Not long ago I sat across a desk from a small business owner whose business has experienced rapid expansion in the past two years. Going against the trends in the general economy his company was invoicing $750,000 annually last year and will invoice approximately $2,000,000 this year.
Among the items we discussed, one emerged that seemed to trouble him the most. In the expansion of his business he has hired several new technicians. However, there are two who have been with the company a long time. Neither of them have been able to keep pace with new technology and the inevitable changes in procedures and standards that come when a company expands that rapidly and to that degree.
“What,” he asked, “should I do with those two?”
I explained that the most personally challenging part of managing a business is addressing the problem of employees and associates who fail to keep up with the demands of their position. So here is what I advised:
- Business is business and all aspects of it eventually must be addressed as business. Delegate jobs and establish objectives using business objectives, not personal ones. Evaluations are to be made by those objective and subjective criteria that you have already established.
- Hold everyone accountable to the same standards if they are doing the same job and by the same standard of standards if they are not. Bricklayers are not plumbers but in both cases there is a level of acceptable work that must be maintained. If a person cannot meet that level, they cannot have the position. It’s not personal, it’s business. Never ever play favorites of any type in any manner.
- Morale will suffer and your credibility will begin to fail if you allow standards in one you don’t allow in another. Do not fool yourself. Others can and do see what’s going on.
- Every time I let someone slide and made personal and individual consideration for them, it came back to bite me. Take it from a seasoned veteran of the workforce trenches, you cannot expect reciprocity. If you let standards slide, make accommodations, or otherwise personalize a position thinking it will build loyalty and a sense of ownership, it won’t. Investment is made when it costs the investor something, in this case the effort to meet the responsibility. Granting indulgences only sets the grantee up for more grants.
- The action of holding accountable subordinates and associates, those to whom you have delegated responsibility, and the manner in which it is done may be the primary indicator of one’s leadership ability. Business ownership and organizational leadership means taking the heat for doing the hard things. That really is why you get the big(ger) money.
- There is a reason why the military distinguishes rank. Higher ranks have higher responsibility, can see the big picture, and know how to lead. Higher ranks quickly lose their capacity to command by being one of the guys. They are them and you are you. I am not even remotely suggesting that you remain aloof or be unfriendly. I am suggesting that there is the need to maintain distance. More about this in a future post.
Accountability, which is one of the traits of keepers I wrote of here, is:
- The obligation to give a record of what has happened or not happened,
- Accept responsibility for success, partial success, failure or partial failure, and
- To disclose the results transparently, holding nothing back.
Show your associates and employees the diagram that accompanies these articles. Explain the process, and enforce it. You need to know and they need to be accountable, it’s part of being a responsible component in the organization.
Next week I tackle the final link in the power grid. See you on Monday.