Hiring and firing

We all know that there aren’t a lot of people vying for a job at anyone’s drycleaning plant.  It’s a fact of our everyday lives.  This article is not about changing that fact.  Frankly, I cannot imagine what will ever change it.  I doubt that there is anything on the horizon that will suddenly make working in the drycleaning business so glamorous that a queue of eager applicants will appear outside your door.  There isn’t a secret magic trick that will cause this to happen in this article either.


I bet that some of you have a better hiring policy than others.  I have some clients that have a detailed interview process; perhaps multiple interviews with several people.  I also have some clients that have a DISC profile test for initial screening.  There are also some that have a “fog the mirror” test.  It’s like a “roofer’s license”, it covers everything!  If you can fog a mirror, you can do any job in the plant.  No matter how involved your screening, no matter how careful you are, no matter how thorough the background check, no matter how skillful you are at interviews, you will make bad hires.  This article is about the person that needs to be replaced.


I have written in the past, about what is probably the least often followed bit of management wisdom: hire slow, fire fast (pardon the grammar).  It will seem like I am wavering on this valuable bit of management philosophy, but that isn’t true at all.  In fact, I am trying to solidify that school of thought in your mind.  Hire slow.  Fire fast.


Let’s assume that you’ve hired slowly, and always do.  Great.  And I’m not going to change that.  Let’s also assume that you need to replace your drycleaner.  The reason is immaterial.  You are disappointed enough in him that you don’t want him as part of your organization any longer.  But then, reality sets in.  “Who will do his job?”  No one has applied for a job at your plant in 6 months.  You come to terms with a clear fact.  No one is out there wishing to get hired by you or your company.  Your drycleaner’s job is somehow saved because of this.  It doesn’t matter why you wanted him out, his performance, his attitude, his skill set or his mannerisms have set a new standard.  They have established a new baseline of what you will accept from an employee.  Now imagine that this has happened numerous times with a handful of employees.  This new, lower standard is why you have an inspector that can’t inspect, a presser than can’t press, an assembler that can’t assemble and now, a cleaner that can’t clean!


You can believe in dismissing an employee promptly, with all your heart, but that doesn’t make a Drycleaner drop out of the sky.  And hiring slowly?  Well, nobody has applied for a job here in 6 months!  Isn’t that slowly enough?  And if you were to somehow find a drycleaner just in the nick of time, does he get hired immediately?  Regardless of qualifications?  If you hire him immediately, you break the rule by hiring quickly rather than slowly.  But if you don’t hire him immediately, aren’t you breaking the rule by not firing your drycleaner quickly, when it needs to be done?  It surely is a paradox.  But worse, it’s a paradox with a seedy underbelly.  You unwittingly set a standard in your business that sends a terrible message to others in your employ.  Let’s say that your drycleaner needs to be terminated for repeated absenteeism.  Let’s say he has called out four Mondays in a row.  But you keep him around because you don’t appear to have a choice.  This is a clear message to the other employees that this behavior is tolerated.  The next time your shirt presser wants to teach YOU a lesson, she will call out and you will be left to deal with it. This leads to a very hectic workplace full of under-achievers that aren’t too concerned about the side effects of their behavior.  The hard workers resent the under achievers. They also resent you for putting up with it.  The under achievers are malcontents that want to punish others by doing things that they should get fired for, but don’t.


But I’m sure that you have a breaking point.  Every employer, it seems, has a line in the sand.  It can be anything.  You can do a lousy job pressing, you can call in sick every Monday, you can steal cash from the drawer, but don’t use your cell phone in the bathroom.  That’ll get you fired for sure.  This doesn’t make you quick on the trigger.  It just means that you tolerate some things and are intolerant of other things.


Now, let’s turn the tables.  Let’s say that your drycleaner is sick of you badgering him about taking Monday’s off and he quits.  Please don’t say that you would drop to your knees, begging him to stay, because if you do that you will prove to him (and everyone else will learn about this too) that his behavior is something that you accept.  So, he quits and a change is forced.  By him.  You proceed to do whatever it takes.  This happened to a client of mine.  The owner had to be the drycleaner for the next two weeks.  But maybe it would be different for you.  Maybe there is a second string.  It doesn’t matter what you had to do.  Your hand was forced and you had to deal with it.  I like it a lot better when I choose to do something and then do it.  This is much better than someone else forcing my hand.  After all, I am the boss.


So, accepting substandard is bad because it sets a bad example and lowers the standards of your company and is bad for morale.


Waiting for someone to quit means that you’ve lost control.  Someone else ran you!  And, while waiting for someone to quit, you still had to deal with the lower standards and the bad example.


And, of course, there is that “hire slow, fire fast” crapola.  Geez.  Now what?


There is an alternative.  The first step is the acknowledgement that there is a difference between firing somebody in your heart and firing someone, literally.  So, the wisdom is really simple:  when you’ve had enough of your drycleaner, pretend that he just quit and go about hiring his replacement as vehemently as if you had just become the new cleaner.  When someone quits, the need becomes immediate.  When they do something that’s cause for termination, too many managers get over it and the cycle continues to escalate. So, in the end, when someone does something that’s cause for termination and you fear that you’d never be able to replace him, fire them in your heart.  Mark them for deletion, so to speak, but stick to your guns, by all means!  If you get over it, you are accepting bad behavior. Fire them in your heart first, secure their replacement, and then do the termination.


And I want to make one more point.  This is something that I have wanted to say during over 20 years of writing.  


When you fire someone, make certain that everyone else knows that the termination was your idea.  Employees in your plant tend to be family and friends of each other so word gets around and the word getting around isn’t always the truth.  

Let’s say that you have to fire your shirt presser because she is on her cell phone, while pressing, again. You have a lot of class and do it tactfully.  Moments later, you are pressing shirts yourself.

The truth:  There are certain behaviors that are completely against company policy and they must be enforced.  If that means that I have to do your job, so be it. Rules are in place for a reason.  No employee will hold me hostage to my own rules.

The story that gets told by the employee:  The boss man told me I couldn’t use my cellphone and I told him “too bad! I’m still pressing. If you don’t like it, I quit!”  I put the screws to him!  Now he’s gotta press LOL.


Same exact scenario. Two completely different stories. The truth sends a clear message to other employees.  It says: The boss is really serious about these policies and he will not hesitate to get rid of me and do my job if I don’t comply.   The lie does tell a story too.  The lie makes it look like the employees run the show.



Donald Desrosiers

Donald Desrosiers

Don Desrosiers has been in the laundry and drycleaning industry for over 30 years.  As a management consultant, work-flow systems engineer and efficiency expert, he has created the highly acclaimed Tailwind Shirt System, the Tailwind System for Drycleaning and Firestorm for Restoration.  He owns and operates Tailwind Systems, a management consulting and work-flow engineering firm.  Desrosiers is a monthly columnist for The National Clothesline, Korean Cleaners Monthly, The Golomb Group Newsletter and Australia's The National Drycleaner and Launderer.   He is the 2001 winner of IFI's Commitment to Professionalism Award.  He has a website at www.tailwindsystems.com and can be reached at tailwindsystems@charter.net or my telephone at 508.965.3163

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