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Edward is Reluctant to Fire Gordon: Are You Familiar with This Story?


Edward took over as branch manager of this bank eight months ago. He is new to town and this particular branch but not new to the company. He has been an assistant branch manager with success, and his promotion to branch manager at this bank is long overdue. A previous manager taught him how to run an efficient and profitable business enterprise during his tenure as assistant manager.

Most of Edward's bank employees are excited to have him as the new manager. The previous manager was a jerk and did not lead the team. He was more preoccupied with making the branch look suitable to the corporate people no matter the cost or impact on his local team. As a result, morale has deteriorated, so most employees are generally cynical about management. They are hoping for better things but are not holding their breath for it to come.

The quality of supervision for this bank is inferior. Under the previous manager, supervisors had limited authority and did not get much respect from the employees on the front lines. As a result, good supervisors have left, and those remaining are either gluttons for punishment or incapable of supervising at any other organization. This location has pushed away good leadership and emasculated the remaining supervisors to the point that they have no credibility with the team. The previous manager ruled the bank location like an autocrat and did not seek the advice or the opinion of other leaders on the team. What he said went, and if anyone attempted to challenge him, they were isolated and made to feel silly for having another opinion.

Gordon, in particular, is a problem. He is a mid-level manager at the branch and now reports directly to Edward. Gordon has learned the branch business well and can play the political game to gain an advantage for his plan. He is outright sarcastic and cynical to most people while cooperative and understanding to Edward. To survive, Gordon has learned to kill ideas and proposals (he does not favor) with little or no action. With great skill, he can sabotage any suggestion he deems non-beneficial to him and his current view of normality. Change is not something Gordon desires as he has become quite comfortable in the world now.

Fellow supervisors and managers know Gordon's personality and have learned to tolerate his sarcastic and pessimistic view of people and business. They have become convinced that Gordon is a permanent part of the team. The prior manager liked that Gordon got things done and did not rock the boat. He did not care about the details as long as things ran smoothly. As a result, Gordon feels empowered to do it his way regardless of who is in charge. He does not respect Edward or the position he holds in the bank. He feels independent of a higher authority and does not plan to change anything about what he does daily.

Edward is a high-energy manager that plans to take this mediocre-performing bank to the next level. He was a significant part of the success at the previous branch and planned to implement the same changes here at this new bank. He is somewhat aware of Gordon's reputation and suspects he is a sycophant who kisses up to gain personal advantage. Deep down, Edward knows that Gordon is detrimental to the team and the necessary change for improvement. He knows Gordon is not likely to change and that he will be a hindrance to the new ideas needed for success. Gordon's personality and negative attitude are cancerous for Edward's positive message for the bank. 

Yet, Edward is hesitant to act. Why? New leaders often encounter a situation similar to that of Edward. They know what needs doing but are slow to act. There are two primary reasons for inaction; both are equally detrimental to the leader and the team. First, the new leader rationalizes the short-term benefit over the long-term cost. In other words, Edward might justify that Gordon's institutional knowledge is too valuable to lose while trying to make a positive mark on the new bank. Edward becomes myopic or nearsighted to the point that he can no longer see Gordon as a barrier to success.

Second, the new leader assumes that the termination of a long-term employee will compound the current bad morale and worsen things. Edward believes that Gordon's firing will create more fear and uncertainty in an already struggling environment. The reality is the opposite. Every day Edward does not take action begins to cost him the title of leader from his followers. Also, Gordon knows that he is inconsistent with Edward's message, and the longer he fights it and survives, the stronger his resistance becomes.

Edward and the rest of the organization are the losers if Gordon remains on the team. The change required is only controllable by Gordon. Even though it is not likely, Gordon must decide that his prior normal was wrong and that he needs to embrace the change moving forward. Edward needs to tell Gordon immediately that only his literal and legitimate change will keep him on the team. Knowing Gordon is not likely to change, Edward owes him that last opportunity as a leader. If he does not alter his behavior, Gordon needs to get dehired.

As leaders, we must accept that change and transition are necessary to find and attract better talent. If we tolerate bad attitudes and unwanted behavior, we are not leading. We must constantly make room for the person that can take our team to the next level. While not pleasant, it is an absolute necessity for an organization to improve. If you want to win the war for talent, you must be willing to attract and hire the best, and you cannot do this with the wrong people in key positions on your team.

Fire Gordon?
I've seen similar situations over the years. If Edward allows Gordon to stay after a probationary period to get on board with the changes but Gordon doesn't change, Edward's effectiveness and respect with the other employees will diminish rapidly. This will compound the employee's distrust for management. Sometimes you get one shot. Don't waste it.
(July 06, 2022 ~ 6:28 AM)
By Anonymous

Edward and Gordon
Great blog today about leadership and making difficult decisions to help a non-productive team member to move on to a better fit position with another organization! I once discussed with a Popeye's franchise owner the simultaneous difficulty and necessity of firing high performers with poor attitudes. Yes you lose the skills (and possibly revenues) they bring but keeping them impacts the entire team and undermines your team's confidence in you as a strong leader with good judgment.
(July 05, 2022 ~ 10:18 AM)
By Monica Ricci