Forgive me for the long post, but please, for my sanity, allow me to rant…
What happens when you lose respect for the person you work with?
Let me tell you… it’s an awful feeling.
Day in and day out, you have to slave away beside someone whose work you despise, do not trust and cannot stand.
What if that person was someone you yourself hired?
The feeling is a million times worse.
Let me share with you my employee from hell experience:
June was peak season for my company. We had to finish a huge project that would basically take away all of four weeks of my life. There I was slaving away till midnight, 1, 2 to even hey, 5 am in the morning.
The project was my baby, the culmination of my work. If I did a great job, there would be pats on the back and champagne all around. If however the project failed, well…. it can’t fail…
For a project of this magnitude, I had to hire several assistants. Seriously, HR hates me. I find myself as a picky recruiter, probing and asking multiple questions to prove whether this person can do the job or not.
However, most of the time, I hire really great people. Basically, they’re people who are pretty stable, possess good attitude and are pretty competent. Most come from National Taiwan University, Taiwan’s best school, mainly because our company feels they deserve only the best.
I hate to digress, but this year, I made a really bad hiring decision.
And I regret it.
You can’t know just by looking or talking to him.
Physically, he’s of medium height with alabaster pale skin. His face shaven, hair is clean-cut, with puppy dog eyes that can melt ice. “Hen dan chun,” my comment was when I first interviewed him. He looked simple, even naive… and after hiring someone last year whose nose was permanently up in the air, I needed someone who was a bit more down to earth and possesses a good attitude.
Appearances can be deceiving.
He had all the qualities of a great hire — great school (NTU, ahem!), great grades (3.8 GPA) and great referrals from a distinguished foreign institution (when I called the company, they said that he was smart and was a good worker).
The interview was great as well — he asked smart questions about the company, smiled at the right times and answered the questions well.
After he got in, there was trouble by the first week. He was taking my phone messages because I was at a meeting, when for some insane reason, he said I was away in vacation!!!
Okay, so he’s new.
We forgive the newbies.
They don’t know anything yet, and we must be patient and train him the way to do things. My last assistant during her first week lost my 100-person venue reservation by mistake, but made it up by kicking ass afterwards. People make and learn from mistakes, no worries.
On the second week, he made another boo-boo.
Namely, for my event, he invited the wrong company.
Basically, he invited Company A, when he should’ve invited Company B — and Company A and B names are spelled differently!
“HOW CAN YOU MAKE SUCH A MISTAKE?!!!” I asked him. “They’re two different companies!!!”
The two names were no where alike — It’s like inviting Chinatrust when you should’ve invited Fubon.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he pleaded. “It was a typo error! I typed the name wrong.”
Well, basically, he’s telling me that they’re from the same industries and has “Banking” in their names so he typed the name wrong and invited the wrong company.
What makes it even worse was before we sent the invite, I asked him to double check the email address because it sounded sketchy. He called them again to double check the address and said in affirmation, “Yes, am positive that this is the correct address.”
So basically, the company did confirm their attendance by saying, “We would love to go and our big boss will be attending… but you got our name spelled wrong. It’s not Company A, but Company B.”
Smart guy actually double checked the right email, from the wrong company. 😦
I wanted to jump off the building right then and there.
Another time, I asked him to make a hotel booking. He told me that we had to book for three nights straight at the Shangri-La due to a conference, so our client “has to pay NT$1,300 plus tax per night for three nights.”
“Are you sure it’s NT$1,300?” I asked. “That’s too cheap… call the hotel again.”
“No, I already called the hotel,” he once again insisted. “They said it’s NT$1,300 plus tax.”
“Bu ke neng shi NT$1,300 (NT$ 1,300 is an impossible price),” I said. “Call them again.”
He did call and then said, “Whoops, it’s actually NT$13,300. Really sorry.”
Did this guy come from Mars or what? He repeatedly insists that a 5-star hotel in Taipei would cost less than NT$2,000, and then later on finds out that he’s wrong and all he says is sorry.
Two weeks down, I talk to my boss about him. My boss tells me that he’s still new and to give him a break. “Temps are temps… you’re not supposed to give him anything hard. Train him well and give him a break.”
