Sink or Swim Management

Imagine someone trying to teach a non-swimmer to swim by throwing them in the deep end of a pool and walking away. Then upon returning sometime later, finding that struggling student is not doing a perfect crawl across the pool, yelling at the student.

While this seems ludicrous, it is a pretty good parallel to how many otherwise smart business people treat employees. When a client tells me that they have a problem employee and I start to explore the situation, I usually find that there is no job description, no training, no consistent feedback on good or bad performance.

Most successful small businesses start with a core of people who learn quickly, adapt to new situations and are willing and able to take on new undefined responsibilities. But these people are relatively rare. It is a mistake to assume that a business can continue to grow by continuing to find this kind of employee. Later employees need a more structured situation with a better defined set of responsibilities. It is the manager’s job to make sure the employees knows what their jobs are and how to do them, and to give them regular feedback along the way.

It is possible to build a small business using sink or swim management, but the owner will be frustrated with a high turnover looking for the rare employees who learn to swim before they drown.