The Eagle Blog

More Inside Scoop on Running a Business

After twelve years of running a business, through boom times and tough times, I think I have a pretty pragmatic outlook on the job. Every now and then through this blog I have provided some glimpses into my world as a CEO and owner of a small business.

When I have written about this subject I have tried to be realistic, because the thought of being a business owner is appealling to many people … until they realise everything that goes along with it!

I wrote a blog entry called So … You Think You Want Your Own Business, which talked about some of the risks associated with business ownership. In September 2008 I talked about risk again, in addition to the year end process in That Business Owner Feeling . In Thoughts on Achieving Success I talked about what people might need to do in order to be successful and potentially own their own business … assuming they still want to, after reading this blog!

Today I thought I would talk about one of the toughest parts of being a business owner, its also a tough thing for any manager … letting people go.

People will probably be the number one or number two challenge in most businesses, and maybe financing would be high on that list. You can’t have a successful business if you don’t have good people … and people, being human, will cause you all kinds of grief! (I know because despite some opinions, I am one of them). Because of that human factor there are a myriad of reasons why, as a business owner or a manager, we are faced with the prospect of letting people go.

There will be clear cut occasions where some action, attitude or even inaction makes it a cut and dried decision. We still agonise over it despite the clarity that it is absolutely the right decision. The conversation is tough, and could become confrontational or quite the opposite. The emotion is high and anticipation of a bad scene is cause for a sleepless night or two. IF you are a “thinker” then you will worry about the person’s family, their future and how they might cope. You will likely be a little generous with the “package” and hope that everyone moves on quickly.

More often than not the decision is not so clear cut. The person is not performing as well as they should, or personal circumstances have caused their performance to drop. You may invest time (often more than you should) in corrective actions, in working to fix the problems. Almost inevitably the decision needs to be made … and here you are again with sleepless nights. You second guess the decisions, you may even postpone it a few times, but in the end you have the “deed” to perform.

In the current economic climate many companies are “downsizing” to reduce costs as a strategy to keep the company healthy. Its a necessary business decision, but is probably one of the hardest meetings to have. These are good people, who under normal circumstances would not be let go, but economic circumstances force a decision. Again, there are plenty of good business reasons for the decision but it affects human beings and that is hard on them which weighs heavily on the manager or business owner who makes those decisions.

Over the course of twelve years I have had many of these meetings. I once flew West on a “red eye” to let someone go and flew back on the next evenings “red eye” in order to be back in Ottawa for meetings. I have had confrontations where we were seconds from calling the police, I have had meetings where I have been sure to have a few of the larger members of the team around … just in case. I have been verbally abused and physically threatened, and I have had people break down in tears and others beg to keep their jobs. Most people are very professional, they are almost always hurt and a little confused, but they hold it together and leave with dignity.

In every case I am affected. I feel their pain. I feel my own disappointment and failure that I wasn’t able to make it work, or that we hired a wrong person which wastes their time and ours. I worry about their next steps and I am sometimes a little concerned for my own safety.

Invariably the decision is the right one for all concerned … sometimes they are in the wrong job, sometimes they just need a serious wake-up call, sometimes they just need a change.

Intellectually I know these decisions are right, but these situations still get under my skin.

Just one more responsibility of a business owner.

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