Upgrade Your Team (But Invest In Them First)

When I was managing a coffee shop in the early 2000’s, I had monthly business review meeting with my District Manager. At one of these meetings, he asked me if I was hiring. I said, “Not right now.” As if he was expecting that answer, he immediately rebutted, “Yes you are.” “I’m fully staffed right now,” I replied. “No. You are always hiring. There is always someone on your team that you can upgrade,” he said.

I understood this to mean that I should start looking for the weakest link on my team and replace him or her with someone who had the potential to be better. This was not difficult for me because I always had my employees inventoried in my head, in terms of technical skill level, ability to adapt under pressure, reliability, and overall personality. I knew who I could count on in a pinch, who would get the job done, and who was only there for the convenience and the paycheck. In my time as a manager at that store, I had to upgrade a lot of people, all the while developing those who remained.

There was not a person I let go, however, who was not given multiple opportunities to improve and explicit instructions on how to do so, to at least meet the minimum expectations for the job he or she was hired to do. This is the part that my District Manager left out when he told me to upgrade my employees, but I knew through his example that I should do everything in my power to work with those I hired, to invest the necessary time and energy into them so that they could improve. I owed it to them to treat them with dignity and to give them the opportunity to grow, even if they ultimately chose not to. Success and failure do not occur in a vaccum.

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