I have a tendency to hold on to things entirely too long. Unfortunately, it’s a long-lived handicap of mine that extends through many areas of my life. Chalk it up to the comfort of familiarity, the avoidance of hard goodbyes, or even the deeply rooted belief that things left alone will ultimately improve something I like to call "looking for the good in everything" the end-result is usually the same. I almost always end up wishing that I had cut something (or someone) loose much sooner than I did.
A perfect example is my favorite T-shirt. If memory serves, I bought my gray Fox Racing tee sometime before the turn of the century … 1997 or ’98 seems about right. I can’t tell you what made that shirt so special, but for some reason, that tee was the one that I would grab every weekend when I was working around the house. It fit perfectly, was stylish enough that my wife didn’t complain and simply felt right each and every time I put it on.
Over the course of many years, that poor shirt started to show the age of any garment suffering from multiple washings and frequent wear. The material thinned to the point of near-transparency, (thus making it even more comfortable), and the edges of the well-affixed "Fox" logo began to rip away from the shirt, leaving holes through which my 1970s-style chest hair would poke through and wave at the world. Of course, I’d have been fine with that as a single man, but as most of us know, women don’t like to be seen with us in 90% of what we would wear if we were single. This little fact was the reason that the shirt became a big deal around my house.
It seemed that with only a few holes I was able to slide my shirt through, weekend after weekend, month after month. But sadly, one day I was heartbroken to remove the shirt from the dryer and find that the entire center had ripped out around the logo leaving a large bay window to display my goods to the world. I put the shirt on one final time, and within minutes my wife exercised her veto powers and demanded that I throw it away. To be honest, even I noticed that the appearance was somewhat repulsive and probably not suitable for public display.
Finally, after nearly a decade of weekending in the gray Fox shirt, I realized that it was finally time to lay her to rest.
Life is usually paralleled in business, and this particular lesson was no different. Throughout the years, I’ve hired new employees and seen that they were not the stellar candidates they made themselves out to be in the interview. The problem is that I begin to like people for various reasons just as I became attached to the gray Fox shirt. Give someone a 90-day trial period and pretty soon, you’ll find good things about them that make the bad things seem less important, even when you know that the bad things are not good for your business.
It’s easy to overlook a mistake from an employee when you’ve met his kids or seen that his car is ready to break down. Unfortunately, those little rips that appear around an employee’s logo also tend to get bigger. The more you let someone get by with less than perfect work habits, the less emphasis they put on perfection. That being the case, you’re really only teaching them to be sloppy instead of helping them to improve.
Likewise, you have to excuse the emotional connections that you have with an employee, much like the emotional connections you have with an old shirt. I’ve never pointed it out to my wife, but when my son was born, I wore that old gray shirt at the hospital the very first night. I have many memories of holding him in my arms with the red Fox Racing logo just above him. More than two years later, when my daughter was born, it was the same shirt that endured the occasional spit-up and softly rubbed its worn fabric against her cheek.
Many memories go along with everything. Perhaps a sales kid did a wonderful job during the best promotion you ever had. A couple of years later, he’s mooching an uncovered draw and gabbing on his cell phone all day, but you still retain that fond memory of the time that he did so well. Part of you may even be holding on to some hope that maybe, given enough time, he may come around again. My advice to you is to give it up. The fond memories and hopes you’ve held have turned him into a bum and there are new memories out there, with new sales kids, just waiting for you to give them a chance!
Just before writing this particular column, I gently laid my T-shirt in the trash can. I finally decided that the memories will live on regardless, and surely I can find another shirt to wear on the weekends. Hell, if I go around topless long enough, I’m pretty certain that my wife will eventually break down and buy me one! And considering the fact that I spent $10 on that shirt nearly 10-years ago, that’s a total of about