The Harsh Truth: Your Employees Don't Care About Your Business the Way You Do

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In his book No B.S. Ruthless Management of People & Profits, business coach and consultant Dan S. Kennedy presents a straightforward assessment of the real relationship between employers and their employees, and dares you to take action. In this edited excerpt, the author explains exactly how you and your employees are different and never the two shall meet.

Few people ever want to acknowledge that the relationship between employer and employee is inherently adversarial. It's adversarial because your agenda is in conflict with theirs, and you're constantly interfering with their ability to act out their agenda. To impose your agenda, you must displace or disrupt theirs.

Here’s what might surprise you: I'm not suggesting there’s something wrong with this or that employees are bad people for having 13 or 30 or 300 things on their minds that rank in higher priority, interest, and importance to them than the one thing on the top of your mind. I don't fault them at all for having their agenda. To expect otherwise is simply stupid.

'Ownership mentality' is B.S.

They do not own your business -- you do. Expecting employees to have “ownership mentality” is bull crap, despite the idea’s popularity with some management gurus. It’s irrational. It’s like trying to make the zebras on display at the zoo care deeply about how many tickets were sold at the front gate today! The zebras care about getting enough good food to eat and not being eaten by a bigger animal. You can put them in team-building retreats all you want, but they’re still coming back with eating as #1, not being eaten as #2, finding warm sun to lay in #3, and it’s a long, long way down their list before ticket sales comes up.

Your business is your life, and your life is your business. They're intertwined and inseparable. Not so for your employees. Shocking as it may be to you, they have lives all their own. They think about all sorts of things a lot that you barely think about at all, like the price of gas or lettuce or movie tickets. They think "T.G.I.F." You think "I need another day this week to work." They hope no customers wander in 15 minutes before closing time to delay their escape; you pray somebody comes in. You care passionately about profit. They probably don’t think about it at all, or if they do, they resent how much of it you make at their expense, through their sweat and blood.

You own the zoo. They are zebras.

Their agendas are often at opposition with yours. They want to hurry customers 15 minutes before closing whether they buy anything or not, so they can get out the door a minute early to meet their friends at a local restaurant before the chicken wings get cold. You want every customer made to feel welcome, courteously helped, never rushed and sold something, even if your employee has to close 15 minutes late. You're not on the same page here and never will be, not even with employees paid commissions or bonuses.

On top of all that, there's the unavoidable resentment that comes with disparities in wealth and power. Consequently, if you could be privy to their discussions behind your back or among friends and family, you'd hear that resentment bubble up and expressed constantly, in many different ways, and agreed with and encouraged by those around them. 

Your employees tend to believe they're doing all the work and you're getting all the money. They see your new car, hear of you redecorating your house, see you away from the store at your beach house while they toil away, and they resent you for it. The very fact that you can fire them but they can’t fire you, that you dictate when they can take a vacation but you take yours whenever you feel like it pisses them off. They think they're smarter than you are, know better than you do, and resent having to go along with your crazy schemes and new ideas.

This mindset is reinforced incessantly in and by the media. The mainstream media eagerly reports on workers’ wage complaints. No context is provided about the business owner’s investment, risk, shrinking profit margins, rising taxes and rising costs for each employee. It’s a one-way presentation. This is not helpful to you.

Finally, their minds have been captured by their very mobile toys. Shopping at Amazon, playing Angry Birds or sneaking looks at Facebook on company time is a problem, and it's multiplied exponentially and made infinitely easier, thanks to the proliferation of pads and smartphones and constant, uninterrupted connection to the online amusement park. All this ranks high on their agenda for the day, way higher than how they can be the most productive and create the greatest profit for their employer.

They are not your friends. You can and, to a degree, should be friendly with them and encourage them to be friendly with you. You want whatever foxhole camaraderie can be created as you go. Just don’t lose sight that if trapped together in the foxhole when all the food runs out, they won’t hesitate to carve you up for dinner. Of course you should recognize their birthdays, childbirths and anniversaries, and genuinely care about their health and well-being. Just know that the birthday cake they bring in for you has arrived only partly due to friendship but partly due to obligation and compulsion.

They are not your family. You can be familial to a degree if you like. But don’t con yourself: They will not be visiting you at the assisted living center after the paychecks stop. They have a family, and you aren’t in it.

They are your employees.