Long story short, as he’s only a contracter, firing him isn’t really an option. So basically, am stuck with him till my project is over.
The problem is, he creates more problems than he’s worth.
I cannot give him simple things to do.
When he takes my messages, he writes down the wrong message and tells me the wrong person has called. For example, he said that “Christine from Company C called and said that they cannot fulfill the order.”
When I call Christine to ask her about the message, turns out that Christine was away from vacation and didn’t call me the entire day. Or when I call her, she never said that she cannot fulfill the order… in fact, she said that she will definitely do the order, it’s just that she would have to do some overtime, but yes, she can do it.
When I ask him to order some office supplies, he orders the wrong sizes, and there we are stuck with supplies we cannot use because they’re of the wrong size.
He mistakenly cancelled an important client’s airport car, almost causing the guy to miss the plane.
He prints out the wrong report from the wrong company.
He takes over a day to organize one conference call, and by then, he hasn’t even started.
And the worst, he sent a very important document to the right client’s office, but to the WRONG COUNTRY.
“CHECK, DOUBLE CHECK AND TRIPLE CHECK YOUR WORK,” I told him with my voice already raising. “Do you know how critical your mistakes are?”
I would explain to him the process all over again, and let him know how important it is to give the right information to the right clients.
If for example, you type the wrong number, how can that person call? If you give the wrong directions to the driver, how can that person go to that meeting? If your number is off by one digit, then the entire model is wrong.
“It’s important to do everything right because if there’s a mistake, your clients will think, ‘What other mistakes did they make?'” I patiently explained. “Clients have to trust your work. Reputation is all you have. When you give clients the output, all information must be correct, because once you press the SEND button, it’s hard to recall it again.”
Through it all, he’d nod his head in apology. “I feel bad and am really sorry,” he said apologetically. “I will not do the same mistake again.”
And the next day, there’s another mistake again, a result of his carelessness, and his inability to do things right.
“How can people do the right things fast?” he once complained to another colleague who works as my second assistant.
How can people do things fast, and do things right?!
My god, that’s all we do… if we are either slow or if we do the wrong things, then where is our credibility? Why would our clients do business with us? The reason why we are good at what we do is because clients are assured that when they give us a project, we do it faster and better than our competitors. Otherwise, our competitors would run us over and we totally lose our competitive edge.
Actually, in ANY job, you have to do the right things. If your boss gives you a task and you do it incorrectly, then why did the boss hire you in the first place?! If your boss trains you, and everybody gives you repeated chances to excel, and YET you fail repeatedly, then what’s your purpose? If you hurt the company more, why even work?
What’s more, with doing the correct tasks, you must also do it in a timely manner.
When you hunt, it’s very important that you fire at the right moment. If you spend a lot of time adjusting your gun to hit your target, you’ll lose the catch. It’ll run away and it’ll be gone before you know it!
Doing things effectively and efficiently is the key to success. And yet, this person asks how one can do the job fast and do it right?!
Mind you, the job I give him is NOT difficult.
As I am very much aware of his weaknesses, I do NOT give him critical jobs.
A lot of the workload he’s supposed to do, I and another assistant already take care of because we are unsure of the quality and accuracy of his work. So, as his boss, I am very much aware on what his workload is, and trust me, it’s not that much.
Some people has asked me if I expect too much from him as he’s merely a contractor. I guess, as someone with a strong work ethic, I don’t pity anyone who cannot perform. If you do not understand, ask. If you want some instructions repeated, let me know. But once youa ccept the job, you perform.
A lot of people had vied for the position, and yet, we chose you. By giving him the position, we are deriving someone of the chance to work for a reputable firm. Hence, when you get the job, you do the best you can and don’t f*ck it up.
But he still f*cks it up!
He screws up because of his carelessness and then blames Excel (the program) because he said that cutting, dragging and pasting changes the numbers. He also blames the company driver for not understanding his instructions. He blames the client for not getting his message.
