Wouldn’t it be great if the growth of a cleaning or restoration business was dependent on how well the owner could clean a carpet or how effectively he could restore a loss? If that was the case, almost every cleaning and restoration company would generate obscene amounts of profit. After all, most cleaners and restorers are far from lacking in technical certifications.
Unfortunately, growing a business isn’t one-dimensional. Other factors enter into the equation, and each of them either helps or hinders a company’s growth.
Let’s look at one of the biggest factors that keeps owners from building successful businesses. You may be surprised to learn it has nothing to do with how well they clean or restore. Instead, it has to do with the fact that many business owners, in spite of being great technicians, aren’t good managers.
If the owner’s intention is to remain a solo operator, then that’s fine. Despite the risks of going it alone, a solo operator can earn a nice living for himself in this industry. If the owner’s intention is to grow his business by adding people who work for him, however, then struggling with managing people can be a serious liability.
Many entrepreneurs are very successful in guiding their companies through the initial stages of growth, but when they reach the second stage (and have to depend on people doing the work for them) or the third stage (and have to depend on managers to oversee the people actually doing the work), their management skills fall short. Although most owners don’t yet recognize the underlying cause of their problems, they begin to see the results of not having developed their management skills: their businesses stall or start to decline. Typically, this becomes clear when the company is having the same or declining sales for two or more years, is having a chronic turnover in their people, or starts hemorrhaging cash.
This same set of management skills (or perhaps absence of management skills) resurfaces every day with every decision, shooting these owners in their feet over and over and keeping them from moving their companies forward.
Out of frustration, many owners look for silver bullets, magic pills, or quick fixes that will make everything right. Too bad none of these remedies exist!
As unglamorous as it may sound, the way to develop your management skills is usually through hard work, consistent effort, and dedication. Inevitably, the response to this advice is almost always, “Where do I start?”
During nearly thirty years of working with business owners, eight management challenges have continued to present themselves on a fairly routine basis. We call them the Eight Barriers of Management. All of them are avoidable if they don’t currently exist, and all of them are correctable if they do. As with so many other challenges in business, the first step in solving a problem is identifying it. This book is designed to help you do just that.
Failure to Communicate: The Cool Hand Luke Condition
Small business owners are not usually comfortable with long-winded communication. We prefer to give short, concise answers to the questions we’re asked. We prefer even shorter sentences when it comes to giving directives to our people. Why waste time on flowery explanations when just a couple words will do the trick, right? Wrong! Perhaps no single sentence captures the essence of this sin like the words spoken by the road prison captain in the classic movie Cool Hand Luke: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
In spite of how much we, as business owners, think we communicate, we are notorious for being non-communicative (if you have doubts about this, just ask your spouse). Too often when we do communicate, we tend to do it in two- or three-word sentences: “You’re late!” “Get out!” “You did what?!” When we’re feeling particularly loquacious, we might use compound sentences like “I don’t want excuses; I want results!”
“Communication is the basic unit of work in any business.”
Although we may not say much to the other people in our organizations, we talk to ourselves… a lot. We frequently run around all day replaying conversations in our own heads—conversations we mistakenly think we’re having with the people around us. Then, when the people around us have no idea what we’ve been thinking but not saying, we get frustrated because we can’t figure out why they can’t understand what we haven’t been telling them!
This oversight can be especially troublesome when it comes to letting our people know how much we appreciate them. Although we may feel very appreciative, we may be sending our people an entirely different message when we don’t communicate it to them. They may misinterpret our silence as a lack of appreciation.
Let’s face it: communication is the basic unit of work in any business. Sales can’t be made, jobs can’t be completed, invoicing can’t be done, and people can’t be hired until somebody says or writes something. The better we are at communicating, the greater our odds are of being successful in managing our companies.
Failure to Delegate: The Lone Ranger Condition
Have you heard of the TV program from many years ago called The Lone Ranger? It was recently reproduced as a live action film. The show was about a western hero from yesteryear who would ride into town on “a fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty ‘Hi-yo Silver!’” Then he’d single-handedly (or occasionally with the help of his loyal sidekick, Tonto) round up all the bad guys, fix all the injustices, and, half an hour later, ride off into the sunset, leaving all the town folk feeling safe and appreciative.
A lot of business owners exhibit Lone Ranger characteristics. These are the executives who have a go-it-alone mindset and try to do everything themselves rather than surround themselves with competent and trusted business associates who can help them do more and be more than they can by themselves.
