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The undeserving staff member who wants a raise

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I am reminded of a colleague who brought back memories of when I used to give year-end raises and bonuses, writes Edward Mendlowitz at Accounting Today.

She has a key employee that has been giving hints about a partnership promotion accompanied with a hefty raise. She told me that she was worried she was going to be held hostage and asked for some suggestions.

I’ve been there and understand her consternation. She does not want to lose that employee of a dozen years, but also felt he was already overpaid. She told me that while he did good work, and the clients all knew him, he was not bringing in any business and did not work much more than the minimum that was expected. While he was pleasant, the clients still called her since they considered him the nice guy that did the work. Also, while she brought him to client meetings early on, she stopped because he always acted like it was a chore for him to“go out of his way for the meeting” and, more importantly, he never followed upon anything unless she specifically asked him to. He did good work, but that was it — he deferred on the tough decisions and was doing nothing to take over anything she was doing or to grow the practice. She did not want to lose him,but also did not want to feel she was being held hostage by him, especially since he was being paid very well.

My experience is that people like that will not change. I’ve had many of them, and believe me,I’ve tried. My partners and I talked to them, coached or tried to coach them,mentored them, and except for some robust changes that never lasted more than a couple of weeks, there have been no sustainable changes or growth. We used them the best we could to get work done, particularly at the client’s office, but they were not contributing to our growth in any manner. In fact, we realized at some point they were holding us back. Now getting rid of someone entrenched in your practice is a big deal and can cause much disruption, but at some point the big picture practice goals need to be reconsidered. If you still want to grow, then I believe a change needs to be made, and we’ve done that. In fact,we never stopped until we merged with Withum and now that is “not my job”anymore. If you are satisfied with your practice or no longer care about growing, then maintaining the status quo becomes important and if it takes a few extra dollars for an undeserved raise, so what?

However, if you want to grow, then you need to go back to the drawing board and redesign your firm.I did that with my partners. I did it in my New York practice and with my partners Peter Weitsen and Frank Boutillette. We refused to settle and we always kept our eye on the mark we wanted to hit. It is tough laying off people and tougher “starting over” with new staff, but the difference is growing the practice the way you want to, or settling in with reduced expectations.

I understand the feeling of being held hostage, but surrendering to an unworthy staff person makes your future hostage to that momentary relief. As to the partnership, Fuhgeddaboudit — give a little bigger raise instead to maintain the peace until you decide how you want to live the rest of your professional life.