It is well documented that the number one reason people leave good jobs is because of their bad bosses. In fact, one Gallup study concluded that a whopping 50 percent of employees depart because of their direct supervisor.

But what about the employees who stay to endure bad bosses, bad clients or both? One of the most painful lessons I've learned in business is that the work itself is very rarely the cause of unhappiness. Instead, people in the workplace are what make workers stressed out and unhappy. So, if you are confident that you have great managers in place, then there's only one other culprit that could be causing your team to turn into a sleepless, disgruntled and stressful bunch: terrible clients!

Firing bad clients isn't a new piece of advice; and yet, so few companies are brave enough to pull the plug on bad client relationships. One of the most ardent supporters of cutting bad clients is Mike Michalowicz, author of The Pumpkin Plan and inspirational entrepreneur to yours truly. Mike equates the practice of firing bad clients to pumpkin farming, saying that in order for pumpkin farmers to grow truly colossal specimens, they must "look for diseased pumpkins and at the first sign of disease remove them from the vine."

Let's ask the tough question, then: Do you have a diseased pumpkin living on your vine, preventing you from growing healthy, prize-winning pumpkins?

I read Mike's book years ago, and it has been extraordinarily helpful in guiding us towards growing great pumpkins and steering us away from sustaining diseased ones that can suck the lifeblood out of our business. But I won't lie -- even now, we work with some clients who may support the top-line, but they certainly don't fully align with our values. So trust me when I tell you that each unworthy pumpkin you choose to keep has an opportunity cost for the rest of the vine!

On the other hand, every time that we've fired a client (I mean, pruned a bad pumpkin), we have celebrated. The team has breathed a sigh of relief. The executive leadership group noticed the immediate return of a calm and steady workflow throughout the organization. In short, it's been blissful. Every. Single. Time.

So although we haven't trimmed every bad pumpkin in fear of losing revenue (which, by the way, I know is a stupid reason to keep a bad client, but forgive me), we have gotten much better at trimming and pruning weeds that have grown around our pumpkin plant. In pumpkin farming (apparently), controlling weeds is just as important as eliminating diseased pumpkins -- and as Mike describes them, weeds are the farmer's way of saying, "distractions."

As Mike puts it, just as the colossal pumpkin farmer must constantly yank real weeds, "The successful entrepreneur constantly yanks 'weeds,' which are often distractions that are labeled as 'opportunities.'"

Oh man have we had "opportunities" in our growth from back-room production company in a now-condemned building to international communications agency. And although my business partner is slightly more famous than I for pursuing shiny objects, I honestly admit that I can be just as bad, if not worse at times, depending on how shiny that object looks!

We've learned the hard way that allowing "weeds" to grow can be just as deadly as allowing diseased pumpkins to take valuable nutrients from the vine. To help us ignore some "opportunities" out there, we've even created a new Director of Marketing position and tasked that position with keeping the agency firmly pursuing its strategic direction and ignoring shiny objects. Just having someone watching out for weeds has drastically cut down on distractions, which we're getting much better at identifying and ignoring.

Ultimately, the idea of killing both bad pumpkins and weeds that threaten our core focus is one that is easy to pursue, if only the entrepreneur can summon the courage to make those difficult decisions. As I've experienced myself and now see in many others, few business owners ever get the courage to take such drastic actions because they falsely assume that top-line revenue is the most important element to healthy business growth.

As you might guess, revenue isn't the most important element to a healthy business; your happy, fulfilled, stress-free employees are.

If your pumpkin vine is being overtaken by diseased pumpkins or weeds, know that becoming an excellent pumpkin farmer is a process. To help us get better at nurturing great clients, we have even talked internally about implementing a strike system, or an on-boarding values checklist, or having clients sign off that they will be good, logical, values-abiding citizens.

I'll let you know how that goes.

If you're looking to immediately reduce stress at work, take a look around at your office plants. If they're growing weeds or look like they could use some pruning, you know exactly where to start.

Published on: May 18, 2017
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