TOUGH CALL: The Case of the Cynical Associate (aka Phil)

By / 3 months ago
Online Poll – Read the scenario below then place your vote at the bottom of the page.

As the third generation owner of a family-owned lumberyard in a market that’s solid but not experiencing explosive growth, your company is positioned pretty well. Housing and remodeling are steady, and you’re seeing a surprising spike in retail business from DIY customers. Fortunately, none of the competitors in your market are slashing their prices to gain market share in a race to the bottom—so price wars aren’t an issue. With mortgage interest rates low, and projected to stay there for a while, you’re confident about the outlook for your business.

Because this is real life, however, everything isn’t perfect. For example, like the vast majority of LBM dealers in the U.S., you’re struggling to attract, hire and keep fresh talent. Since business isn’t booming, your existing team isn’t stretched, which is a very good thing. After all, most of your current team has been with your company for well over a decade. In fact, you’re the second-generation of your family that several of the long time employees have worked for. Even before it was hard to find new workers, your company had a well-earned reputation for taking good care of its people.

Most of your team appreciates the fair pay, friendly environment and flexible scheduling (your yard is a family-first kind of place), and they demonstrate that by working hard and having a great attitude. Then there’s Phil.

Not your longest term employee or your newest, Phil has been a solid member of your team for just over a dozen years. He’s worked at several lumberyards during his career, and seemed to really appreciate what made your company different. Phil’s extensive knowledge of lumberyard operations makes him a valuable member of your team.

Over the past few months, you’ve noticed something different in Phil’s demeanor. You brushed it aside, until several members of your management team brought it up. They noticed that he’s becoming complacent about his work, and somewhat negative in his attitude toward the company. In fact, you overheard Phil grumbling to a coworker, “You know that ‘Help Wanted’ sign that’s been up in the store window for the past two years? Do you what that means for you and me? Regardless how well or poorly we do our work, that sign means job security.”

While it’s true that a shortage of good people makes every member of your existing team that much more valuable, you don’t appreciate Phil’s attitude toward the situation—and can’t afford for that kind of attitude to spread throughout your company. What would you do?

1. CONFRONT PHIL. Tell Phil you heard what he said, and ask if you misunderstood, or if he truly believes the job is his regardless of his performance.

2. COACH PHIL. Phil needs some recognition and encouragement. Let him know that you’d like him to be a part of your company’s future, and ask for his input.

3. FIRE PHIL. Left unchecked, an attitude like Phil’s can poison a company from the inside out. It’s time to let Phil go, and to make sure your team knows why he’s gone.

4. JUST TALK. Phil’s comment didn’t sound good, but all is not lost…yet. Sit down with him and ask what you can do to help him get to where he wants to be.

What would you do?

Something else?
If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to

Rick Schumacher

Rick Schumacher is the editor and publisher of LBM Journal, and has more than 24 years experience covering the industry.