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Toughest Call Ep. 105 – I should have just stuck to the plan (with Zach Selch) - TRANSCRIPT

Zach Selch  00:04

And I'm going to go on and say, fuck, you know, we have this nice package for you, we're gonna do this. And he literally like turns his head and throws up on my shoes.


Chaz Thorne  00:15

Welcome back or Welcome to toughest call a podcast for organizational leaders where we hear stories from your leadership colleagues about career defining decisions. I'm your host, Chaz Thorne. In this episode, I'm talking with Zack selge, about a tough call that he made and regretted around the firing of a non performing employee. Zach has been an international sales executive for over 30 years and is the author of global sales, the practical playbook on how to drive profitable growth. Having to let go of people is often one of the hardest things to do as a leader, that ensuring we have the right people in the right jobs is a defining part of a leaders role. Zach's story is instructive in that he allowed himself to be swayed toward a decision that he instinctually felt wasn't the right one. And he and his team would pay dearly for that decision in the months afterward.


Zach Selch  01:19

So I essentially run international sales teams, and I am the guy you bring in when you want to fix something that isn't working. And when you do that, there's a lot of fat trimming, there's a lot of changes that have to be made. And you don't make a lot of friends. And I had hired this guy for a market who was a really, really nice guy. And this is sort of what made the whole story difficult for me, because I liked him. And he had potential and my wife always says, I like to mentor people. So he had potential, but it's very hard for for big ticket sales jobs, when you're hiring somebody relatively young to know if he's going to work out or not. And he seemed to be the right person. He had some sales experience. And like I said, he was a really nice guy, I liked him, I liked his wife. And I really wanted this to work out. So after a while, we then have the the ability to sell. And he wasn't selling and he and again, he was a very nice guy. And he always had stories about this. And you know, he would tell me why he couldn't sell. And, you know, very often you have to say, Okay, this is I understand, you know, it's difficult to take a little bit of time, we're figuring it out, I'll mentor you, I'll coach you, we'll work it out. But then we got to a point where I needed him to sell or I needed to get rid of him. And then what happened was, my wife and I, we have kids and the for the first time we were going away without our kids for a weekend. And we went to Vegas. And just we had this wonderful weekend planned. We're not big Vegas people. But we had, you know, five restaurant reservations. And we had shows lined up and we had gotten a cabana at the pool so we could really enjoy ourselves. And honestly, the whole weekend, my poor wife, I'm like talking about this. I'm like, ah, how am I going to do this. And I wrote myself out talking points cuz I wanted to let this guy down gently. And I wanted it not to be paying the fallen, I wanted to be helpful. And I negotiated with my company. So I could give them a really nice package and all of us. And then essentially, I flew right from Vegas, to Greece, where he was to just see him. And the plan was I was going to meet him. I was going to spend an hour or two with him just for a quick meeting. And then I was going to fly out of there. I think I was going to Tel Aviv after that for a meeting with somebody else. And he he texted me. And he said because he knew I was flying through Germany, he texted me and he said, pick up money in the bank in the airport in Germany. I'll tell you about it when you get here. It was the day the banking structure shut down in Greece, right. So if you know a little bit of the background, or if you've ever heard about the Greek government and the Greek people ended up in a huge amount of debt in the about 2010. It was still related to the Olympics that had happened years before that. But essentially the banks shut down and there were riots in the streets. And you couldn't get money out of an ATM. So it was the worst possible time to be in Greece and the and the Greek people themselves were very, very concerned. And to complicate matters, his wife was a banker. So she had been let go. And literally the bank branch she worked and had been burned down somebody threw a Molotov cocktail in the back in the in the window of the bank branch he worked and so if you could imagine, here he is and and like I landed on I see the headlines and I grab, I don't even I think it was still a Herald Tribune. It wasn't the international New York Times stepped up, like I grab a newspaper, and I'm reading and I'm like, this is where I am, right? This is the burning banks, the banking structure is down, they can't get money. And, and I realize this is going to be a little bit more complicated than I had anticipated.


Chaz Thorne  05:23

You've come in from the airport, you're entering Greece, basically, the worst of times? What happens when you actually where do you Where do you meet him?


Zach Selch  05:34

So we're sitting in the lobby, of, you know, essentially a five star hotel at the at the airport. The first thing he says is Zach, I have great news, my wife is pregnant. And I just about, you know, I just about collapse, because I'm like, Oh, no, right. And, and then he goes on, he goes, you know, we decided last year or when, after we got married, that we you know, that she'd get pregnant. And you know, she just lost her job yesterday, because the banking crisis, but we figure this is a good time. Because since she's not going to be able to find a job maybe for you know, a year or two. Because of the banking crisis, this is a good time for her to have a baby. And he just starts talking about this. And I'm thinking, Oh, my God, this is this is not, this is not a good part of this discussion right now.


Chaz Thorne  06:34

So you've been, you've been hit with yet another wall up in terms of this decision that you made to let him go. So what's the next thing that you that you,


Zach Selch  06:43

at this point, I basically say, you know, what, I'm, I'm really sorry, I have to tell you this, we have been looking at the company strategy, and we've decided that we have to let you go, we're getting rid of your position. But and I'm going to go on and say but you know, we have this nice package for you, we're gonna do this, we're gonna do that. And he literally like turns his head and throws up on my shoes. And here's this, you know, 40 year old man who just he loses a completely. And I wasn't expecting that look, I've had I've been through two startups that went bankrupt. And both times it hit me in a very, very rough way, it was very difficult. On my family, I have three kids, I know what it's like, I'm not, you know, independently wealthy, or anything like that. But, you know, I wasn't expecting quite that reaction. So I call my boss, I say, this is what I want to do. I know, I said, I was gonna fire him, I know, I was gonna give him a three month package, I want to extend that. And what I decided to do was to tell him to take his time to find another job. And she was like, well, it's your decision, you have to hit your numbers. If you can do this and hit your numbers, then I'm fine with that. And what I said was, it's not that I don't want to fire him, I need to fire him. But I'm going to tell him to take el that we are going to keep paying him until he finds a job. But I can't stretch this out out indefinitely. I'm not going to put a final date on it. But I need him to be to actively be looking for another job. And we will continue to pay a salary until he finds another job.


