Entrepreneurs may develop a good sense of people, even though they cannot articulate their judgment. Yet their firms, and our economy, might be more efficient and productive if they were allowed to follow their judgments, rather than follow Human Resource Department credentialism and paper trails.
The entrepreneurs might make mistakes, but in an open economy they would pay a price for their mistakes in profits foregone, and hence would have an incentive to correct the mistakes. And there would be plenty of alternative jobs for anyone mistakenly fired.
(p. 91) I’ve been wrong in my judgments about men, I suppose, but not very often. Bob Frost, one of our key executives on the West Coast, will remember the time he and I were checking out stores, and I got a very unfavorable impression of one of his young managers. As we drove away from the store I said to Bob, “I think you’d better fire that man.”
“Oh, Ray, come on!” he exclaimed. “Give the kid a break. He’s young, he has a good attitude, and I think he will come along.”
“You could be right, Bob,” I said, “but I don’t think so. He has no potential.”
Later in the day, as we were driving back to Los Angeles, that conversation was still bugging me. Finally I turned to Bob and yelled, “Listen goddammit I want you to fire that man!”
One thing that makes Bob Frost a good executive is that he has the courage of his convictions. He also sticks up for his people. He’s a retired Navy man, and he knows how to keep his head under fire. He simply pursed his lips and nodded solemnly and said, “If you are ordering me to do it, Ray, I will. But I would like to give him another six months and see how he works out.”
I agreed, reluctantly. What happened after that was the kind of (p. 92) personnel hocus-pocus that government is famous for but should never be permitted in business, least of all in McDonald’s. The man hung on. He was on the verge of being fired several times in the following years, but he was transferred or got a new supervisor each time. He was a decent guy, so each new boss would struggle to reform him. Many years later he was fired. The assessment of the executive who finally swung the ax was that “this man has no potential.”
Bob Frost now admits he was wrong. I had the guy pegged accurately from the outset. But that’s not the point. Our expenditure of time and effort on that fellow was wasted and, worst of all, he spent several years of his life in what turned out to be a blind alley. It would have been far better for his career if he’d been severed early and forced to find work more suited to his talents. It was an unfortunate episode for both parties, but it serves to show that an astute judgment can seem arbitrary to everyone but the man who makes it.
Kroc, Ray. Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s. Chicago: Henry Regnary Company, 1977.