Last year my agency “fired” one of our biggest clients. It was a tough decision – and one that can look a little crazy to some staff and investors. Choosing to walk away from a lot of revenue, and accepting the consequences (possible layoffs, longer-term financial implications, the necessary struggle to replace the billing) is a decision that should not be taken lightly. But at the end of the day, we decided that despite the income the client generated, it was in the best interest of the company to move on.
Sometimes in business, as in life, relationships don’t work – and staying in them just perpetuates dysfunction. In this case, we had a client that operated from the “Def Con 9” school of management – constantly telling employees and vendors that they were not doing a good enough job, and that any minute they could be fired, even when the company was doing really well. Compliments or congratulations for good work were forbidden by management – replaced with “that was OK, but you need to do better” no matter what. They used this technique in an attempt to cajole people to work harder for less – the “don’t bother coming in on Monday if you aren’t here on Sunday” style of management.
It is an abusive way to run a company that sometimes works in the short run, but ultimately burns people out. Just as problems need to be aggressively addressed, success also needs to be celebrated, and a culture that operates on the premise that “things are just never good enough” eventually fails. Good employees and vendors will always move on, ultimately leaving a vacuum in the organization.
In our case, resigning the client did result in some short term issues, but within a few months it was clear we had made the right decision. Employee morale improved, and we had more time to spend with good clients. And within a few months we had replaced the billing, but now working with people with which we enjoyed the mutual respect that ultimately results in great work. It was the best thing we could have done for our organization, and our remaining clients.
The problem with personal or professional dysfunction is you often don’t realize you are in the midst of it. But healthy relationships are an essential component of success.