Chaz Thorne  08:37

Suzanne, thank you. You've you've now curious relocated to, to this person what you're going to do your you've given him some some more leeway around when you'll let him go. What happens next? Because this has any impact on your whole Oh, team.


Zach Selch  08:57

Yeah. So I call up my whole team. And and again, we're all pretty friendly. We all know each other, you know, they're they sort of think of him as the guy who isn't doing very well. But everybody likes him and I said, Look, here's the thing, we have to pick up his slack this year, it's going to be a little bit longer. And everybody's okay with that. They're not thrilled. But they're okay with that. And you know, it's it's one of these things when you're doing this type of sales, people are saying, Okay, I think I can scrape up another 200k I think I can scrape up another half a million. And everybody so we figure out how we're going to keep up, pick up this slack bot for a finite period of time, right, we're thinking this is going to go on for a couple of months.


Chaz Thorne  09:38

So you made this call, it was a very compassionate one, obviously. And and also it was being it was being done, really with with some cultural guidance, if you will, from the from the CEO. So when Did it start to turn for you? What first thing that happened that made you go? Oh.


Zach Selch  10:08

And it was obvious. He wasn't really interviewing, he wasn't really looking. And he would come back. And he would say things like, Well, you know, next year strategy meeting, I can do this, or should I do this, and I was like, Look, you should not be planning on anything in the future we taught, you shouldn't be planning on finding another job. And it didn't strike me that he was doing that actively or seriously. And then, a few months later, we had a team meeting. And he came and he was just, he, he was actually very abusive to the rest of the team. It was it was almost humorous, in that we had this whole meeting, and everybody talked, or, you know, everybody was talking about splatting, and so on. And he said, Zach, I have a little announcement to make, can I stand up and make it at the end of the meeting, and I thought he was going to be saying, I found a job, I'm leaving, I wanted to, you know, thank you for giving me I literally thought he was gonna say, I want to thank you for this ad giving me this extra time. And he stood up and he goes, you know, Zack fired me. And I was able to convince him to hold me on for a little while. And I hope I'll be able to keep my job here. But I was expecting support from my team, and you're all a bunch of guys, that you didn't support me. And he's like, we were friends. And none of you are supporting me, you should have all he should have all put pressure on Zack, you're all a bunch of guys. And everybody in the room was just in shock. And I walked him out. And I'm like, so what? Now? He goes, Oh, what do you mean? I'm like, you just insulted the whole team, right? Nobody likes you anymore. What you know? And he's like, Oh, no, I was just, you know, I was telling it the way it is, they should know, you know, I think his his he was like really collapsing in terms of self awareness and so on. It was, it was interesting to watch, but he wasn't doing anything to leave. So it just became this real nightmare of a situation. And I was trying to be as gentle as possible with him. So pretty much as soon as his baby was born. I terminated them. Finally,


Chaz Thorne  12:36

what was the final straw for you?


Zach Selch  12:39

What I saw was almost from the, from the very beginning, he was trying to undermine me. And I thought, Okay, he's very emotional, he's, he's hurt, he's lashing out. I'm good. You know, I, I'm producing, you know, when you're a sales leader who produces the fact that one of your report says complaining about you typically, you know, isn't going to hurt you that much. And I knew my CEO didn't like me anyway. So it wasn't that bad thing. But this kept going on and on, and he wasn't producing. And my team is everybody's working extra hard to make up the slack. He's not doing anything. So it was sort of like, Well, okay, I'm gonna help him until he gets a job. And then I realized he wasn't looking for a job. So I said, Okay, I'm gonna help him until his baby is born. And that's the, that's the best I can possibly do. And then essentially, when he announced that his baby was born, we let him go. And he just disappeared. He didn't even you know, write us, you know, thank you for carrying me for 10 months, he didn't, you know, he didn't send back his computer phone, or he just, you know, shut down his email and disappeared. And so, you know, it was one of those things I can get the stress that a person can be under, you know, over these situations, this can be really difficult. That said, you know, we went out of our way to try and mentor him and take good care of him and then protect him through the job thing. And so I look back at this nothing if I may, if there's one big mistake I've made in my business career was this this? I would never do anything like this again, you really had to have been pull off the band aid type of thing. And that's what I should have done. You know, maybe I should have offered him a couple of months sentence for severance, but still, I should have gotten them out the door in that, you know, in that first session,


Chaz Thorne  14:36

how have you handled similar situations, since based on what you learn from that?


Zach Selch  14:45

I'm gonna say I'm a little bit more careful with the psych evaluation side of the hiring process. Okay. I typically do, you know, testing when I hire people Don't just go with my instinct. But I'm a little bit more careful about flags that might come up in the psych evaluation. Because I think this was a character flaw that looking back showed up in the psych evaluation and I misinterpreted that.


Chaz Thorne  15:25

If you'd like to learn more about Zack, you can check out his website at global sales There you can learn more about international sales through number of resources he has available. And if you'd like some assistance with your own tough calls, we've compiled a collection of free tools just for you. Go to toughest to check them out. If you're not yet a subscriber to toughest call, please add us wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thanks for listening. I hope this conversation helps you when faced with your next tough call.

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