“You’ll need to surround yourself with people you trust who can help you avoid expensive mistakes.”
One of the reasons we decide to go into business for ourselves is so we can run our own show—we want to make our own decisions and call all the shots. After all, who could possibly do it better than us, right? And in many cases that’s true. But, when we take this independent Lone Ranger mindset too far, it slows our professional development and caps the growth of our companies.
The reasons business owners are slow to delegate are as vast as the owners themselves. However, a few of the more common reasons are that we may have had bad experiences when we depended on people before or we may have a deep-seated need to control events in our lives. We may have unresolved trust issues with the people around us, or just people in general, or perhaps swollen egos—we don’t want to surround ourselves with people who might be better at something than we are or who will tell us when we’re wrong.
Regardless of the underlying reason for failing to delegate, you need to understand that the Lone Ranger rode off into the sunset, and you shouldn’t try to follow him. If you’re planning to succeed in business, you’ll need to surround yourself with people you trust who can help you avoid expensive mistakes in your business and who can help you grow as an executive. Sometimes this is tough because you have to surround yourself with people who will tell you what you need to know, not just what you want to hear.
Failure to Set Expectations: The Seagull Condition
So, you’ve finally loosened the death grip you’ve had on making every decision in your company, and you’ve worked up the courage to delegate a little responsibility to a few trusted people in your organization. Now you have to be careful not to commit this next sin: failing to set expectations.
Author Ken Blanchard has a name for the conditions we create and the behavior in which we engage when we fail to set expectations. He calls it “Seagull Management.” Rather than setting well-defined, written expectations for a job or project, we give our people vague, verbal directions. Then, when things don’t go the way we want, we fly in, make a lot of noise, leave crud all over the place, and fly back out. Nothing constructive is accomplished. All that’s left is confusion, frustration, and diminished morale in our people. It’s much easier to squawk about failed results after the fact than it is to set well-defined expectations in advance.
Some of this failure is rooted in the fact that we don’t really know what our expectations are. This can be especially true if we’re setting expectations for positions we’ve never performed ourselves. Here the issue might be that we don’t know what we don’t know.
“Expectations don’t have to be grand goals.”
Asking people to perform their jobs without giving them explicit expectations is like inviting a bunch of guys to play a game of football without giving them any plays, assigning them positions, or even letting them know what the score is during the game. “Just go out there and knock each other’s brains out. I’ll let you know when you’re done.” Good heavens! Who’s going to play that game for long?
Expectations don’t have to be grand goals. More often than not they’re common, everyday things like completing work orders, turning in paperwork, creating or placing ads, closing sales, or talking with customers on the phone and in their homes. When employees don’t know how they’re supposed to perform these tasks or how well they’re expected to do them, they’re left to their own “experience bank” to determine how to perform them. Frequently, their previous experience and our expectations aren’t the same. Of course, they’d have no way of knowing this if you don’t tell them…in advance.
Failure to Hold People Accountable: The Nice Guy Condition
Setting expectations for your people is one thing. Holding them accountable to deliver on those expectations is quite another. There are several reasons why owners fail to do this.
One of the leading reasons is that many business owners are caring and generous people. We want to be liked by the customers we serve and by the people who work for us. We want to avoid confrontation whenever possible. Since holding people accountable for their performances can place us squarely in the path of confrontation, we will avoid the confrontation by not holding our people accountable. The downside is that failing to hold people accountable for the small things usually leads to having to hold them accountable later on for bigger things.
“When we give our people expectations but fail to hold them accountable, it’s like buying ourselves a shiny new sports car but failing to take it anywhere.”
Another reason we don’t hold our people accountable is that we fear the consequences of our actions if we do. For example, we’re afraid they’ll quit. For a service technician, that could mean we have to go out and clean carpets ourselves. For a production manager or office manager, that could mean they’ll leave with a lot of information between their ears (or on a flash drive)— information for which we should have been holding them accountable but didn’t. Situations like these are made worse by the owner’s innate fear of confrontation. So, we rationalize the cost-benefit equation of holding the person accountable versus having him quit. We either consciously or subconsciously calculate the time to recruit and train someone new, the emotional toll on ourselves and our people, and the disruption cost to our workflow, and then we base our decision on those. All too often, we turn our backs on poor performance by failing to hold our people accountable.
