I love “mom and pop shops”. Before I was born, my parents owned a small auto parts store in Louisville, Kentucky, where I grew up. The store was bankrupt early in my life, and by the time I was forming memories, my dad had already taken a job with a distant family member. That is where he embezzled an unknown sum of money that caused the police to come to our house looking for him in the “middle of the night”, as my mother once recalled.
My dad was a likable man. From the few times I remember seeing him, I can picture him with a smile surrounding the pipe in his mouth. I still can’t smell a pipe without thinking of him. Most people who met him enjoyed laughing and drinking with him. He loved to buy rounds of drinks at the local bar, even when he didn’t have the money. Not surprisingly, he died with significant credit card debt and no assets, much the same as he left my mother with after their divorce when I was two years old.
When my eldest sister told me more of the story, I was early in my legal career. I thought of how easily my dad’s employer gave him unearned access to the business’ funds, even knowing he had taken a little here and there from social organizations he led, and probably even his first wife.
It seemed like such a stupid risk. Why would anyone take it?
Sympathy in Business
Sympathy. The family member who hired him knew my parents had lost their auto parts business and had three young girls, aged 2, 4, and 8, to care for. Probably against his better judgment, the family member found room for my dad and gave him an opportunity to get back on his feet. Only to later learn my dad had stolen from him. And not all the money was going to family necessities. My mom found months of unpaid bills my dad had hidden. But he apparently made plenty of trips to bars and liquor stores. (“Hate the disease, not the person,” we are told in Al-Anon, a twelve-step program for loved ones of alcoholics.)
Co-Dependency in Business
Co-dependency. It shows up in businesses, as well as families. In this case, there was a family business. Double-whammy? Maybe.
I was not immune. I didn’t hire a member of my given family, but I consider my friends my chosen family, and I often hired roommates, friends, and friends of friends when my business needed help and someone else needed a little financial help.
On short-term projects, the arrangement typically worked out well, but it was ineffective with longer-term employment. I regularly fed one of them because “they” came to work late, rushed, and seemed unable take care of “themself”. (I’m using a neutral gender pronoun to honor this former employee’s privacy.) I forgave others’ repeated tardiness, incomplete assignments, disrespect, and condescension. It took them lying on their timesheets to get me to terminate their employment. One still has a portable scanner I loaned them for tax preparation—five years ago.
In each case, I made excuses for unacceptable behavior, hoping it would improve. When I implemented clear metrics to measure performance, a couple of them resigned. I did not have to terminate them. They self-selected the separation. We both learned; it wasn’t personal, although it sometimes felt that way. We just weren’t compatible. We valued, wanted, and needed different things, which has allowed us to pursue them.
Hire for Effectiveness and Mutual Benefit
I now better recognize these patterns in my clients, which is why I work with them to create key performance indicators for each position within their organizations. Even—or especially—the mom and pop shops. I still bring my employment law focus to our work together, but I also integrate my mediation, human resources, and personal experience.
I understand that very few people in the world enjoy firing employees. Employers don’t hire with that intent, and employees don’t start new jobs intending to fail at them. But hiring from sympathy instead of empowerment, effectiveness, and partnership can put everyone on that path. “Hire slowly, fire quickly,” but learn from your mistakes and hire even more slowly each time.
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Nance L. Schick, Esq. is a New York City attorney and mediator who focuses on keeping people out of court and building their conflict resolution skills, especially in business and employment disputes. Her holistic, integrative approach to conflict resolution draws from her experience as a crime victim, human resources supervisor, minor league sports agent, and United Nations representative. She is a 2001 graduate of the State University of New York Buffalo Law School trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation (ICERM). She is also creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution: Seven Choices and Five Actions of the Masters, and an award-winning entrepreneur, who has been acknowledged by Super Lawyers (ADR, 2018, 2019 & 2020), the New York Economic Development Corporation/B-Labs (Finalist, Best for NYC 2015 & 2016), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2015 Blue Ribbon Small Business), Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards), and Urban Rebound NY/Count Me In (Finalist, 2013 Pitch Competition).