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July 26, 2021
Transitions, Part III
TRANSITIONS, PART III For years, my counsel to clients who were undertaking a significant initiative in their business—increasing sales, hiring or discharging a key worker, adding a new service, or making the heart-stopping leap from a smaller boat to a larger one—was to expect some things to fall apart. While I didn’t fully understand the underlying reasons for this at the time, I knew it almost always happened. I now realize this is what William Bridges calls a period of confusion and distress and what spiritual leader Richard Rohr writes about in his book Falling Upward. Transitioning is a process. It is growth on the part of a CEO as they become more aware of the impermanence of everything around them. It’s part of the natural order of things in business and in life. But it’s a part that many people struggle with. Transitioning is not an event that only happens at the end of a career. While a successful transition of business leadership may be a CEO’s final act of greatness, it certainly isn’t the only one. Perhaps the biggest transition experienced by many leaders of a growing business is one that takes place under the radar of most
July 12, 2021
Transitions, Part II
TRANSITIONS, PART I Returning to author William Bridges, he writes, “…one of the most important transitions that is likely to take place in a person’s work life sometime after the age of forty: the transition from being motivated by the chance to demonstrate competence to being motivated by the chance to find personal meaning in the work and its results. It is the shift from the question of how to the question of why.” The idea of demonstrating competence goes much deeper than just exhibiting the ability to perform a task well. It also includes the emotional rewards we receive when demonstrating our competence to competitors, colleagues, or social networks. These emotional rewards help satisfy our need to find personal meaning, however we define it. The role of an effective business founder is in a constant state of transition from the day we start our company. Some of the transitions are minor, like hiring our first worker, remodeling our store or plant, or assimilating our largest new customer. Others can be major transitions that accompany things like changing careers, taking on or losing a partner, or attempting to fully embrace the role of “manager” rather than “doer.” (In my opinion,
June 28, 2021
Transitions, Part I
TRANSITIONS, PART I A while back, I wrote a Monday Morning Notes series entitled “Sailboats, Yachts, and Tall-Masted Ships.” In the article I used various sizes of sailing vessels as a metaphor to explain the transitions a business experiences as it grows. It starts out small, similar to a recreational sailboat cruising around a lake on a Saturday afternoon, and ends up as a mighty, tall-masted ship sailing the oceans. I explored some of the challenges a business owner and their team experience as their company grows, much like the captain and crew of the various size sailing vessels experience as the boats they sail increase in size. I explained how cash and the wind play similar roles as motive forces for moving a business or a sailboat forward, and how important it is to attract and keep the right people depending on the size business or boat. While I explored these changes from the physical aspects of transitioning from one boat to another—the money, people, and competitors for example—I didn’t delve into the psychological or emotional aspects experienced by the captain and crew. As business owners we often think of transitioning as something that happens toward the end of
June 14, 2021
Sick Transit Gloria
SIC TRANSIT GLORIA While it might look easy from the outside, one of the most difficult jobs of anyone who advises a business owner—whether it’s a senior member of the company or a hired consultant—is being the person whose job it is to whisper in the client’s ear that their ego is becoming a problem. It’s even more difficult for them to accomplish this feat without losing their head or getting fired. Yet this is perhaps one of the most important aspects of their job that is never mentioned in the job description. Most small businesses have been enjoying a long stretch of success over the past several years. Admittedly, the Coronavirus caused a scare, but the evidence seems to suggest that many businesses, especially those in the trades, enjoyed growth in 2020 and are continuing that performance with an even stronger year in 2021. While this is without a doubt great news for many small businesses and their workers, it also presents a paradoxical threat to their continued success. In the 1970 movie Patton, actor George C. Scott, who plays General Patton, is visiting the site of an ancient battle when he muses to his chief of staff:“For over
May 27, 2021
So Many Buts
SO MANY BUTS   In spite of my wife’s quiet and demure outward appearance, she can be pretty candid at times. Especially when it involves me. In a conversation we were having the other day, she told me I have too many buts. You can imagine my shock at her comment! But after thinking about it, I realized that she’s probably right, as painful as it is for me to admit. I do have too many buts. But you know what? I don’t think I’m the only one. I think a lot of other people have too many buts as well. In fact, as a society, I think most people have too many buts and we seem to be adding more of them all the time! This has nothing to do with a person’s physiology but, rather, with opinions. It seems that no matter what someone says or does, it’s never enough, and we can’t resist the urge to jump in and add our but to their comment, regardless of how subtle it might be. Some people seem to be so conditioned to inserting their buts that others hardly notice when they throw them in. And sometimes, I think the
