One of the 'perks' of managing others is that there are times to be kind and times where kindness won't work.
I didn't have time to write about it when it happened, but during the madness of the last conference I worked on, I had to fire one of the contractors. He kept making mistakes and worked very slowly. I can do semi-slow and meticulous, but slow with mistakes wasn't ok given how much signage we'd be generating in the two subsequent weeks. I learned a long time ago from my mother (when she consulted me on how to say 'no' to someone who loved me), "Don't give false hope, it's the cruelest way because it makes the emotions linger." When I fired the contractor, I tried to blame it all on the fact that it wasn't a good fit. We have fast-flowing chaos and he seems like a designer who needs quiet order. I didn't promise him future work and I didn't give him another chance (I didn't have time, and based on what I'd seen, if he were under more pressure, he'd just make more mistakes). It wasn't fun, I was shaking a little when I asked him to step into an empty office, but I was able to be firm and clear and not give false hope. I'd written out my script to make sure I'd be clear. I didn't have it with me in the room, but it helped to know ahead of time what I should say. He was obviously upset and shocked, but took it very professionally. I really respected his attitude (and conveyed that to the placement agency).
Last Friday, I got to have another round of being the hard-ass manager. We're working on a response for a client (R F P) that's due right after Christmas. During the madhouse of the last conference, one of the designers I hired was assigned to work over on the execut1ves' side of the building and do Powerpoints and presentations for them. They loved his work on an earlier R F P (let's call him Tall and Earnest). When this new R F P came through, the execs specifically asked for Tall and Earnest. He's been working on it for the past week and a half.
Friday evening, Tall and Earnest had already gone home when the door to the design studio burst open and Short Fiery exec burst into the room along with our Gala Guru. Short Fiery exclaimed, "Is Tall and Earnest still here?" And my 'no' she said, "You've got to call him. He put the entire book of the last R F P we worked on on his website!! Doesn't he understand that it belongs to us not him? That's got sensitive pricing on it. What the f___ was he thinking?! I just got called by a prospective employee who'd Googled the event and started talking to me about our fun ideas. WTF!!??"
I called him and he agreed to take it down. Then Short Fiery went on, "You have to get this to him in writing. He signed a non-d1sclosure agreement, he obviously doesn't have a clue what that means."
I defended him by pointing out that he's young and excited, but that I'd email him. I sent him an email that included phrases like, "I can't tell you how violated this made us feel". Unfortunately for him, he's responded since in ways that are both very arrogant and very young. He wrote back to me to say, "I took it down. I'm sorry about that. I didn't think it was that big a deal." Um, yeah, obviously! Not an effective apology to your employer... A little while later he asked if he should apologize to Short Fiery and Gala Guru. I wrote back to say, "Yes. You need to say that you're sorry, you were excited about your design, you made a grievous mistake and it won't happen again. Do NOT say you didn't think it was a big deal."
When he came in on Monday we discussed it further and he had the audacity to say, "Well, if I'm not able to use what I make here to further my career, then I might need to go with other offers."
He's a good fit for what we're doing right now and I don't want the hassle of bringing someone else up to speed right aro, but again, NOT a good answer. It felt so arrogant. I spoke about the situation with one of our long-time freelancers who was horrified, "Does he not know that he could get sued!? Does he also not know not to piss off the big fish? And you all are definitely big fish. His whole job is to keep you happy." Turns out this second freelancer doesn't use ANYTHING he creates for his clients. His business is all word of mouth, he doesn't even have a website since he can't show most of his work. Once a booth or conference is produced, all that work is then in the public domain, but any proposed work can never be shown.
Last night, my Dad also weighed in, "This kid really needs to have a chat with a lawyer. He has no idea how deep the water is does he?" Honestly, I hadn't even thought about the legal issue until both the second freelancer AND my Dad thought about it as their first reaction. I realized I needed to make sure Tall and Earnest understood the situation.
On a side note, I have to say that one of the fun things about this job has been discussing it all with my Dad. He's more of a Mr. Fixit than a Mr. Empathy, so when I'm pouring out my emotional troubles it doesn't always work as well, but anything business related, he's great. He graduated from Harvard with a focus on contract law and worked for an international corporation as their Employee Relations Manager. Management, business and the law? He's great.
Anyway, I just sent off an email to Tall and Earnest explaining the situation. Telling him that I understand learning curves, but trying to fill him in so he can learn from the mistake and not just think it's me being a b1tch or our company being parano1d. Sil1con Vall3y/San Franc1sco are small worlds, all the companies overlap, everyone is working on something cutting-edge and secret. If you're not discreet, you won't have work. I don't think he realized that.
I don't like having to be the mean Boss Lady, but I'm really grateful for my years working with messed up kids. I had to learn there how to be the villain in the piece and how to shrug off the toxicity and keep loving them after. I hope it doesn't make me a callous manager, but I'm glad I'm not afraid to do the hard, but necessary, tasks.