A scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog hesitates, afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, they would both drown. Considering this, the frog agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When the frog asks the scorpion why, the scorpion replies that “it was in its nature to do so.”
Though the fable is relatively recent, its outlook that certain natures cannot be reformed was common in ancient times as well. The message is the scorpion is fundamentally vicious and will not change. I’d like to introduce a fable for the tire and service industry.
A woodpecker is drumming a tree (hitting it repeatedly to communicate with other woodpeckers) early one morning when a squirrel comes out and asks him to stop. The squirrel, you see, has a busy day and needs its sleep. The woodpecker says OK and agrees to stop drumming. A few minutes later, the woodpecker is at it again. This time, clearly frustrated, the squirrel angrily shouts at the woodpecker, “You said you would stop drumming, why did you lie?” “I am not drumming,” said the woodpecker, “I am now searching for food.”
Woodpeckers do what woodpeckers do. It’s their nature. It’s their behavior. When it comes to employees, employee behavior is built over time, it’s a subconscious, repeated process that gets dug into a routine, much like a groove in a record. Over time, it is extraordinarily difficult to erase that groove and start over. Not impossible, but highly unlikely. Many times, a “honeymoon” can occur where a brief period of peace is found, but eventually in most circumstances without high-level motivational factors, the woodpecker returns to drumming the tree. Or looking for food.Is this employee bad? Well, that’s the wrong question. It’s judgmental and doesn’t help us along to the best solution for the employee and the business. Let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
Here we have an employee at the beginning filling out an application, listing his or her skills and experience. And a business that in the interview, asked them all about fixing cars or selling tickets. The employee didn’t misrepresent themselves, the company failed to explore the habits, behaviors and attitude of the employee in their past workplaces. Now we have a problem. A woodpecker in the workplace; someone who has adequate or better skills to do the work, so they are valuable (we don’t want to fire them), but their attitude and belief system about work do not line up with the company’s (we want to fire them). Every day, as we try to improve the business, there’s the taka-taka-taka-taka-taka of the woodpecker. Taka-taka-taka-taka. Driving. You. Nuts.
The business is now stuck in a very difficult position. Talent is very hard to come by, and if fired the employee will leave a hole, and work will go undone causing financial losses. If they stay (and I guarantee this will happen) they will infect good employees with bad habits and beliefs, causing other, good employees to quit to seek better working environments. Good employees always quit seeking better, woodpeckers always stay fearing loss of paycheck. This also obviously causes financial loss, but it’s in the future, so the business always puts off pain later to avoid pain today.
The painful truth: Woodpeckers won’t stop being woodpeckers without some strong motivation to change. This article is too short to go into all the details, but in our 20 Group meetings it’s a common conversation on what actions need to be taken if you believe that the time, effort and energy is worth trying to save a woodpecker. Often, the value equation equals it was a bad hire and separation is the best financial decision for both employee and employer. The employer should look at improving the interview process (behavioral interviewing is a good start), and the (former) employee should reflect on how their habits and attitudes are causing financial distress to themselves.
In 100% of the situations I have encountered regarding woodpeckers, every single time an owner has finally dug up the courage to oust the bird, the owner says, “I should have done that a long time ago.” And all the employees agree. I have never — let me repeat that — never experienced a woodpecker being told to fly the coup and the business suffering afterwards. Never.
Now go be a good squirrel, and make sure there are some acorns stored away for the winter. And don’t let the woodpeckers hammer your tree. ■
Dennis McCarron is executive director of Dealer Strategic Planning Inc., a company that manages multiple tire dealer 20 Groups in the U.S. (www.dsp-20group.com). To contact McCarron, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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