April 19, 2021
EMPOWERMENT VS. ENTITLEMENT Part VI
EMPOWERMENT VS. ENTITLEMENT, Part VI   Remedies and Conclusion We are never going to have a perfect workplace. It can even feel like the more we try to create a Utopian environment, the more difficult it is to achieve. Some people will always be unhappy and feel they’re getting the short end of the stick; that you’re favoring one person, or one group, or one department over another. But this shouldn’t keep us from working toward the goal of having an empowered culture. Strategies Reward people based on accountability and performance, not length of service. This will require work to establish performance standards, but it will pay dividends in the long run. Deal with actively disengaged workers promptly and directly, even if (especially if) they are family members. Spend more time with empowered employees than with the entitled ones. This will send a very clear message to everyone throughout the organization as to the type of behavior that’s expected. Hire new workers based on culture and values, not on their experience. As Patrick Lencioni states in his book The Ideal Team Player, look for people who are hungry, humble, and smart. Continually reinforce your expectations. Lead by example. Model the
April 5, 2021
EMPOWERMENT VS. ENTITLEMENT Part III
EMPOWERMENT VS. ENTITLEMENT, Part III   Entitlement in new or larger organizations. As a company grows, the employees needed to continue that growth change. No longer can the company rely on workers who are only interested in a paycheck. Needed now are those who are interested in succeeding in their job and advancing their career. But the perils of perpetuating a culture of entitlement don’t disappear as the competency of the employees increases. In fact, the stakes only get higher as an entitled employee’s activities can have an even greater impact on the company. When our business experiences aggressive growth, it’s common to let slip some of the management disciplines that led to that growth. One of those disciplines frequently seen is holding people accountable. Unfortunately, this lack of accountability can unintentionally create a culture of entitlement with some of our workers and discontent with others. It doesn’t take long for this to spiral into us feeling held hostage by the discontented workers, which results in us giving into demands that aren’t driven by performance but by what others in the organization “have” or are perceived to have. It’s not uncommon for business owners to try to justify the entitled
March 22, 2021
EMPOWERMENT VS. ENTITLEMENT Part II
EMPOWERMENT VS. ENTITLEMENT, Part II   Entitlement in new or smaller businesses. When businesses are new or smaller in size it’s common for their cultures to revolve around obedience rather than empowerment. After all, many founders started their company because they were driven to control things, including their own destiny and the people around them. I believe this is one of the reasons small businesses are so often populated with family members or with people we know. As a result, there’s usually not a lot of empowerment taking place. Instead, in an effort to control things or to attract and hang onto employees, we sometimes go in the other direction and unintentionally create a culture of entitlement. Fearing we won’t be able to attract and keep qualified workers, owners occasionally go overboard with compensation by offering wages that the company can’t afford to support. We paint ourselves into a corner that almost always results in an emotional conversation that often doesn’t end well. But compensation is only one form of entitlement. It continues with the perception of favoritism toward some people, even if we don’t think we’re playing favorites. We might allow certain employees to play by different rules when
March 8, 2021
EMPOWERMENT VS. ENTITLEMENT Part I
EMPOWERMENT VS. ENTITLEMENT, Part I   Most business founders have vivid recollections of the long years of struggle and sacrifice it took to build their company. They remember the financial risks, the time away from family, and the dark uncertainties that surround starting and growing a business. These memories can be a double-edged sword when it comes to dealing with employees. At the onset of a business, we are in control and make all the decisions. Once we have employees, we often resist allowing them to make positive contributions to the company by taking ownership of their jobs. This is understandable, as many of the first people we employ aren’t really equipped to handle these responsibilities. As a result, they often fail in their attempts to do so, reinforcing our belief in our need to control things. There is a learning curve involved in creating a culture of empowerment. This is frequently the result of years of experience—long, often painful, trial-and-error experience—where we engage in a delicate dance between hiring the right people who will facilitate our growth as a business leader and growing enough professionally that we attract the right people to reinforce our growth. On the other hand,