A few years ago, an individual I’ll call Will purchased a small business. Because the previous owner was a control-freak, the culture in this company was not trust based.
- Employees were used to doing what they were told to do without questioning the orders. As a result they also tended to complain a great deal.
- Order was maintained by an extensive video system that was ostensibly to deter customer theft. However, since cameras were also placed in storage and work areas employees understood that they were not trusted either.
- Employees exhibited no personal initiative to do more than was asked as this activity had been penalized in the past. Therefore, performance was minimal.
When Will discussed his challenges with me he was concerned about productivity. In particular he could not understand why he had to be present and oversee everything in order for the simplest tasks to be completed. He knew that he was spending way too much personal time producing and overseeing production for him to effectively grow the business.
Because Will was so focused on productivity, he failed to see that he didn’t have a productivity problem. What Will actually had was a mutual trust and respect problem. The existing culture was based on past experiences and the previous owner conditioned them to do as little as possible to avoid trouble. And as they frequently felt persecuted, they also felt entitled to undermine efficiency and effectiveness.
The company culture was on a downward spiral that would result in more cameras, less trust, and less individual initiative. Had Will been a control-freak also, this would not have disturbed him. But Will was looking for leaders to emerge so he could delegate daily tasks and he could grow. Therefore, Will needed to create a new culture.
Unfortunately, Will failed to comprehend how a cultural shift could make a difference. Besides, he wanted change NOW, not later. So, rather than take out the cameras, hold employee meetings to discuss the changing culture, and fire those employees who were longing for the old regime, he installed more cameras, spent more time and energy supervising, and rewarded those employees he saw as having key skills regardless of their attitude. In other words, he continued the spiral.
I’m happy that Will is still in business and he even managed briefly to move forward and grow the business. Unfortunately, he has made these accomplishments not as a team, but by sheer force of his personality and determination. He is exhausted. And he has built a house of cards that only stays together as long as he is vigilant.
If you see yourself and your company in Will’s business, I encourage you to take a step back and re-evaluate your efforts. Productivity issues frequently result from areas that appear to have no relationship to productivity. And to be honest, the best solution may not have the instantaneous results that you desire.
Like Will, when you are mired in the challenge you may have trouble seeing the underlying causes to the productivity symptoms you are experiencing. And the temptation to treat the symptoms and make them go away can be very strong. However, this allows the underlying problems to fester and rise again in the future.
The good news is that in a company that you have grown, you can minimize the productivity challenges that Will is experiencing by defining and reinforcing the company culture as you grow. It’s not necessary to wait for the pain to concentrate on culture.
A proactive business owner understands that the culture is based on the mission, vision, and values. When these tools are documented and used to hire employees, reward performance, and make daily business decisions the culture is strengthened.
By adding company belief systems, you complete the internal brand. This creates business clarity. And not only will productivity pains like Will is experiencing be minimized, you will stand out in the marketplace, easily create your marketing message, and be strategically focused on the future.
What do you prefer? Will’s pain? Or the excitement of potential growth?
It’s your choice.