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Flinching, Part I

By Chuck Violand

October 10, 2016

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times in business: “Our people are our greatest assets.” “The team with the best talent wins.” “Surround yourself with ‘A’ Players.” Owners of small businesses understand all this, and most of us agree with it. Yet, one of the greatest challenges many of us face year after year is the ability to attract top talent. And while the current unemployment rate—something we have absolutely no control over—is at historically low levels, I’m not convinced this is the primary reason so many small business owners struggle with attracting the best of the best. Instead, I believe it’s caused by something completely within our control.

As is the case with many areas in business, the greatest battles we face for profitable growth don’t take place with market conditions, technical expertise, outside competitors, or even our ability to attract top talent to our companies. Rather, they can be traced to an owner’s mindset and his or her willingness to accept top talent in their business, and then to make the tough decisions necessary to bring that talent on board. Decisions such as upping our own game as a business owner and doing things we may not want to do, or having gut wrenching conversations with people who either can’t or don’t want to perform at the level our company needs.

When asked about the people in our companies, most of us will rave about them, saying how they’re “the best in the business.” We do this for all the right reasons. We believe they are, we appreciate their commitment and hard work, and we’re frequently related to them. But what we may actually have are merely the best people we’ve ever had in our companies, and therefore we feel they’re the best in the business. This isn’t an indictment of those we employ; it’s a statement about the owner’s level of experience in working with highly talented people. It’s part of our natural learning curve as business owners. The question we should be asking ourselves is, are the people we have the right people for our company at the current time? The answer to that will be based on how competitive our company has to be in order to achieve the goals we’ve established.

Companies with outstanding talent typically operate more efficiently than other companies; they execute better and outmaneuver their competitors in the marketplace, and they usually build better relationships with their customers. All of this adds up to stronger, more sustainable growth for the company.

Whether it’s because they’re professionally managed or because their owners have already learned this lesson, a larger company has frequently populated itself with highly competent people. This is a significant, challenging factor the owners of smaller businesses face when competing with their larger competitors.

Our ability to employ great talent starts with the right mindset and ends with a budget for how we’re going to pay them. Not the other way around. When we can recognize the mental hurdles we have to clear in order to attract great people, we take a giant step forward.

In the coming weeks I’ll explore some of these hurdles and offer suggestions on how to successfully clear them as we build our competitive teams.