Why the Parties?

Sep 22, 2003

Years ago, I maintained that I would never go to a party for an employee who’s leaving the firm. Sure, there could be exceptions. Someone’s spouse gets transferred, the employee retires, or the employee is going back to school, or something. On the other hand, most of these departures are because the employee is going to work somewhere else. It’s these cases that I am referring to now. Some people thought it was terrible that I would make such a statement. “We want to be known as a nice place to work,” was their cry. “You never know, we might want so-and-so back here some day,” is something else they’d say. But I took my position even further. When someone turned in their notice, if they were going to work for a competitor and were not interested in our solving whatever problem they had so they could stay, we’d move them out the door right then and there— no delay. I once had a junior principal of the firm tell me he had some “good news” for me. So I sat him down in my office, expecting to hear about his latest victory in securing a big contract for us with a new client, when instead he told me he was quitting. He’d been offered a great new job to start up a competitive organization to ZweigWhite inside of another firm. I called in another of my trusted partners, the guy’s immediate supervisor. We asked him if there was any way he would reconsider. He said “nope,” that his mind was made up. So we then asked for the keys to his company-issued BMW. He gulped and asked how he would get home. We told him to call a cab. Then my partner helped him box up his stuff and took all of it out to the curb in front of our building with a hand truck. In any event, the years went by… and, as is often the case with people, I got easier to live with (at least in some ways). Some of my original ideas got softened out of my desire to incorporate the thinking of others here in how we do things. I even went to a few going-away parties (as long as they were in the office and had free food!). I was nicer to those who were leaving even if the truth was their departure, after we spent tons of money training them and nurturing them, upset me. But that didn’t work either. Lame ducks are lame ducks. The sooner you get them out of your office, the better. To think that someone who quits to work elsewhere is going to say good things about your firm while they wait out their two weeks’ notice is just plain naïve. They aren’t going to do that. Instead, they are going to justify their decision and reaffirm any of their own self-doubt by telling anyone who will listen to them why they are doing what they are doing. And this is not good for morale. And of course, there’s always the excuse of, “What will the clients think?” or “How will we do so-and-so’s jobs?” Those things are problems. On the other hand, will another couple weeks of parties, low productivity, and dealing with personal stuff before the employee’s new job starts be worth it? Maybe, but maybe not! So where am I today on this issue? In the middle, unfortunately, just like my age. I don’t want to have abrupt shifts in client service, nor do I want anyone contributing to the pollution of their cubicle neighbor’s mind. I want to be good to people so we in management aren’t thought of as ogres, but I also long for the clarity and cohesiveness that resulted in immediate expulsion of those who didn’t want to be in the family. I will try to listen to the voices of reason around me. But, if I have any inkling that the lame duck has a bad attitude and is working against the company, I vow to get them out of the duck pen so fast your head will spin! Originally published 9/22/2003

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.