Keep the Tigers

Generally speaking there is a type of employee that many business owners do not want in their business. This type of employee, whom I shall call a tiger, is one that may be described as aggressive, overreaching, obnoxious, opinionated, difficult, and narcissistic. I am going to argue that while business owners often find reasons to part ways with this type of employee over time, there are very good reasons for a business to find a way to keep the tigers.

There is another type of employee that should be jettisoned at the first opportunity. This type of employee, whom I shall call a politician, is an employee who will tell whoever he or she is communicating with whatever will place that employee in the best light. This will be true to the point of providing contradictory or even misleading, information. Often this type of employee will be described as a team player, a people person, easy to get along with, and friendly. Of course, none of these characteristics are negative, but the problem will be integrity. This type of employee is duplicitous, and, over time, those who work with this type of employee will come to know that the conduct of this type of employee is hypocritical. The effect of a politician on the morale of a business is toxic.

There is another type of employee that should be nurtured and kept in the business. Often this type of employee will be described as a team player, a people person, easy to get along with, and friendly. Unlike the politician, this employee has integrity. Unlike the tiger, this type of employee will need prompting to provide an opinion, but otherwise, this type of employee will simply concentrate on getting the job done. I refer to this type of employee as a teammate.

It certainly is possible to have an employee who is both a tiger and a politician. This hybrid is the most dangerous and should not be kept in a business. But often business managers fail to see the differences between the tiger who is not a politician and the tigers that are politicians. Some of this has to do with the emotional intelligence of the parties and quite a bit has to do with the ability to communicate.

A tiger will have something to say. They may not say it diplomatically, but if not listened to and ultimately if there is no positive response, the tiger will leave. Does this mean that the tiger will leave if the tiger does not get what the tiger wants? In other words, does the tiger have to have control to be able to stay? Most tigers will stay if there is meaningful communication and parity, that is if there is control equally divided among owners.

I often meet with business owners who tell me they have no one to buy their business. Since the best source for purchasers of a business are the current employees, this tells me that the business has not kept the tigers and that the current employees are teammates. What usually happens is that the tigers are the ones who leave the business for what they see as better opportunities. One characteristic of a tiger is that the tiger is always willing to go down the street and start a business, perhaps in competition with the business in which they are employed. Teammates do not want to run a business, they want a job.

I am familiar with the experience of an engineering company that became concerned about the loss of aggressive young engineers who could become partners in the firm (tigers). The owners talked to the engineers who left and came to understand that they had failed to give the opinions of these engineers appropriate consideration and did not show them a path to ownership and an ability to control their professional practice. After a great deal of consideration and discussion with their employees, the firm created a path to ownership that guaranteed after a certain number of years that owners would control the firm with an equal vote for all owners of certain seniority. Establishing this path to parity enabled the firm to stem the flow of tigers leaving the firm, and kept the tigers creating a succession plan whereby the more senior partners were bought out of the firm by junior partners to the financial advantage of both.

For a variety of reasons, but especially for buy-sell succession planning reasons, owners should be asking: “Who will buy my business?” There is no question that current employees are often the buyers of businesses, but in a business that has not kept the tigers, teammates will not want to own a business.

I often hear owners complain about the brashness or irritating opinions of certain employees who want to do things their own way. A gifted owner, who has the talent of humility, is able to listen – to see through the brashness – and comprehend the contribution and potential of tigers. Perhaps the owner is thinking back to the owner’s conduct before understanding the power of humility in management and leadership and realizes that often this understanding comes with mentoring and experience. That owner may have once been an opinionated and obnoxious employee who left to start a business.

Build your business with teammates who execute the business plan, but also keep the tigers. They will strengthen your business with a diversity of ideas. When you need to realize the value you built in your business, in buy-sell situations, it will be the tigers who step up to buy the business.