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Flinching, Part II

By Chuck Violand

October 24, 2016

Legendary golf instructor Harvey Penick once commented that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Harvey was talking about golfers, but the same principal applies to business owners looking to hire top talent—when the owner is ready, the employee will appear. In other words, business owners will attract the caliber of people they are able to recognize and are prepared to bring into their companies at that time.

We are typically drawn to those with similar skill sets and comparable talent levels as our own. But this can become a serious bottleneck when a business owner is faced with needing to hire people more talented than himself. Oftentimes, we either don’t recognize the need, or we flinch at hiring them.

In life, as in business, we tend to surround ourselves with people who make us feel comfortable. Those who continually question us or rub us the wrong way aren’t normally included in our circle of friends for long. The same is true with employees. Those who are always questioning us or pushing back on our decisions don’t normally move up or stay employed in our company long term. But those people are needed every bit as much as we need the ones who tend to agree with much of what we say and do.

Early in our careers, it’s common for owners of service-related businesses to hire family members and friends as our first employees. This is usually because we enjoy spending time with them, we trust them, and they understand us. While these are all noble motives it can also be a double-edged sword. The upside is that we typically have people we can trust and who are committed to our company. The downside is that it allows us to delay developing the skills needed to manage people outside our gene pool or close circle of friends; the critical skills we’ll need as our company grows.

The fact is, early in our professional careers many business owners simply aren’t ready to hire people more talented than ourselves. We enjoy being the smartest guys in the room, and we frequently view hiring talented workers as a threat to our companies.

“What if I hire a talented person, invest time and money in training him, and he decides to leave and start his own business? Or worse yet, what if he goes to work for a competitor, taking my good employees and customers with him?!”

Naturally, there are no guarantees against an employee leaving, and even the most airtight non-compete agreements don’t prevent some employees from working for a competitor or starting their own businesses. This is a normal risk of owning a business, and we are the only ones who can mitigate the risk.

Flinching in the face of this possibility and not recruiting the talent we need means our businesses will never outgrow their dependence on us. And too often this means we don’t own a business as much as we own a high-stress job.

Workers are drawn to companies with cultures that engage them, provide work that allows them to grow both personally and professionally, and rewards them fairly for the work that they do. Experience has shown me the companies that take care of their people in this way, and pay close attention to their customers, don’t usually suffer too badly if a key employee decides to leave.