Employee decisions: Rigorous or Ruthless?

Employee Decisions

As Christian business owners and leaders, we are usually very involved in employee decisions on a consistent basis. In fact, that part of our job can absorb a majority of our time. Our ability to handle these employee decisions well can also be one of the biggest influences on the success of our company, as well as the ministry we desire.

employee decisions

Assuming this is true, then it is clear that we must devote time to learning how to best handle these employee decisions. While we all agree that issues concerning people often account for the majority of the time and energy we spend in our jobs, many Christian business owners fail to spend much time thinking about their approach to this important subject.

Ruthless vs. Rigorous

As I have said before, I love to hear great quotes and can often have a hard time getting them out of my head. Last fall at Catalyst, Jim Collins had several meaningful quotes over the course of his presentation. Anyone who has read his books or heard him speak can likely attest to his ability to do this.

One of Collins’ quotes actually applies to employee decisions and can be supported with Scripture. Here it is…

There is a big difference between being rigorous and being ruthless in making and carrying out people decisions.

First, let’s look at the definitions of the two words.

    Rigorous: extremely thorough, exhaustive or accurate

    Ruthless: having or showing no pity or compassion for others

What Does Scripture Say?

While there are likely some business schools that teach the necessity of being ruthless, I think it is clear from the definition above that this is not a behavior that matches well with a Christian business – especially when applied to employee decisions. Just in case you are not certain, let’s look at some Scripture to back up that assertion.

Read Matthew 18:21-35. This quote captures the essence of the parable:

Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?” And his master got angry and handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed.

On the other hand, I think we can make a great argument for being rigorous. Let’s take a look at some Scripture that can give us some clarity here.

The plans of the diligent certainly lead to profit, but anyone who is reckless certainly becomes poor.Proverbs 21:5

Finalize plans with counsel, and wage war with sound guidance.
-Proverbs 20:18

Differing weights and varying measures – both are detestable to the Lord.
-Proverbs 20:10

So what exactly do these two ideas look like in action?

The Ruthless Leader

A ruthless manager or leader can face tough employee decisions just like anyone else, but the way they may approach these decisions is what sets them apart. A ruthless leader looks only to the bottom line and sees nothing else. Nothing gets in his way.

If someone makes a mistake, there is no second chance with the ruthless leader. If someone is not performing to standard, he cuts them from the team without mercy. If an employee needs time off for emergency family issues, this ruthless leader refuses the request. When goals are not met, heads roll.

The Rigorous Manager

On the other hand, the rigorous manager is different. Though she may also face difficult employee decisions, her approach is easily recognized to be different. Her view of the circumstances is not limited to the bottom line, but includes other factors.

A rigorous manager sees that an employee’s mistake may indicate poor working conditions or fatigue due to unusually long hours. She recognizes that substandard performance may show the need for more thorough training or upgraded tools. She is willing to consider a family emergency as a legitimate exception to the rule. She also looks further than the simple missed goals to determine if she has the right people in place.

Don’t misunderstand. The rigorous manager is anything but a pushover! She still sets clear expectations and holds her people accountable to those standards. She expects her people to stretch themselves to meet their targets. She does not tolerate patterns of variance from the standards. This manager can cut someone from the team just as quickly as the ruthless one, but she requires more information in order to make that decision.

Bible Calls For Excellence

Nowhere does the Bible tell us to be weak and spineless in our employee decisions. Instead, we are called to excellence and should not settle for less. The excuse that we should not push as hard for excellence because we are a Christian company is absolutely ridiculous!

However, pushing for excellence does not require ruthless behavior. It does require rigorous behavior.

We are called to serve Jesus. He is the King of kings and is not satisfied with our second best. We need to maintain our eternal perspective and do everything in our power to represent Him with our best!

Do you see any ruthless behavior in your employee decisions?

What would your employees say?

What steps can you take to become more rigorous?


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  • http://www.michaelnichols.org/about Michael Nichols

    Great post Chris – love chapter 3 of Good to Great where Collins addresses rigorous vs. ruthless!

    • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

      Me too!

  • http://www.coachbrown.org/ Coach Brown

    In reflecting upon personnel decisions that are made what I have found is this: the ruthless leader takes no responsibility in the decision made to hire or fire. He or she only places blame on the person’s failure. However, the rigorous leader would be one who recognizes the person was hired because of a decision he or she made, and consideration for a termination reflects back upon the validity of their original decision. The ruthless leader likely will continually have personnel issues, but the rigorous leader will likely have more stability and far less turnover – thus realize more success. (Just thinking our loud after 40 years in business situations.)

    • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

      Very true, Coach!