Weekly Wrap: Management Wisdom From a Guy Making Grilled Cheese

Photo by Dreamstime
Photo by Dreamstime

Sometimes, management wisdom comes from unexpected places.

For instance, take this blog post from New York Times tech writer David Pogue titled Flipping to Grilled Cheese. No. it’s not about the latest tech gadget that you can use to serve up a sandwich, but instead is an interview with Jonathan Kaplan, founder and chief executive of Pure Digital. Kaplan developed the Flip camcorder, “the company that Cisco bought two years ago for $590 million, the company that Cisco then shut down last month, without any reasonable explanation,” as Pogue puts it.

Kaplan spoke to a class Pogue is teaching at the Columbia Business School, and entrepreneuer that he is, he’s now opening a chain of grilled-cheese-and-soup restaurants around San Francisco called The Melt.

Ok, I can hear you wondering — “what does this have to do with talent management or HR?”

Digging down into the good stuff

Well, the blog post gets into Kaplan’s background developing the Flip Cam and why Cisco bought it and is now killing it. That’s all good stuff well worth reading. But buried deep down in the article — and the best stuff always seems to be buried deep down in the article — is this sharp little piece of managerial wisdom from Kaplan:

“If you hire someone bad, fire them immediately and give them a big severance package so they feel good about you. We gave our workers four to six months’ severance, even if they’d worked only four months. You might think that’s crazy. But it was our mistake to hire that person. And it’s not that much money, really.”

In fact, Mr. Kaplan said to my classroom full of future executives, “You have to be willing to fire people. I’ve been fired three times. You’ll all probably get fired. If you’re a passionate person, you will get fired. But you’ll both be better off parting ways.”

This is great advice on two fronts:

Article Continues Below
  1. It makes a case for generosity as a business and management virtue, particularly when you hire someone who doesn’t work out. The general HR/management style I have been accustomed to is to give people as little as possible when you let them go (one company I worked for was a stickler for two weeks severance for each year, period, no matter what kind of extenuating circumstances might be involved. They were terribly anal and inflexible about that). Why aren’t organizations more generous with people they let go, especially with those they brought on fairly recently who just aren’t a good fit? Why does being generous with people you’re pushing out the door seem so out of character to so many companies? Frankly, the Kaplan philosophy is kinder, gentler, and leaves everyone feeling better about things. What’s wrong with that?
  2. It speaks to a management truism — firing people is part of what good managers do. I used to write about this a lot in another blog I used to do because I’ve worked with quite a few managers who seemed proud that they rarely fired anyone. And as I said then, “Doing tough stuff is part of the drill when you accept a management gig, pure and simple. And nothing is tougher than having to fire people or lay off members of your staff  … it is part and parcel of what ALL managers do. And any manager who crows about never having had to fire anyone — as a bald-headed baboon of a manager that (I) used to work for frequently did — is just not much of a manager at all.”

Goodbye to the lunch hour, and other news

You should read all of the interview with Jonathan Kaplan, because he’s not only a forward-thinking and successful entrepreneur, but a man with a lot of talent management wisdom to boot. And if you’re like me, you probably recognize that there is far too little of that around these days, so take it whenever you can get it.

Of course, there’s more in the news this week than management wisdom from a guy making grilled cheese sandwiches. Here are some other HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of HR and talent management. Yes, I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Is the lunch hour outdated? Workplace expert Cindy Krischer Goodman of The Miami Herald explores why so many people are eating lunch at their desk these days, and it’s not a good trend I’m afraid. “Over the last decade, fueled by salary cuts and job insecurity, lunch hour has evolved,” she writes. “It’s shorter, more purposeful and more often spent in the office. It’s the source of lawsuits, a point of contention among generations, and a contributor to the obesity epidemic. The shift in the midday ritual has some businesses repurposing their lunchrooms and others reshaping their policies. It has even launched a national movement called Take Back Your Lunch Hour … But even as the economy rebounds and summer approaches, habits aren’t changing.”
  • Targeting Target. Unions aren’t very well represented in the retail business (or really anywhere outside of government these days), but they’re going after Target in New York State, according to The New York Times. “The nation’s largest union for retail workers has embarked on its first broad campaign to unionize Target workers,” the newspaper says. “The union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, is trying to organize 5,000 workers at 27 Target stores in the New York City area. A majority of workers at the Target store in Valley Stream, N.Y., have already signed cards supporting unionization, and a government-supervised election there on June 17 will be the first time in more than two decades that Target workers will vote on whether to join a union … The union decided to focus on Target after employees in Valley Stream, on Long Island, asked for help in unionizing … Interviews with 10 of the store’s employees suggest that an important issue behind the unionization drive is frustration about being assigned too few hours of work, sometimes just one or two days a week.”
  • Chipping in for child and elder care. The Home Depot is known for a lot of things, but they broke new ground this week by offering a new employee benefit that provides emergency in-home care when workers have a no-show babysitter or a sick parent. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution,The giant retailer is offering a ‘backup dependent care’ program that workers can use as many as 10 times a year to get day care or in-home care for a child or elderly person. Employees pay a $25 to $35 deductible and the company picks up the rest of the cost. ‘We know people do leave because of things like that, people miss work,’ said Tim Crow, Home Depot’s top human resources executive. ‘This is going to be an attractor. It’s a great recruiting tool for us.’ “
  • Do you treat people the right way? Here’s an interesting video about why it is good practice to always treat people the right way no matter who they are. It’s a great lesson on how both really good and really bad interactions stay with you for a long time — and why the very good interactions can resonate in very positive ways.


John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *