideas to cumulo.nimbus@PROFIT.rogers.com by March 4, 2005 for a chance to win one of three copies of Help Wanted: The Complete Guide to Human Resources for Canadian Entrepreneurs.