I’ve always dreamed of being a famous writer, getting adoring mail from fans asking for autographs, personal appearances and secret rendezvous. But, no — this is the kind of letter I get: “Cumulo is a weak CEO. What a wimp.”
What did I do to deserve this? Last month I shared a problem and asked for your help. Wirtz, the linchpin of our production department, had just received a job offer. Home Zero, the giant retailer moving into Slug Flats, wanted him to oversee its contractor equipment and staff training. Sure, he’d have to wear a purple apron, but it would pay $5,000 more than we could. I didn’t want to lose him — he recently saved our Boeing contract by fixing a power outage with Christmas tinsel. But others, especially controller Betty Cash, worried about setting a precedent by matching Home Zero’s offer.
“Suck it up!” wrote Jim Wade, general manager of Dairy Farmers of Manitoba. “We have all dealt with the exit of ‘essential’ people and survived … Celebrate the departure and the appointment from within as the product of a great succession plan. (If Cumulo doesn’t have a succession plan, he’s an even worse CEO than portrayed in the story.)” That’s it, pal — I’m switching to soy milk.
Jim has a point. Life happens. But that doesn’t mean you sit and take it. I became an entrepreneur because I wanted to create my own destiny, not have one handed to me.
Other readers offered more encouraging responses. “Let me congratulate you on identifying this subject,” wrote Blaine Field. “It is a major one for anyone in a business that relies on specialized skill or long-time experience.” I also enjoyed this response: “The value of an employee like Wirtz can never be underestimated,” says Matthew Acheson. “The callous response of the company controller is a demonstration of her considerable ignorance in matters of employee relations and productivity.” That one may go into Betty’s employee file.
Although lots of people urged me to cut Wirtz loose, the mail ran 2:1 in favour of an intervention. “As a valued member of the corporation, all efforts should be taken to try and retain Wirtz,” wrote Jennifer Hodgert. “Perhaps he needs more time off, or a flexible schedule. Money is not the only reason people remain with a company, and it is a wise organization that finds out what its employees need.”
Richard Spalding understood my dilemma. “Wirtz, being a valued employee of long standing, should not be allowed to hold the company to ransom.” he wrote. “However, if profits could be boosted 3ÃÃ¢ a share by replacing him with two juniors [which was Betty’s idea], perhaps Wirtz could be offered a percentage of increased profits if he stays. He may have the wherewithal to increase profit by more than 3ÃÃ¢.”
Larry Danberger of Calgary offered a five-step solution: 1) Give Wirtz the $5,000 raise; 2) Offer Wirtz a role in a focus group charged with improving working conditions; 3) Listen to what else Wirtz has to say; 4) Address the executive team issues; start by getting Betty some management training outside of numbers; 5) Read the sports page at home. (But, Larry, I get my best business ideas reading the box scores.)
In the end, I told my team that PROFIT readers favoured negotiation. “Would you listen if they weren’t telling you what you wanted to hear?” asked Betty. (I put that in her file, too.)
I pleaded with Wirtz to stay, and ended up giving him a raise that was less than Home Zero offered but a lot more than the raise I’ll get this year. I also asked him to assess our production capabilities, which gives him licence to look at a lot of new machines. And, based on another suggestion from Larry Danberger, we held a Perogie Party to celebrate how Wirtz saved the Boeing contract.
And what of Betty? After I overrode her recommendations, she threatened to resign. Although she’s a whiz at managing our finances, I wasn’t even tempted to offer her a raise, a party or a committee to change her mind. She dropped her threat.
Strangely, I had mixed feelings about that. On one hand, she’s fun to write about. On the other hand, I was thinking of offering her job to Larry Danberger.
Thanks to all readers who responded. Larry and two others chosen at random will receive a copy of Help Wanted: The Complete Guide to Human Resources for Canadian Entrepreneurs.
Read more of Cumulo’s particular brand of wisdom.
© 2005 Rogers Media Inc.