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Posted on: Saturday, 15 May 2010 by Rajiv Popat

I find myself seated smack across the table with Fred looking at me like I just performed the gravest of offence in his professional life. I tell him the awesome news of his promotion and a handsome thirty-percent hike. He eyes me like a criminal.

Turns out, he was expecting more.

He tells me that he was aiming for a higher hike.

Ok. Breathe. I tell myself.

I thought this was good news. I thought his face would light up. I thought... I am confused by the time the discussion ends.

I feel shitty. Really shitty. Really, really shitty.

During my career of breaking appraisal results to folks and telling them how their year was I have worked with three kinds of programmers, or should I say, human beings.

The first is the kind of have very little expectations and if they get what they deserve you can see their faces light up. These guys are happy-human-beings. They know their net-worth, they know the perils of over-pricing themselves and they have no desire to take home more than what they really know they deserve.

The second kind is the group of folks who just don't give a shit. Ok, maybe that's not a very good way to describe this group. Maybe they do give a shit. Just a little bit. But these are folks who are motivated by the process of building stuff and for them an appraisal meeting by itself is an awkward moment.

They would rather you just print their letters and send them their revised salary letters by post so that they can ignore the letters like their telephone bills and find out their new figure when the amount lands up in their bank account. Maybe they would like to just glance at their appraisal letters and if they are not utterly insulting or disappointing they would just keep them aside and move on with their lives.

Put simply, For this kind of people, appraisal discussions are not a life changing moment.

This is the kind that usually draws the highest raises in the organization. Raises, power and promotions are funny things. They tend to usually go to he people who have very little or no craving for them.

Even though the first two kinds are insanely interesting to study this post is not about the first two kind. This is a post about Fred. The third kind. One which lives in the constant state of craving and discomfort. This breed will tend to bitch, whine and moan about their salaries, what the organization gives them, what they give to the organization and what the organization aught to give them.

If you are leading them they will remind you a dozen times a year that they are grossly underpaid and they will decide to stick with the organization anyhow.

This is the group that typically hops organization for a ten-percent hike every time they get a better opportunity. The group that powers the infinite loop of failure.

We start getting into an awkward dance here. Fred and I. Fred tells me he is underpaid, I show him industry wide pay scales of people with similar experience and expertise. He refuses to believe the research data. Fred, as it turns out, loves to nurture the idea that he is grossly underpaid and he seems to love continuing  to work for the organization in a mode of utter discontent.

If you are dealing with Fred, here is a word of advice that comes after coming across quite a few Freds in my career: you cannot make them happy. So don't even try. As an organization, get them a fair deal and everything that they deserve and move on.

You can attend a dozen management classes on how to keep your employees happy, but the sorry fact of life is that you are always going to hire a couple of people who you cannot please irrespective of what you do for them.

Do what you think is fair and then draw a line. Stop feeling bad. Stop getting confused and stop spending hours wondering how you can please Fred, because it is pointless. And assuming that even if you were able to please Fred, chances are you would get his resignation the day he gets a ten percent hike. You are way better off sticking to the age old saying, you cannot please everyone. Focus on the other two kinds instead and do all you can to keep them happy.

That way, you can at least have a team where most folks are happy and productive.

I wish you good luck.