A third reason for not holding our people accountable is a form of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) management. In other words, after we’ve assigned accountability to someone for something, we move on to the next new thing that catches our attention, and we simply forget about the original accountability.
Regardless of the reason, when we give our people expectations but fail to hold them accountable, it’s like buying ourselves a shiny new sports car but failing to take it anywhere. It might look pretty sitting in our driveway, but the thrill comes from actually driving it.
Failure to Execute: The Little League Condition
The Webster’s Dictionary definition of “execute” is “to create or produce in accordance with an idea, plan, or blueprint.” In business, it’s achieving results, completing tasks, and implementing plans. It’s pulling the trigger on decisions even when we’re afraid or don’t feel like it, following through on our promises, and meeting business objectives.
Execution means making the easy decisions quickly so we can move on to bigger things. It means making the tough decisions that can cause sleepless nights and make our stomachs turn. Frequently, executing means taking risks with the decisions we make (“What if this isn’t the right decision? What if I’m wrong and this decision costs us a lot of money or makes me look bad?”). Execution means making the best decisions we can with the best information we have available.
The opposite of execution is procrastination, delaying success. When we see business owners hesitating to make decisions in their businesses, it’s similar to when a Little Leaguer goes up to bat and starts “dancin’ in the batter’s box.” Dancin’ in the batter’s box occurs when a 10-year-old boy faces a hard, round object that is being thrown at him at 50 or 60 mph with questionable accuracy. With some pitchers, the batter is just as likely to get on base by getting hit as he is by getting a hit.
“Be ready to swing at opportunities that get served up to you.”
Frequently, a similar situation occurs with business owners. Opportunity after opportunity is thrown our way. Sometimes they come in the form of increasing sales or shrinking expenses, and sometimes they come in the form of growing ourselves and our people by holding them accountable. Too often, we see these opportunities fly right past us as we dance in our own batter’s boxes.
Successful business owners develop a predisposition for execution. We know everybody wants to work for a winner and to follow a leader who acts with authority, even if it means striking out occasionally. It’s okay to swing and miss, but it’s not okay to just stand there and not swing at good pitches. In other words, people will accept a leader who tries new things and experiences an occasional failure or loss. What they won’t accept is someone who stands there and lets the company stagnate as he watches opportunity after opportunity pass by.
So, maybe it’s time to take a closer look at your stance in the batter’s box. Make sure your feet are planted firmly. Be ready to swing at opportunities that get served up to you. Quickly dismiss the opportunities that are wild pitches. Evaluate the ones that are close to the plate. Learn to recognize opportunities that are right down the middle and swing away. Even if you don’t hit a home run, you’ll probably end up on base with the potential to score the winning run.
Failure to Let Go: The “Nobody Does It Better” Condition
Have you ever heard the song by Carly Simon, “Nobody Does It Better?” Well, think about your organization and your management style. How many times has the line “I have to handle this situation because nobody does it better than I do” played over and over in your mind?
Our advice is to stop playing this record! Micro-managing does not work. Instead, it negatively affects productivity, morale, and overall performance. It is a major barrier to accountability in the workplace. Take away accountability and you take away the ability to set expectations, to measure those expectations, and to take action as required. Worst of all, micro-managing will drive away your good employees.
You can go a long way toward overcoming micro-management by investing the time to train employees properly when they first come on board. This will help set them up for success, not failure. Provide them with the tools and resources from day one to be successful. Then provide them with continual opportunities not only for additional training but also for development.
“Despite our worst fears, very few mistakes will cause our companies to go out of business.”
Treat all employees with dignity and respect. Get to know them and assess their strengths and weaknesses. Evaluate their knowledge, skills, and abilities, and make sure they’re placed in the right positions based on their capabilities.
Recognize there is more than one right way to do something. Employees need to be given the flexibility to do things in a way with which they are most comfortable. At the end of the day, the important issue is not necessarily that they are performing the required tasks in the exact manner you would. The important issue is that they are meeting your company’s goals.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, allow your employees to make mistakes. That’s the way most of us learn best. Despite our worst fears, very few mistakes will cause our companies to go out of business. At the same time, don’t allow your people to continue to make the same mistakes over and over. Correct poor performance and unacceptable behavior, and be prepared to take drastic action if they continue failing to perform to organizational standards.
