Culture Changes Might Mean Saying Goodbye to Original Employees

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Part 4 of a 5-Part Series from a Business Coach Perspective:
Top 5 Leadership Growing Pains Seen by This Business Coach 

When original employees don’t adjust well to culture change, tough decisions lie ahead!

You hired Sally 5 years ago, and she's been your righthand person, confidant, and friend. You are Sally were the company culture. As you grow, you'll introduce automation and new team members and identify and document the processes and procedures for a stable growth strategy. Suddenly, you're not sitting elbow to elbow with Sally anymore. Other team members may be more experienced and qualified to contribute in ways that Sally only wishes she could. She may feel threatened and displaced, even angry.

I've seen business owners hold on to original team members to the point of the employee becoming a detriment to the company. Even though you've provided additional training and have had multiple reassuring discussions, some employees can't tolerate that they are no longer your one and only. Sadly, they may need to move on. Still, the thought of this difficult conversation leaves entrepreneurs with a great deal of guilt and worry about this now underperforming employee's future outside the company.

How to determine if a long-time employee is no longer a culture fit.

You'll usually see developing resistance and something resembling a temper tantrum or the cold shoulder treatment. I've seen original team members employ emotional manipulation to sabotage a growing culture and the newcomers contributing to it. This behavior comes from a place of fear and insecurity, which frankly might be warranted. Sally may have been your right-hand person, but now there's a good chance the company's needs have outgrown her skillset. Some may consider her ways “old school” at this point.

In my experience, most business owners do an excellent job of redefining this person's role, but the employee may need more than that. They no longer feel as important, capable, and significant to your success. Soon, you and your devoted employee are miserable, which takes a toll on you and your newer employees.

Unhappy employees are often unwilling to adapt their style or grow their skillset.

The employee stuck in the old way of thinking is performing tasks using outdated technology. When asked to upgrade their skills to adapt to new technology, they may rebel, saying their way has always worked just fine, so why fix it if it isn't broken?

Employees who feel left out and threatened may treat the newcomers rudely and attempt to sabotage their success. This behavior comes from a desire to prove their worth; to you, but also themselves.

You may feel that this employee has become suddenly needy. The truth is they miss being your confidant and spending hours a day with you. They may feel like a lackey as their duties are siphoned off and given to someone more qualified to meet your growing needs.

Is it time to say goodbye?New culture may mean letting go of longtime employees

In my experience as a business coach, it takes time for long-time employees who are stuck in their old-school ways to adapt to the changes brought about by company growth. It also takes a lot of patience and commitment from the founder.

Before you dismiss a once loyal employee who was critical to your success–and probably your sanity–make every attempt to include them in your developing culture and growth plan. Think about their qualities, what they love doing, and the areas where they thrive. Is there a place in the company where his or her skills, personality, and positive traits would be valued?

Could you allow this employee to be a part of the big-picture discussions? While you may now consider their skills outdated, the fact that they know you well and understand your idiosyncrasies (yes, we all have them) is valuable. Get creative, avoid typecasting, and discuss exciting options with your employee. Mostly though, give them time.

Then, if all else fails, the final ultimatum is presented: Find a home in this company or find what you deserve; a workplace that makes you happy.

There is one thing I can say for sure: If an original employee becomes miserable due to your growth strategy, they are as distraught about it as you are. If they are unbending, the healthiest, happiest opportunity for both of you is kindly letting them go their own way. I witness this frequently, and most of the time, both parties end up happy.

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