If you oversee multiple locations, there will be times when the best decision you can make entails moving someone from one location to another. The problem with these types of moves is that they do not always get done for the right reasons, and can often lead to disaster. Some of the biggest mistakes organizations make happen as a result of these types of moves being made when a better option existed.
If you speak to anyone who has come up through the ranks in retail management, you will undoubtedly find that each of them were moved all over the place to fix problems, thus creating a name for themselves and eventually earning promotion after promotion. In fact, I’m not sure I know of anyone who ascended internally to the higher ranks of operations management that does not have a similar story. Even my own story follows along the same arc, especially during my single-unit management career.
For every story like the ones above, there are countless others that you will not here, as they do not have the same happy ending. It is true that many talented leaders will be able to go into virtually any broken situation or business and make it better. It is also true that the life of a “troubleshooter” is not for everyone, and most organizations would be much better off today had they not forced these situations on people so frequently.
Giving up any semblance of a personal life for 90-180 days is not something anyone wants to do, yet people sometimes lose their ability to think clearly when there is money on the table. Just because you can usually convince someone to leave a stable environment to take on a problem location does not mean that you should, and I believe that organizations will start realizing that over the next few years, as more and more companies learn to effectively define their approach to adjust to the generational shift that exists in the workplace.
For starters, when making the wrong decision in this type of situation, you end up creating a new problem, leaving you with two, when you only had one to begin with. The leader’s old location/position will not run the same without them there, regardless of how well they’ve developed their back fill. Even in the occasional successful versions of this story a period of turbulence exists as each team adjusts to a new leader.
A longer term problem that exists is that a full time troubleshooter rarely, if ever, gets the opportunity to compete against their own results from the prior year. One’s ability to improve, year over year, is much more difficult than people give it credit for. Finding improvement in a turnaround situation is easy, and extremely motivating as every day is noticeably better than the prior. When you take that adrenaline filled emotion away, you sometimes find that these troubleshooting leaders lack the ability to find motivation when improvements are not as obvious; a skill paramount to one’s success in any level above that of a single-unit leadership role. In a way, organizations take the ability to learn this skill away from them, leaving them grossly under-developed for the next level, which expresses itself through poor performance in the future.
If you’re in a leadership role today, do not do this to your people. Even when you have troubleshooters working for you, there has to be a limit to the number of “fixes” you will expect from them before allowing them to reap the benefits of their hard work for once. This is one of the main reasons that highly talented individuals give up on the industry altogether. They do not see the days where they can have the wonderful work/life balance that organizations talk about yet rarely act upon for their employees. If you want to build teams that go on to run entire organizations, you cannot give in to the short term pressure that a breakdown location gives you.
Find a permanent fix for your situation, even if it takes a bit longer than calling your “enforcer” to go clean things up. Put some systems in place to protect your organization from any catastrophes, and focus your time on finding the long term solution to the problem.
Do not confuse this process with that of moving people around to give them a change of scenery. Those decisions are welcome, but also must be handled carefully, and should occur extremely infrequently. One of the things that I believe will become widely understood in the coming years is that the solution to the “three year and out” mentality that Millennials are portrayed to have can be embraced by organizations by keeping it fresh. Just because someone wants a change does not mean they want to work for a different organization. You can keep employees from any generation if you treat them right and give them what they want; embracing the change they desire on a 3-5 year basis as opposed to treating them as if you’re on borrowed time from the moment you hire them.
The days of someone staying in the same position from early entry through retirement are over. That ship sailed a long time ago, and instead of bitching about it, perhaps we could all do better to embrace the fact that the average employee wants MORE from us today, and if we give it to them, we may just get MORE ourselves.