Here’s the bottom line: a good manager is one who prepares his people and then trusts them to do their jobs, who remembers that they are part of a team, and who leads by example, not by doing their jobs for them. Your employees will appreciate your efforts and will feel a greater sense of personal accomplishment if allowed to do what you hired them to do. And everyone will be better off for it.
Failure to Develop People: The Stalled Growth Condition
Countless articles and books have been written and training programs and seminars given on how to be an effective leader. A common theme found throughout revolves around the belief that great leaders work tirelessly to develop employees to the fullest extent possible.
In our 21st century workplace, failing to develop people is not an option! As leaders in our organizations, we have the chief responsibility to ensure that our team members develop their skills, knowledge, and competencies. Owners have a unique perspective on development: we are aware of each team member’s strengths and growth areas and, at the same time, are fully aware of the organization’s needs. Our job becomes one of matching the developmental needs of our employees with those of our organization.
While we should expect that our employees are interested in their own development, as the leaders of our organizations we must be willing to play a key role in guiding and supporting the development process without losing sight of the fact that development is a shared responsibility. Create an environment where all employees are motivated to develop their skills, knowledge, and competencies and where constant development is expected and reinforced.
“Leaders have the chief responsibility to ensure that team members develop their skills, knowledge, and competencies.”
Some of the most successful, high-growth companies support their employee development culture by using structured employee development plans to grow their people. Each plan consists of three main parts.
The plan begins with an assessment of the employee’s strengths, skills gaps, and challenge areas. Having the employee actively involved in this process fosters ownership of the plan by the employee. During this initial phase, specific training or educational needs are assessed.
In phase two, the development plan is established with clearly stated goals, timelines, and expected results. The goals are specific, observable, measurable, and relevant to the individual’s and company’s success.
Finally, a schedule is determined for following up. This provides the manager with a platform for providing feedback on the employee’s individual progress.
Your goal of helping employees develop successfully, resulting in achievement of their potential, is one of the most rewarding aspects of leadership. In addition, it will help attract and retain valuable talent and resources.
Failure to Confront: The Ostrich Condition
How do you handle employees with performance problems? Have you tried to ignore the problem or reassign the workload? Have you talked to your team as a group instead of to the individual, upsetting the good performers and failing to address the real problem? Have you taken the poor performance as a personal insult and confronted the employee in a threatening and adversarial manner, losing all objectivity and credibility with the rest of the workforce?
The failure of managers to confront employees with performance problems can cost a company in terms of sales, revenue, and profitability. Yet, many of us continue to avoid dealing with poor performers in the hope that the performance issues will just go away.
Confronting poor and/or inappropriate behavior is a basic managerial responsibility that is NEVER going to go away. In fact, it will only get worse if we ignore it. Why? Because we’re dealing with human beings. And human beings are not only our greatest organizational assets but our biggest sources of frustration, as well.
“Focus on the problem and not the employee.”
Since confrontation at work is something that is never going to go away completely, here are a couple straightforward tips to help you address confrontation correctly and mitigate the damage that comes from avoiding it.
First, focus on the problem and not the employee. It’s about business; it’s not personal. Make sure you understand the root cause of the issue and are willing to help the employee take the actions required to improve. You should always clarify your concerns, motivate for change of behavior, and then be prepared to take action based on the response…or lack of it.
Secondly, keep in mind that you are confronting the gap between expectations and what the employee is actually doing. Always focus on the facts. Your main goal is to enhance the values and activities that are beneficial to everyone in the organization and to the organization’s mission.
Confronting poor performers may not be easy, but once you have a system in place for doing so, most managers find that getting employees back on track is far preferable to ignoring the problem. As you begin dealing with poor performers instead of avoiding them, you will discover what makes them tick and you will be able to resolve issues more efficiently. Everyone will benefit, and your job will get a whole lot easier.
Recognizing how these eight management barriers may be playing out in your business is the first step in avoiding them and gaining mastery of your management skills. The key is to maintain clear, open channels of communication between you and your employees. If you communicate your expectations, results, and feedback, both positive and constructive, you will be able to avoid committing the eight management sins and will see how this positively affects your company. Both your people and your company will grow and develop. Open channels of communication create the foundation for a successful company.
“It won’t happen overnight.”
It won’t happen overnight. But the upside is that learning how to manage a business as it grows isn’t necessarily any more difficult than keeping up with the constantly changing technical world of cleaning and restoration. It’s just a different set of skills.