It only takes about half a day to review trending topics on leadership, motivation and organizational culture to walk away feeling like all one has to do to have an awesome company is a) hire great people, b) treat them like adults and let them do their job and c) ensure leaders are busy removing roadblocks, managing change, fostering innovation and championing creativity and you will have an amazing fortune-100-worthy company with people beating down the doors to come work for you. I’m not saying that’s not true but if you’re a business owner, is this your reality?
The companies I work with are private companies in the manufacturing, construction, and retail industries. The owners of these businesses highly value loyalty and nearly always promote from within. They want a high performing culture with a family feel. This usually means very low tolerance for corporate red tape and bureaucracy and a fierce determination to retain as much control as possible over the employee/employer relationship while still remaining on the right side of the law. They want to manage their companies using common sense, fairness, and the underlying premise that hard work pays off, and doing the right things lead to the right results. The owner is usually an expert in the product or service that the company provides and understands that his/her value is not derived from performing the work anymore (even though that is not always possible).
By the time these companies have grown enough to have a management ‘team’ the owners almost always have the same growth challenges:
· How come my managers can’t seem to maintain the level of performance and morale we had when we were smaller?
· Why do employees complain that they’re not being paid enough, or not being trained well enough?
· Why is it so hard for my managers to quantify our team and individual performance?
· When did this stop being fun and become such a headache, and is it too late to scale back to when things seemed to be working so much better? (Is this even worth it?)
At this point one of two things usually happens; the business owner either blames him/herself or the managers. What usually comes from this is an assumption that someone else could do better under the circumstances (whether as owner or as manager). This leads to looking for replacements or additions to the team to ‘shore up’ a lack of talent or research and training for the leaders. In most cases though, a perfectly good solution is applied to the wrong problem!
Trying to solve the above problems by simply empowering leaders to empower employees, or giving unlimited vacation time, or doing more ‘team building’ is not the answer. All those things may be good, but in absence of solid management systems, you will likely have a highly inspired team wandering around unproductively or, worse, your best and hardest working employees will become bitter and cynical. It’s very similar to what we’ve done over the years trying to instill ‘self-esteem’ in our children rather than focusing on resiliency. Just telling someone they’re great doesn’t do much if you’re not teaching them how to do great things, which requires pushing through failure.
The answer for the companies I work with is to help managers help employees do the things they need to do to make the organization successful. It means thoroughly understanding your business to know what are the things that need to be done to achieve the results that achieve your results. It means differentiating between task purpose and task behaviors (or what to achieve versus how to achieve it). Successful business owners know this intuitively, but when their company grows beyond their own personal sphere of influence it can be hard to articulate and pass this down to managers.
Helping managers focus on employee’s behavior has been villainized because of fear of taking the humanity of the workplace, of ceasing to see employees as the creative, independent people they are and of focusing on the bottom line more than the value of the people. Which is absurd. The best environments I have ever seen are ones where everybody understands the goals of the company (revenue, profit and social), how their job fits into those goals and…HOW THEY ARE DOING performing the behaviors required to hit the goals. Absent this, companies rely on annual performance evaluations (or NO evaluations) and kneejerk responses to unanticipated financial setbacks. The result is fear and uncertainty and you don’t need a psychology degree to know what that does to performance.
So if you find the preponderance of leadership and management articles interesting, and you agree with them, but you don’t find them helpful to get the results you want in your company, it’s not you! It’s all (most of it) good stuff, it’s just not sufficient to get you where you want to be. Your time might be much better spent clarifying for managers and employees your goals, the achievements that lead to the goals, how to achieve them and how people are doing at achieving them.
If you found this article interesting, you may enjoy a deeper look at the Targeting Handout from our Organizational Behavior Management teaching series.
Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm focused on helping organizations, leaders and job seekers to identify workplace solutions that work. As a certified executive coach, organizational development expert and resume writer, Carrie consults with small to medium sized businesses on OD, human resources and recruiting solutions in addition to providing career coaching to managers and executives in transition. Carrie can be reached for consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org