• Alex Muñoz

It's not me, it's you: negotiating a difficult team member out of your business

Breaking up is hard to do…

College roommates?

Grew up together?

Went through hell in law/medical/business school and swore to be bosom buddies and partners forever?

Not just a doo-wop song, breaking up is in fact hard to do.

Over the years at CSR we have had to get involved with these unfortunate situations to disentangle failed business relationships that are heading to toxic and gangrenous. Here are three easy signs that you may need to part company with your partner(s):

  1. Economic malfeasance: Plain and simple, your partner is stealing from you. We see this, unfortunately, a lot – it can be explicit (i.e., embezzlement) in the form of your partner taking money that isn’t theirs. We saw this in a case with a staffing firm where one partner handled the money (“Oh man, I got this – don’t worry. I know this is a hassle and I’m willing to run the books and take one for the team…”) and grew jealous overtime of his partner. His partner was out there making it happen and their comp agreement (which they had collaborated upon to create) was rewarding him justly. Aggrieved partner at a certain point needed help, took a “temporary” loan, and then rationalized away into “He’s making so much and I’m not – this is only fair.”

  2. Doing the lean in: In rugby (glad to work a metaphor from my sport in here!), there is a tendency of the out-of-shape big guys on the team to arrive to the ruck or maul late and collapse on top of it. Not really pushing as much as catching their breath, it’s a drain on the team (now, in addition to getting the ball they have to prop up a heavy lunch), and contributes nothing to making forward progress. What does this have to do with the above theme? A lot – we worked with a law firm that had two equity partners. Over the years, the compensation plan had ceased to make sense – one partner was definitely generating more business but the other was kind of “leaning in” and not pulling his weight (i.e., continuing to pull in revenue that wasn’t really fair for him to pull).

  3. Growing apart: You’ve heard “It’s not you, it’s me”? Think of that within a corporate structure. Maybe when you were just starting out you both had the same work/life goals – maybe you were both in love with an approach that allowed you to work but to definitely play, too. Over time, as you have determined what you are good at and what you aren’t; you have determined that you want to scale and take your business to the next level. Your partner is still trying to figure out the best price on (fill in name of desired drug de jour) and the business is just not as important.

I, literally, could go on.

Issues with money and people represent over 90% of all business issues. Generating productive and direct communication is a way to determine if this is salvageable or if you need to unwind it.

In each of the above cases, we got in the middle and sorted it out. In some cases, sadly, we needed to get the law involved. In other cases, everyone put on their big boy/girl undergarments and we were able to manage a (relatively) low distraction separation so that each party could go their separate ways.

Let us know how we can help – you’ve worked too hard to put up with this BS! It’s hard enough to deal with the market – get rid of the friendly fire!


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