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Excerpt from Generation Innovation by Lisa Leveseque and Belle Walker, available November 9, 2023
Kate was pensive as she pulled into her parent’s driveway for the “weekly” dinner that had somehow slipped into something closer to a monthly cadence as MoveMobile had flourished. The company’s explosive growth over the past year had been incredibly exciting, but it was becoming increasingly clear to her that it was time to expand the leadership team. After working so hard to become comfortable with delegating, Kate was a bit frustrated with her ongoing reluctance to bring someone new into the highest levels of her company. She thought she had found a good solution, but she was continuing to turn the challenge, and her proposed plan of action, over and over in her mind.
“Hi sweetie! You look awfully serious today!” was Nancy’s greeting as Kate walked in the door.
Kate flashed a brief smile, but her attention was obviously back inside her own head within moments.
Nancy waited for what seemed like an interminable amount of time for Kate’s response until she said, “Okay, this has gone on long enough.”
“What are you talking about, Mom? What has gone on long enough?”
Maybe Nancy would play along, and they could skip over any deep conversations about how to expand the MoveMobile leadership team. Kate acknowledged that she would appreciate the advice but as she had zeroed in on her planned solution, she had a nagging feeling that her mother would disagree, which made her reluctant to broach the topic.
“You know darned well what I’m talking about. There is clearly something bothering you and I’m tired of waiting for you to either bring it up or resolve it on your own. Out with it.”
“Well, you know how successful the business has been recently?” She paused until her mother nodded. If Nancy was going to make her talk about this, the least Nancy could do was to acknowledge that her current challenge resulted from the recent successes. “And you know how much our team has grown?” Another nod from her mother. “Well, I think it’s time to add a third person to our executive team.”
“That’s great, Kate. But I’m still a bit confused as to why you’re so pensive right now. You usually spring into action with something like this. I’m surprised that I didn’t just hear about this new hire plan from a job posting!”
Kate’s head snapped back to her mother’s face at that comment. “New hire?”
“Well, I guess I just assumed that when you said it was time to add a new executive, you would be posting a job description to find the right candidate. Do you have something different in mind?”
“I was thinking about promoting Sally.” Now that the words were out, Kate realized she was becoming more comfortable with the idea. Sally had been with the company for just a few months after participating as their very first test subject, and since then had been using her experience to drive product management for the entire company. She was also one of Kate’s closest friends. There were very few people that Kate trusted more in the entire world.
Of course, Sally also had her faults. She could be a bit unreliable sometimes, and when she latched onto an idea, getting her to seriously consider any other options could be incredibly challenging. Kate had been a bit surprised the first time Sally fought for a feature and dug in her heels despite nearly unanimous agreement that it was an unimportant feature. Eventually, it had been easier to just build the feature than to keep fighting Sally. The feature hadn’t had any negative impact on the user experience so Kate thought that the entire situation had been resolved easily enough.
When it came down to it, Sally was a fixture in Kate’s life, and she struggled to imagine the business without her friend’s stubborn voice contributing to all the brainstorming sessions. Plus, that same degree of focus and loyalty would apply to the business and to Kate. Loyalty like that was valuable.
“Oh.” Nancy sensed that she was in very dangerous territory. Sally had been one of the first full-time hires Kate had made. Nancy had been skeptical about that decision, too. She had done her best to hold her tongue when it came to these decisions for her daughter’s business, but she had seen too many examples of her colleagues’ practices suffering at the hands of friends and family to be totally blind to the potential consequences of nepotism. She even had her own harrowing experience to draw on.
So Nancy pulled a smile back on her face and tried to feel her way forward. “That sounds very exciting. You know how much I’ve always adored Sally, but I stand by my original statement. Even if you believe right now that Sally is the best candidate, you need to make sure that the decision is clear and feels fair to your other employees. It seems like the best way to do that would begin with a job posting so that anyone who wants to be considered has a chance to apply.”
“Interesting advice, especially since you have never done anything like that. I’ve seen you promote office assistants to office managers and dental techs to senior dental techs without ever saying a word to the rest of your staff!” Kate was suddenly angry with her mother. Why should Nancy question this decision when all her own decisions had looked just like what Kate was doing today? This was part of why Kate was so careful with her hiring in the first place. Loyalty to the employees who were loyal to her was fundamental to how Nancy ran the dental practice, and Kate had always admired that aspect of Nancy’s leadership.
