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‘I Quit Because My Scissors Are Broken’

 T Paul ThomasOver the last few months, I have received wonderful comments and feedback on my columns that have dealt with taking care of employees and doing things like writing notes, holding one-on-ones, and doing a better job of communicating.

That being said, I still haven’t convinced everyone yet. In the last 30 days, I actually had a CEO say to me, “I’m worried to have one-on-ones with my employees because I am afraid of what I might hear.” That isn’t a good approach. Let me tell you about an experience I had during my first job out of college.

Great Western Bank hired me as a brand new college graduate in 1983, paying me the high salary of $17,000 per year. As a finance degree-carrying new hire, I thought I had everything I needed to be a great banker for the Arizona bank. Instead, they took six months to train me the correct way to analyze balance sheets, income statements and cash flow statements (Northern Arizona University never taught me that customers actually lie on their financial statements to get loans).

It was a wonderful first job where I was exposed to everything from working in a retail branch, to operations, to commercial banking. But after two years, I was approached about a bigger and better opportunity. During my exit interview (which, by the way, if, as the CEO, you aren’t personally doing these, you are missing a unique opportunity to find out what issues exist in your organization. Don’t leave this to your human resources manager or the individual’s manager), I was asked why I had decided to leave. I responded, “Because my scissors are broken.” Was that the real reason? No, but it was the first thing that popped into my head and it was a symptom of a bigger issue at the bank.

One of the blades of my scissors was broken off. It was the top third of the blade, so I could still cut with them, but it had to be short cuts. Could I have asked someone for another pair? Sure, but it was always one of those things that I just lived with.

I use this example with my management classes and with my management teams. Employees might say they are quitting to make more money, or for better opportunities, but it is the little things that cause employees to leave an organization. Little things are what causes an employee to accept the phone call from a recruiter, or what causes them to take a look at the job postings on LinkedIn.

A friend of mine recently celebrated 25 years at his company. The company CEO called him on his anniversary and said, “Congratulations on your 25 year anniversary. I am going to take you to lunch to celebrate.” A year later, he is still waiting for her to schedule that lunch. It is always little things.


Why Didn’t Someone Say Something to Me?


Another thing I hear from CEOs that hold these one-on-ones is surprise, frustration and confusion about the issues and problems. They end up asking the same question at the end of their one-on-one, “Why didn’t you tell me this before?” The exact same thing was asked of me when I explained I was quitting because of my broken scissors: “Why didn’t you just ask for a new pair?” The response from the employee is the same: “No one ever took the time to ask me.”

The average employee will not go to you as a CEO, general manager or mid-level manager, and until you understand and accept it, you will continue to have great employees leave. As the manager, your employees are not your partners. Your employees do their job and expect you to motivate, challenge and seek their feedback.

As for the manager that has their head in the sand, using the strategy that if I don’t ask what the issues are, mysteriously, there aren’t any, it is time to do what you are being paid to do, MANAGE. Take the time to meet with all your employees and you’ll be surprised to find out how many will appreciate you for taking the time and maybe some of them will just need a new pair of scissors. FBN

By T Paul Thomas

T Paul Thomas teaches business and entrepreneurship at Northern Arizona University, serves as the CEO of the Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance (NALA) and is the Chief Entrepreneur at the NACET Accelerator. Prior to joining NAU in 2013, Paul spent 25 years as a serial CEO and President. Paul can be reached at thomas.tpaul@gmail.com.


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