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Helping veteran employees adapt to change

Question:  My company has grown significantly over the past two years. We have more than doubled our size. I have a real issue I hope you can help me with. Many individuals have been with the company for 10, 15 or even 20 years.  They are resistant to change and, at times, undermine our ability to scale. How should I deal fairly with these veteran employees?

JD: This is a significant issue for many companies that are scaling rapidly. Unfortunately, what got you where you are might not get you to where you want to go. 

I would start the process by clearly reviewing your vision with each individual team member. See if you can connect them to the vision. I also would look at the organizational chart. When we grow quickly, we tend to put individuals who are not competent leaders in top positions just because they have been with the company for a while. Make sure you have the right leaders at every level. Great leaders with an eye on the future can make a huge difference when you are growing.

Finally, change is tough for most individuals but particularly for those longer-term employees. They usually are fearful that change will impact both them and the company negatively. Be clear with respect to job function goals and coach them to become more accepting of change. I always hate dismissing long-term employees but if they don’t have the capabilities to do the work required, you might need to move them into a less responsible position or out altogether, as a last resort.

Question:  My company is going to purchase a similar company in another market. The operation we are purchasing, like ours, is a family business, with a father and son running the company.  During our due diligence, we found that the son is not 100% respected by the other company leaders. He has been tabbed by his dad to run the company. How can we close the deal and still protect our interests?

JD: After talking with you, I found out that the son is still very young. He may eventually have the right skills to run the company but is not able to take over today. I’d close the deal and include a minimum one-year agreement with the father to stick around, run the company and train his son. Additionally, I’d assess the son’s leadership capabilities and get him into a leadership program with other leaders in your organization. He will have a full year to become more competent, and you can evaluate his capabilities during that time. Finally, I would put in place a plan to bring another one of your leaders into the market to oversee the son for a longer period of time or to replace him if he is not capable of running the company. Manage your risk and hope for the best.

A CEO coach to countless business leaders, John Dame (“JD”) is an executive team consultant and leadership strategist based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He founded Dame Management Strategies in 2002, serves as Vistage’s Best Practice Chair for South Central Pennsylvania, and founded JD Evolution, an annual conference that features a series of daylong events that explore critical leadership qualities. Visit his website at: johndame.com.

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