Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Company “Fit” — A Key to a Happy, Successful Career

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When it comes down to having happy employees, it turns out that there’s a side to the equation that doesn’t show up in the literature very often: getting rid of unhappy employees. A recent article by a Chicago-area businessman on the New York Times’ You’re the Boss Blog underscored that point:

“I have learned the long, hard and frustrating way that as a manager you cannot make everyone happy. You can try, you can listen, you can solve some problems, you can try some more. Good management requires training, counseling and patience, but there comes a point when you are robbing the business of precious time and energy.”

Most people can look around their companies and find examples of the people the author of the above quote describes: people who don’t fit with what the company is trying to do, no matter how well they’re managed, or how much support or help they’re given.

So much of the literature and thinking on management stresses looking after employees as an active part of a manager’s job.  Thus, if a manager wants an open, creative, collaborative workforce, they have to create the conditions for it, train people to act in a certain way, and foster the environment until it produces what they’re looking for. Achieving success in that is one definition of what we’ve come to call good leadership.

What tends to be absent from the leadership canon, however, is the acknowledgement that some people just don’t want to be led, or are determined to resist any change that they don’t agree with. Even highly skilled, experienced workers can fall into that category, and end up not only not doing their own job, but holding back their department or the company as a whole.

When presented as a theoretical problem, the answer to many business issues can seem easy. For example: revenue has dropped 25 percent, and you need to cut costs to deal with it. Where do you begin? It’s similarly easy to recommend firing someone who isn’t performing well in their job. But getting rid of employees simply because they don’t seem to fit with the company culture is a lot harder to do—in large part because there are no hard and fast metrics for assessing “fit”. Nor can there be: it’s a subjective measure.

Ultimately, the issue comes down to a very simple idea, also contained within the Times article: “It’s hard to build a great company with the wrong people.” What’s easy for most of us to do is look around our companies and find people that just aren’t on board with the direction the organization is seeking to go. And even if you don’t know who they are, someone else will: whether it’s the head of one department who can’t get their own work done because of a lack of cooperation from someone else, or an employee who always claims to be too busy with other work to really focus on the priorities being set elsewhere in the firm.

Going back to the canon of management literature, there’s hardly a text in recent memory that doesn’t stress the importance of team building.  There are significantly fewer, however, that recognize in an active sense that building great teams isn’t just about putting the right elements in place. It’s also about weeding out the wrong ones, even if that means getting rid of employees who may not necessarily be underperforming, but who just don’t fit. That, the Times piece suggests, is the secret to making the rest of a company’s employees happy, and to finding success. And who doesn’t want that?

Of course, there are a couple more questions worth considering as well, from an employee’s perspective: first, what does one do if one’s boss or supervisor happens to be the employee who doesn’t fit? And, second: what if you can’t identify that person? Does that mean it’s you? And if so, should you be thinking about finding alternate employment?


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