Dear Little Brother,
At some point in your management career you will have an employee where you realize that it is probably time they moved on and did something else.
And because you are human will likely use some kind of justification to keep that person around just a little longer to see if you can make them successful.
The good news is there is a simple signal you can watch for to see if this is happening:
If you start moving furniture around, be careful.
Should you find yourself moving the furniture around (literally or figuratively) to accomodate an employee that is less than stellar, chances are you are violating the logic of the Fifth Rule of Management: Don’t Rearrange The Furniture.
I once worked at a small web design startup where the young managers had someone working as an administrative helper who just happened to be satanic cult member.
She was the usual superstar: showed up late, did poor work and was starting to become the punch line to the jokes we would tell at lunch.
One day she even showed up in a headband tied up like she had just graduated the initiation ceremony for a Compton street gang or was headed on tour with Kid Rock later in the afternoon.
And in my experience, when someone shows up to a semi-normal office environment looking like they are going out with Kid Rock after previously being suspected of participating in satanic worship, people start talking.
They say things like:
When do you think “management” will get rid of her?
No way do I want [that person] sitting by me – have them sit on the opposite end of the office so I don’t have to deal with her.
Do you think maybe we can talk her into quitting, joining a biker gang and riding off into the sunset?
And after listening to everyone I worked with ask questions like that for a while, one day it happened.
“Management” decided to move the furniture.
And it was glorious.
Before the furniture moving started, I didn’t realize that it was actually possible to stack filing cabinets, fake ficus trees and cubicle walls in such a way that you could completely physically isolate someone from the rest of the team.
But it turns out it is — kind of.
“Management” moved desks, filing cabinets, trees and ficus trees so that while we were all aware that she was there, we couldn’t actually see her.
And it worked!
For about a week or so.
Everyone went about their work in that small office environment, and our bandana-wearing friend did her thing in complete obscurity.
But a problem remained.
Even after all of the furniture moving was done, the same problems still existed.
And a week later, one early morning when she came into work, “management” decided that it was finally time to have the it just isn’t working out conversation with her.
And after she was gone?
We had to move the furniture right back where it was before the furniture-moving-managment-experiment started.
And that is how the fifth rule of management was born:
Don’t Rearrange The Furniture.
Anytime you find yourself with an employee who isn’t doing a nice job at whatever-it-is-that-their-job-is, chances are they won’t be good at something else if you try to change their job.
Or more bluntly: if they are lousy at one job, chances are you as a manager changing their job isn’t suddenly going to make them a superstar.
So should you someday find yourself thinking that moving the furniture around is a good idea …
Save everyone some grief.
Tell them “it just isn’t working out”.
The First Rule of Management:Be There
The Second Rule of Management:Fire Fast
The Third Rule of Management:Never Shoot The Horse You Are Riding
The Fourth Rule of Management: No One Calls In Sick On Wednesdays