Nancy sighed and was silent for a moment. That caught Kate’s attention because she had expected Nancy to immediately get defensive.
“You’re right. That’s how I’ve filled roles at the practice for close to thirty years.”
“But I’ve been realizing lately that maybe there was a better way.”
Her mother, the vocal preacher of loyalty, was suddenly questioning her own decisions?
Cautiously, Kate asked, “What do you mean?”
Nancy barked a laugh. “Do you remember Marcia?”
Kate had to stop and think for a few minutes before pulling from her mind the office manager who had left the practice when Kate was still in middle school. “Yes, vaguely. She was always very nice to me.”
“Well, I don’t talk about this much but promoting Marcia to office manager was one of the worst mistakes I ever made in my career.” Kate raised her eyebrows in surprise. “She was the first hygienist I hired when I took over the practice, but she decided that cleaning teeth was boring and wanted a new challenge. She suggested that I make her the office manager and that she would be able to use her hygienist’s perspective to make better decisions around everything from ordering supplies to patient billing.
“Marcia made a very compelling argument. By that point, I had two other hygienists and two different ladies at the reception desk who were balancing the office work. Having someone who could take on part of the management burden and provide a ‘dental’ perspective to all elements of the business sounded great!
“So I went ahead and moved her into the new role.”
Into the silence that followed, Kate finally asked, “What happened?”
“Well, the short version is that it was a disaster. The longer version starts by noting that working for me was Marcia’s first job. She had a hygienist’s perspective, but she had never done any sort of office work. Ordering supplies and managing people were completely new concepts for her and she was quickly in over her head.
“It started with small but annoying oversights. The dental side of the business was always fully stocked but we would run out of paper for invoicing patients, or I would realize that patients had been leaving the office without booking their next appointment.
“I also started to notice more tension among the staff. The receptionists were always polite to each other but there seemed to be less laughter and fewer smiles than I remembered.
“Then one day I heard shouting from the reception desk. I dropped what I was doing and ran out on a patient because I was worried that my practice was on fire!
“Instead, I learned that the tensions among my office staff had reached a boiling point. One of the receptionists was yelling at Marcia, telling her that she was just trying to cover for Marcia’s mistakes and that Marcia should be grateful. Marcia was yelling that she was the office manager, and she knew what was best for the practice. It was a mess.”
Kate was incredulous. She had never heard this story before and was finding it hard to believe that this kind of tension had ever existed at Nancy’s practice. “So what happened next?” she asked.
“Eventually, I got everyone calmed down and we went back to work for the rest of the day. That evening, I sat down with each employee separately and learned that the problems had been more extreme that I had realized. Apparently, the receptionists had been ignoring directions from Marcia that made no sense and placing orders for the supplies they needed without clearing the orders with her.
“When I asked why they hadn’t just come to me with their concerns, they looked embarrassed and said that it was clear I had promoted Marcia because we were friends. I was so embarrassed! In retrospect, I can hardly blame them. There really was no other explanation for why I had put someone so unqualified into that role and then done nothing to check up on her performance!”
Nancy sat quietly again for a few minutes. Kate was equally silent.
Finally, Kate ran out of musings and her curiosity got the better of her. “So I guess you had to fire Marcia?”
“Yes.” Nancy sighed again. “Well, no. I didn’t have to fire her. In retrospect, we could have talked about having her come back to her original role as a hygienist. Or we could have talked about training options if she really wanted to stay as the office manager.
“But I did fire her. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do as a business owner. Not only did I lose a good hygienist, I also lost a good friend.”
“Is that when you promoted Megan?”
“Actually, no. I was feeling very nervous about my entire team, so I posted a job description and ended up hiring Madeline. She was fantastic but she only stayed with the practice for a few years because she decided to move back to California. That’s why I have only done incremental promotions for my staff ever since. By the time Madeline left, Megan had had enough experience under her guidance to be ready to take on the role. I’ve also been lucky that the practice hasn’t really needed any new positions or big leaps for the internal staff since I filled the office manager position.”
Kate was silent for a moment. Then she asked, in a very quiet voice, “But what if I already told Sally that I’m planning to promote her?”
Find out how Kate resolves this conundrum and follow along with *all* of Kate and Nancy’s business adventures on November 9th when Generation Innovation: Business, Family, and the Journey to Success hits the shelves! Mark your calendar and sign up here to get the discounted purchase link direct to your inbox to take advantage of our $1.99 launch price (first 24-48 hours only).