The paradox of how employers constantly discount their employees dreaming about their imaginary perfect employee working elsewhere.
“I am very clear; I don’t want to hire any more freshers said my business head. I want someone who hits the road straightway. After watching Ritu and Janet, I can say this with the experience she continued. Ritu doesn’t even know how to write emails, and Janet needs too many follow-ups. Moreover, these millennial kids work with an entitlement mindset,” she lamented.
We were wrapping up a meeting, and my boss asked me to stay back. He said, “I think we need to replace Raj, our new BU head; it’s almost 9 months since he has joined, he does not own up the role, he is constantly blaming the past instead of building the future, too much of negativity. Please counsel him. If he doesn’t change his mindset in the next 3 months, please hire an executive search firm to find a replacement,” and he walked off.
I go through similar feelings all the time. This recurring thought has been around for decades in my head and every day refreshed by events caused by my colleagues. Why do I always feel that my dream team is out there and not with me? What do my colleagues do that drift my mind towards 'imaginary ideal professionals' outside of my sight/influence?
My perfect colleagues are somewhere out there working for someone else. My current struggle is to find them. But I know how they look like. Every day, people like me keep dreaming of hiring him/her someday to solve the current problems/opportunities we have.
It’s not that we are very hopeful of our new hires either. When we put that probationary clause in the employment contract, we probably start with an exit clause for ourselves. It’s like a pre-nuptial contract where one expects/suspects that things can go wrong. These clauses allow us to be in constant suspicion of our new hire. Though we would have hired them for a certain role and evaluated them for certain qualities, our own judgment of them changes post-hiring. Once we start experiencing new employees against our unsaid expectations, our opinions change.
“The PM we have hired is horrible in morning team meetings; I heard him yelling at his team yesterday whispered the HR manager during our coffee break. We got great reviews from his customers about his timely deliveries and his technical know-how I shot back." Yes, we did not budget for this side of him.
"I don’t have to manage product breakdowns now, but people breakdowns, she complained. Please extend his probationary period or take a call on him during the confirmation discussion," she suggested. Just like perishable food or drugs, we seem to think of thresholds with people with certain timelines. Unfortunately, this expiry date mindset is based on fewer experiences than fact-based. Unlike in personal life where we try hard to stay in the relationship, at work, we have many escape clauses like probationary period, annual appraisals, promotional discussions through which we knock off people.
An entrepreneur struggling with his new venture once showed the next floor of our coworking floor as we were leaving for the day. It was 9 PM in the night, and employees in that EdTech were still working. He said, "we are still making losses, and my team shuts up at 630 and works 5 days a week. I think in my next lot of recruitment, I should hire few people from here.”
I got curious about this new start-up full of youngsters burning the midnight oil and seemed super busy. I caught hold of one of the youngsters working in that start-up the next day at the cafeteria.
He said, “actually, I want to leave this company, but they pay me an above-market salary, and I can’t get a job at this salary for a fresher like me. If any of us don’t achieve our target for two consecutive months, we will be asked to leave”. I liked the energy on your floor, I said. The youngster smiled and shot back, “the grass is greener on the other side. Let me know if there is any vacancy in any company which works 5 days a week. Most of us here would die to join a company like that.” I couldn’t hold but ask,
“Would you take a salary cut to work in a company that gives you that ‘me time.” No, I still have my student loan EMI going on, he said.
When I conveyed this to my entrepreneur friend, he wasn’t enthused about hiring people from that EdTech any longer.
I think we equate our colleagues to be constantly perfect, and any form of breakdowns in behavior, efforts, performance, developments, relationships are difficult to fathom. We want ideal, aligning behaviors all the time, and any imperfections on any of those aspects upset us, and our patience starts waning on our colleagues. However, We don’t/can't give up on our children or personal relationships so easily, can we? My guess is that we are well trained for imperfect behaviors at home, and we need to bring now those learnings of dealing with challenging situations with spouses, kids, parents to work. The last year of work from home experience has blurred the walls of home and work. I am proposing we also closely compare/reflect the experiences at home and see if we are equally ready to nurture our imperfect colleagues as we do with our kith and kin.
I wish we spent more time nurturing our colleagues and their talent than constantly thinking of the angels outside. It’s a great escape to think of some unknown professional who will come and solve your technology, marketing, sales, HR, finance problems. Think honestly about how many times your new external hires solved your issues vs. your current team members. I doubt if your data overwhelmingly supports unknown angels creating more breakthroughs for you. Even if it does, what does it tell you about your leadership? You aren’t the one who can build, create, inspire talent to create performance under you?
I am guilty as charged!
"If you look at what you have in life, you'll always have more. If you look at what you don't have in life, you'll never have enough." -Oprah Winfrey.
Kamal is the Co-Founder of Xpheno, a specialist talent solutions company that offers direct hire, IT staff augmentation and engineering professional services. Xpheno brings people and companies together, to contribute to the creation of high-performing specialist workforce. Kamal holds a Bachelor degree in Microbiology from Bangalore University.