“Look,” I said. “Take responsibility for you actions. Don’t blame Excel because before you send me the file, you have to double check your work. If there’s a mistake, you correct it before you press SEND. If the driver doesn’t understand you, you make him repeat the order once again to ensure he understands the correct message.”
At work, if one person misunderstands you, that’s fine.
However, if everybody misunderstands you, be it the vendors, the drivers, the clients and even your boss, it’s not the other person that has the problem.
“I have good communication skills,” he once listed as his strengths. “EQ hai bu cuo (I have pretty good EQ).”
Good EQ is not just about talking about nothing.
Good communication skills is when you want to communicate Message A, and the person gets exactly what you mean. It’s like the game, Pass the Message. It’s not good communication skills if you consistently pass the wrong message.
What’s worse, when you communicate the wrong message, you create a series of problems for everybody. For example, if I am doing a deal, if I am typing the instructions and there is a typo, then it creates a whole lot of headaches because everybody would be following the wrong instructions.
Give him something simple, ha.
If he cannot even take simple orders, and I cannot fire him, then what is there to do? It pains me that I’m wasting my payroll to someone who does not offer any value to me.
Anyway, just so we’re clear, he’s a really nice guy with a great personality. For all his screw-ups, it’s amazing that he still has the galls to go to work and face us.
But for the life of him, that guy can’t work.
He just makes a lot of careless mistakes that everyone in the office is paranoid of his work. Every time he does something, we are usually careful enough to double check and triple check his work… and more often than not, we spot another mistake!!!
And this is after he double and triple checked it!
Don’t get me wrong, we treat him very well. He gets treated to nice meals, gets all the perks and we’re cutting him a lot fo slack given how much he screwed up. He gets all the rewards, I assure you.
So it pains me that this guy is under our headcount, and I don’t respect his work. When that happens, no matter how nice a guy is, it’s really difficult to work hard with him and treat him nicely.
And yet you do… because this is how civilized people work.
Cordially and politely.
Even if it kills me.
It was his last day this Monday, to everybody’s relief. “Let it go,” my Singaporean colleague said, “I know you’re pissed but don’t cry over spilled milk la.”
“I am letting it go,” I said. “But I need to get this out of my chest to my close friends so sorry if you’ve become my outlet. I have never met someone this incompetent in my entire life. No common sense whatsoever!”
“That’s the problem sometimes,” he consoled me. “Sometimes, people who get good grades don’t have the common sense to survive. Maybe he’s just good at taking tests!”
My assistant’s last day was a day of reflection. Before everybody under me leaves, I usually spend time going through them their tenure, what they’ve learned and how they feel about things. I do this in a regular basis, but the last day is the culmination of all things.
In the end, the problem lay in his attitude.
Sure, he had a pleasant personality and was willing to stay late at work,but the source of the problem lay on the fact that he didn’t think his work was that important, despite our repeated insistence that his work was critical.
“What’s the point of booking hotels, cars, and applying for documents?” he had thought.
“The problem lies in the fact that you think that you’re just doing a job,” I told him directly. “For you, it’s a series of tasks that needs to be done.”
“When you think of your work as a favor, as a job alone,” I continued. “You cannot see the big picture. For you, you finish a task and tick it off. You see hotels to be booked, and not people will actually be staying in the hotel. You apply for documents but don’t care about the people you’re applying the documents for. If you think of your job as tasks, you cannot do it well. If you see your job as a service to people, then you naturally become extra careful because you realize that you’re affecting people’s lives and creating inconveniences for them if you do make mistakes.”
Also, he complains that he cannot find a full-time job after seeking employment for over a year.
I tell him nicely to get off his high horse.
“Contractual positions are a test to decide whether you are fit for full employment,” I told him. “If you cannot do even the most basic things right, then how can people trust you for bigger things?”
It seems that he expects that since he’s from Taiwan’s best schools, he should be given more challenging responsibilities than making copies and making reservations. But how can people ask him to do deals when he cannot even send the right files?
Anyway, his tenure’s over, and so is my rant.
No need to cry over spilled milk.
This is indeed a great lesson: hire the right people, because the wrong people can make working a living hell.
I feel a lot better now.