Arnold was in a panic. Things weren’t going the way he had planned them, and he wasn’t happy about it in the least. If all had gone as he had manipulated, he would have had Vince exactly where he needed him, things going just as he wanted, and the near future looking good. Unfortunately, Vince had thrown his plans into such disarray that he didn’t know what do to next.
Arnold used to be Vince’s department head. Since taking the job, Arnold had relied upon Vince and his colleagues to look good to the client. Arnold’s clients would ask for a solution, which Vince or one of his colleague would work hard to provide. They were then mandated to hand it in to Arnold, who would take it to the client, take credit for it, and then reap all the praise for the great work.
In Vince’s case, Arnold added a bit extra to that formula. On a regular basis, Arnold would criticize Vince for one thing or another, demeaning his knowledge, running down his experience, and basically making Vince feel like he was lucky Arnold didn’t fire him and that Vince was fortunate to still have a job. This was Arnold’s way of ensuring that Vince stayed worked for him, and not seeking a better job or asking for a raise or promotion.
The whole system began to unravel when the company they worked for underwent massive downsizing and restructuring. Within a two year span, thousands of the employees were either downsized or their business unit sold to another company. It was a bloodbath, in no uncertain terms, and caused Arnold’s self-preservation instincts to jump into high gear.
The latest ‘restructuring’ was being announced, and though Vince no longer worked directly for Arnold, his work was integral to Arnold’s sterling reputation with his clients. As the rest of Vince’s colleagues had already been laid off, Arnold relied upon Vince more than ever.
So, in order to keep this good thing going, Arnold announced to Vince that he was going to ‘save’ him from the latest round of layoffs. The latest restructuring gave Arnold two employees, and he was going to make sure that Vince received one of those slots. Vince greeted this with less enthusiasm than Arnold expected, but he accepted the offer.
A week later, after the application deadline for all the ‘restructured’ spots was over, Arnold came to Vince and told him he could no longer consider him for that position. He used the old excuse of, ‘you don’t have the skills necessary’, though offered no explanation why he didn’t know this a week and a half ago. In reality, Arnold had been told in no uncertain terms that, if Vince took the position, he could no longer do the work for Arnold that had made him look so good. As this was the only reason why Arnold wanted Vince in the position, he quickly reversed course.
Realizing where this placed his gravy train, Arnold approached Vince and told him that he was going to fight to have Vince placed on a new team. What Vince replied with threw Arnold into a tailspin. Vince’s reply? “No, you won’t.”
If this had been a Hollywood film, Vince would have had a wonderful speech about how Arnold had finally gone too far with his lies, deceptions, manipulations, and other acts. Instead, he simply said, “You didn’t want me the first time. I don’t want to be part of yours or any other team in the company any longer.” He further admonished Arnold not to try to get him on any other team.
Arnold was dumbfounded. He had worked so long manipulating those around him to his own advantage. He thought he had Vince convinced that he was so worthless that only Arnold’s kindness and largess was saving him. Apparently, he had underestimated Vince’s resilience, as well as his tolerance for the nearly inhuman way he and his colleagues had been treated by Arnold’s peers.
A few days later, Arnold came back to Vince to offer him another ‘solution’. Vince could come back as a contractor! Vince looked at Arnold and asked, “If I don’t want to be part of this place as an employee, why would I want to be part of it as a contractor?”
In the end, Vince was laid off from the company, and Arnold didn’t even wish him well on his way out. He found a position soon after, but kept in touch with some of his former colleagues. From them he learned that, within six months, Arnold’s reputation with his clients was in tatters. He was no longer working miracles, and his clients weren’t happy about that. The two people he had hired for the spots under him, one of them his good friend, weren’t working out, and his life was miserable. Vince, still healing from the abuses heaped upon him at the company, reacted with muted recognition, and got back to work at his new job.
The picture above is from an old cartoon character, Popeye the Sailor. One of Popeye’s famous lines was, when he had enough, “That’s all I can stand; I can’t stand no more”. If your way of keeping your good people is to threaten, manipulate, criticize, and make them feel altogether lucky to have a job, be prepared to be surprised. Each employee, like Vince, will have their Popeye moment and decide that living with the abuse is no longer the way they want to exist. They will then do something surprising that you never expected, because your own ego won’t allow you to believe anyone but you is pulling the strings.
And, when that employee leaves, and you are left scrambling to have to fill some very big shoes, remember Popeye. Remember as well that, if you simply treated your employees with respect and courtesy, everyone succeeds. If you don’t, only your employees will emerge stronger at the finish.