Sarah was not just a top performer—she always exceeded her quota. She was like a sister to me. Then her daughter became sick, and doctors couldn’t figure out why. Sarah no longer went on sales calls. She stopped hitting her quota. Others were forced to pick up her slack. Month after month, she had to be there for her daughter. I was at a crossroads. How could I keep paying someone who wasn’t working? Gravity Payments, my company, couldn’t afford it.
I knew the doctrine: Successful business leaders are ruthless. They fire the bottom 10 percent of their staff every year à la General Electric CEO Jack Welch’s “rank and yank” strategy. The textbook solution was clear. Fire Sarah so the company could survive. But the question remained: Did I have the guts to let someone go who had contributed so much to Gravity’s success, someone who felt like part of my family? I spent many sleepless nights unable to decide. What would you have done?
In the end, I couldn’t fire her. Although the traditional business playbook said I should get rid of her, an even stronger force told me not to. I can’t fully explain it, but I know of one other place where it exists. It is the force of unconditional love found only in a family. Love drives us to do things that make little sense. We make painful sacrifices that promise no returns. We ask for nothing but give ourselves completely.
Unconditional love has never gained a foothold in the corporate world. After all, we are taught feelings such as love and caring make us weak. But these emotions are too powerful to ignore. Despite the challenges and pain associated with unconditional love, there is much we can learn from its effects. While working through the crisis with Sarah, I discovered the inexplicable power of bringing a sense of love, rather than fear, into the workplace.
When I first made the decision, I was terrified. I held my breath and waited for Gravity to sink, but it never did. We lost money in the short term but grew stronger in the long term. Our strategy didn’t fit neatly into a return-on-investment model, but I discovered there are greater forces at work than just quarterly earnings. To this day, Sarah thrives at Gravity as a leader and mother to a healthy daughter.
If the force of love is so strong, why does the corporate world turn its back? My guess is a chronic pressure toward short-term thinking. Caring for the people around you doesn’t help a stock price rise next week. It is a force that pays off in decades, not years. Your company might not have this time frame, but you can still make small decisions that will allow you to foster a sense of family at work:
- Give your time, energy and resources without expecting reciprocation.
- Invest time in the clients who might only bring in a small amount of revenue.
- Find ways to give back to your community.
- If you make a lot of money, consider investing some in the people around you who might need it.
- Make short-term sacrifices if you think they’ll pay off in the long term.
- Try to listen and empathize more than you speak and direct.
- Instead of punishing people for their mistakes, show more love and attention.