Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Departed

I have been a traveling salesman for over 15 years. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area many of my commutes are accompanied by sports talk radio. As such, I was disheartened to hear that the great Ralph Barbieri was fired by his employer KNBR. In a statement he released, Ralph discussed that he arrived to work, was taken to the GM's office, was then told to hand in his keys, and to grab his belongs. He was escorted out of the building and his voicemail was immediately disabled. Standard firing procedure. But, after 28 years of service to the organization, I think Ralph deserves better.

Ralph Barberi was given the nickname 'the razor' for his edgy on-air demeanor. With this in mind, one might consider that his aggressive behavior may have worn on his employer after so many years. KNBR should have simply explained this. Now the parting of ways is mired in legal discussion that encompasses ageism and physical workplace limitations. Uncertainty breeds questions and formulates assumptions. The whole situation could have been addressed with more class on the part of the industry veteran's long time employer.

Of course, there are 2 sides to every story. Over time, the legal process will exercise itself and the real story will be reveled. So let's examine the lessons learned from this unfortunate parting of ways:
1. Performance should be measured daily
2. Animosity toward one's employer never produces results
3. Every day is Day 1
4. There is such thing as manners

Performance reviews suck! Annual reviews of performance are a legal charade to document areas and concern that will serve as defensible grounds for firing in the event that needs to happen at some point. Managers and Employees alike hate doing performance reviews. There is no dignity in telling people where they are falling short or by grading their life's work. Too much goes into a 10 hour day to quantify human effort. Ralph Barberi's firing is an advertisement for performance reviews. If you are going to shit-can someone, you better have documentation.

Ralph Barberi is a 70 year old man who has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. This is not why he was fired, but he will site the aforementioned assumed disabilities in a lawsuit, and probably win a few dollars as a parting gift.

Tom Tolbert and Ralph Barberi had a special relationship. The 2 men separated by a few decades in age developed a camaraderie that warmed the heart. There is nothing more special than seeing people who genuinely appreciate one is even better when these individuals are on seemingly separate sides of the spectrum. The 2 gentlemen lived out a Hemingway story and a Neil Young song for all to hear...every day. The only thing better than receiving sage-like advice from an elder is when this process works in reverse.

Even Tom Tolbert recognized the blessing and the curse of Ralph's strong personality. That's why he was fired. His employer simply couldn't put up with his disruptive behavior any more.

I have been enthralled by Reid Hoffman's book, The Start-Up of You. This book is a manifesto of the entrepreneurial ethos that drives today's working world. No longer is longevity a word that encompasses greatness in the workplace. Each and every day one must recreate themselves to stay relevant. The minute you stop moving forward, you start moving backward.

Employee's know when they are under performing. At a certain point in everyone's professional life they plateau, for some it takes just a year others endure it for 30 years. When you face professional 'burn out' you are faced with 2 realities:
1. Refocus on the task at hand
2. Get a new job

In both cases the key is to find the passion in what you do and let that drive. You can ruin the job of your dreams by taking it for granted. You can also fool yourself into believing you are doing the thing you should be doing because it is convenient.

The world of work is a heartless machine. So much is involved in running a business and thousands of decisions are made every day. Some decision are made it haste and they are usually fixable. Certain decisions made in haste can be ever damaging to a company's reputation.

KNBR will not soon be forgiven for the manner in which they released Ralph Barbieri. They could have allowed him to play out his contract for another 7 months, had an on-air ceremony in his honor, and sent him on his way. This leaving a proud company alumni and a new directions for the loyal listeners of KNBR to be proud of. Regardless of reason for Ralph's dismissal, it could have been handled better. I would venture to guess that hindsight creates regret in this case.

In his famous walk to the Exit at SMI, Jerry Maguire, makes a plea for decency in the workplace. The premise of the Jerry Maguire story is finding a heart in the professional meat grinder that we submit ourselves to every day. With each day a loyal employee sees 20 years of their life dismissed in a walk to the exit. Then there are those who view every day of work as their last and perform accordingly. It is impossible to be the greatest version of yourself every single day for 20 years. We all get complacent, it's human nature.

I would leave you with this question:
If Ralph Barberi really loved his job and his employer would it have ended in the way it did?

If the answer to this question is "no" then it seems the parting of ways will ultimately be best for everyone involved.

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened" - Dr Seuss

Don't Forget to Remember!


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