Thursday, August 23, 2007

Management Style: Reluctant

I came to management from a job as a drone with a large internet service provider. My previous career was as an internet systems engineer, which is really to say a janitor. Cleaning up stray bits of data, rebooting servers, sitting on conference calls, and actually doing very little in the course of a day was my lot. The multinational company whose ISP I worked for was a behemoth and the red tape and bureaucracy was fantastically suited to getting very little if anything actually done.

I left that company, or should say, was downsized from it (they called it a RIF or reduction in force). Isn't it a nice, tidy word, RIF? Isn't it a tight, mono-syllabic wisp of a word. It's purpose, however, is to avoid the truth. Turn it around and it becomes the start a much more harsh word FIRed. It doesn't feel any less bad to be RIFfed as it does to be fired. The person that layed me off had never met me, knew nothing about me or my situation or anything I had done for the company. I imagine he didn't lose any sleep over the matter. I was one of hundreds that day, and many hundreds in the months and years before that. He had a buffer, it was not his decision, he was just tasked with the job of taking the jobs of others away. Something I had a hard time relating to...until recently.

I'm now the general manager of my family's business; a small woodworking shop with fewer than ten employees. The job of hiring and firing falls on my shoulders now and I work a lot harder for a lot less compensation. That's not a complaint as much as it is a fact. I had to fire someone yesterday. It's not the first time I've had to do it and it won't be the last. That didn't make it any less hard. I wrestled with the fairness of it all. I knew the person I fired and he needed the job as much as anyone. He's a great person, a great human being. Unfortunately that's not enough when it comes to his job. His circumstances were difficult. His life has been harder than most people I've met. I still had to let him go. I had to tell him it wasn't working. I was fair, I paid him for a couple of weeks extra. It doesn't make me feel any better. I did sleep last night. Not any less or worse than usual, but I did grieve his loss and I worry about his situation. I care about him. I care about all of my employees and I do feel that it's my job to make sure that they have a good working environment and that they feel respected and appreciated. I hope he left with a sense of pride in his working here. I hope his spirit isn't broken. I'll think about him a lot, I'm sure, and I'll remember him. As I told my wife this morning, I don't want him to be beat or marginalized by this, but I'm sure It has made his life harder.

The moral of all this? I don't know. I'm not even sure there is one. I know it will make me more cautious of who I hire, how involved I get in their lives. A person's livelihood is not to be messed with lightly. These things should be difficult and poured over. The buck should not be passed.

I hate this part of my job, but I hope it never gets any easier. If it does, I'll know I've gone terribly wrong.

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