And I Am Not Going To Change

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

A business owner from Michigan called me the other day to talk about one of her key managers’ ongoing attitude problems.  This manager had been a marginal performer for quite some time, doing just enough to get by, intuitively leveraging the strained labor market by routinely pushing the envelope with the owner on a host of issues, knowing he would not get fired in that it would take the owner too long to replace him.

His litany of “coaching incidents” included myriad absences, tardiness, and leaving work early, abusing his exempt status, misusing company resources, not attending meetings, missing deadlines, and flaunting various policies, all the while presenting himself in a defiant demeanor rapt with sarcasm, elitism, and confrontation.  

“Yes.”  The owner had documented the long-time manager’s unsatisfactory behavior, hoping such coaching and counseling would lead to improvement.  Predictably, improvement was reluctant, illusory, and ultimately short-lived, with the manager consistently reverting to his previous ways each time.

Tell me the story about the leopard and its spots again…

Recently, the manager was discussing an issue with an administrative employee in the company office.  The manager assumed his normal position of dominance with the employee, badgering her in a loud condescending tone, in front of other co-workers, to the extreme degree that one of the co-workers ultimately had to step in to halt the verbal and emotional abuse the manager was directing at the targeted Administrative Assistant (who as you would guess, had not done anything wrong).

Per company protocol, an investigation ensued.

Concurrent with that investigation, the manager was overheard by several other co-workers speaking ill of the company and customers, to a customer while on the telephone.  The manager was heard using extremely hostile terms, including profanity (i.e., saying “F U” to the customer).  

Per company protocol, another investigation ensued.

At that point in time, the owner called me to certify proper action steps, prepare for the formal disciplinary meeting, and anticipate possible reactions from the manager.   Given the ongoing nature of this manager’s actions, coupled with its increased emotional release and expansion to customers, I recommended immediate termination, lest any reduced disciplinary program would now establish those actions as a non-terminable precedent that would certainly cripple the long-term viability of the company culture.

Despite my admonition, the owner chose to offer a week-long unpaid suspension to the manager.  It’s the owner’s company; I naturally supported the owner’s decision.

During the disciplinary meeting, upon hearing the owner’s edict of an unpaid five-day suspension, the manager instinctively became aggressive, and said “I don’t care what you say, this is who I am, and I am not going to change!”

Did you just see a leopard run by?

That insolent refusal to accept constructive feedback for multiple serious offenses sealed the manager’s fate.  He no longer works for the company.

My advice to the owner and to the readers of this posting:  Don’t wait so long to terminate an employee who consistently refuses to accept feedback.

They don’t change their spots.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.