It’s tough to convince a CEO they need a business coach. Why? Because they believe their employees are the problem. Why should they work on themselves when their employees are the ones who need the help?
The truth is that all people need help, whether they admit it or not. While there’s truth in the notion that employees need a lot of help, the CEO can affect change in their employees by changing themselves. Another truth is that the only person you can control is you.
The Bad-Employee Mindset
Let’s first explore how small business owners get the mindset that their employees are the problem.
You hire a new employee with high hopes. You pay them well, give them great benefits, and welcome them to your company with a grand first week of introductions. A few weeks into their work with you, some weaknesses emerge that you weren’t aware of in the interview process. Maybe they need a little training. No big deal. After three months, a few more dysfunctions emerge. You’re convinced you made a bad hire. What can you do? This employee moved his family for the job in your company and you made the hiring decision. You can’t fire them. You keep them on your payroll over a year before you realize you need to let them go.
Not only did this employee not work out, you have other employees that don’t seem to be doing that well either. You keep your other employees because you don’t want to relive the bad-hiring experience. You’re convinced there are no great employees available who want to work for your small business.
You try to re-organize around your current employee’s strengths thinking that you just have your people in the wrong roles in your company. Still, your company struggles to grow.
Your Employees ARE Flawed
It may surprise you to learn that YOU’RE RIGHT. Your employees are flawed. They don’t do what you want them to do when you want them to do it. They are selfish and don’t care as much about your business as you do. Your good employees will constantly be looking for better opportunities outside of your company and your bad employees hope you don’t notice their incompetence.
All employees are flawed because all people are flawed. That’s our human condition. That said, you can make the most of your flawed employees and your flawed self by creating a win/win culture. Business success is not about hiring the best employees and watching them make your company a success.
You have more control over the success of your employees and your company than you may think. Not by changing your employees… but by changing you.
Five Business Cultures
I’ll illustrate five business cultures that you can foster or avoid. As I describe these cultures, pick the one that you feel will give you the best chance at business success.
The Victim Culture
In a victim culture, employees and managers say, “My problems are caused by others and there’s nothing I can do about it and there’s no way out. Woe is me!”
A manager will feel like a victim when they believe there are no viable employees in the labor market. Their employees take advantage of them, and they have business objectives that won’t be achieved because no one will do the work.
Employees feel like victims because they can’t get the compensation they need to live the life they want, and have no opportunity for promotion or careers in other companies. They manage to do what little they can to avoid being fired.
The Conflict Culture
In a conflict culture, employees are pitted against each other for advancement. Competition is one of the highest values rewarded in a conflict culture company. Successful employees are rewarded while struggling employees are disciplined. Conflict culture companies are often a reflection of their industries. Such fields as construction, the legal profession, professional sports, competitive sales, and politics are industries where the conflict culture thrives.
A business owner in this culture will be constantly comparing their company to other companies to see how they measure up. They will be expressing the need to beat their competition and have several score boards that measure the degree of their winning.
Employees will be driven by fear of losing. They will put in extra hours to win at any cost. Successful employees in this culture will lose their families in the process because they have no sense of balance.
In a conflict mindset, employees believe the company is taking advantage of them and will be defensive in any compensation negotiations. Likewise, managers will treat employees like adversaries. If employees benefit, managers lose… and vice versa.
The risk of corruption and cheating exist in the conflict culture because winning is more important than business ethics.
The Acceptance Culture
In an acceptance culture, employees and managers are passive. They navigate around obstacles to achieve some level of success. In all cases, people in an acceptance culture avoid conflict. They view addressing conflict as disruptive and unnecessary.
People in an acceptance culture believe in doing their best and letting the chips fall where they may. When losses happen, they quickly move on to the next opportunity. Bosses see problems with their employees, but are reluctant to communicate those problems for fear of alienating employees. Employees see problems in their company but remain silent.
Acceptance culture companies tend to get pushed around by the general economy. If economic times are good, they ride the wave of profitability. If economic times are bad, they downsize.
The Compassionate Culture
In a compassionate culture, people come first. These people could be customers, employees, or vendors. Managers express genuine empathy for the challenges their employees are experiencing at work and at home. Employees sense a caring spirit and feel comfortable and loved in a compassionate work culture.
In some cases, compassionate culture companies breed a sense of mutual caring… where employees reciprocate the compassion they are shown by leaders in the company. In other cases, employees take advantage of the compassion shown by their leaders. In this case, employees are in the conflict mindset; while their leaders are demonstrating compassion.
In customer negotiations, the customer is always right. Leaders are conflicted when customers have disagreements with employees.
The Opportunity Culture
In an opportunity culture, leaders and employees have a broader sense of success. They understand the interconnectedness of business success and personal success. This is a culture where everyone wins together. The three wins in a successful business are felt by: customers, employees, and owners. The company makes profits, customers gain a valuable service, and employees make a good living.
This culture turns losses into learning experiences and eventually into wins. Each event or anomaly in the status quo is seen as an opportunity instead of a problem. If the economy turns down, what is the opportunity? If your product is no longer needed by customers, what is the opportunity? If you lose a valuable employee, what is the opportunity?
Employees tend to stick with companies full of opportunity because they see promotions, higher compensation, and a share of company equity. Can you imagine getting involved in a mystery thriller and then not reading the ending? This is how opportunistic companies retain employees. They want to stick around to experience the upside of their work.
Building an Opportunity Culture
Most will identify with each of the different cultures I’ve described above. You may see strengths and weaknesses in each culture. The culture that is the most conducive to growth is the “Opportunity Culture”. So, how do you build an Opportunity Culture?
The core thought of this opportunity mindset is Win/Win/Win. Here are some key components of building win/win/win relationships with owners/customers/employees.
Business owners live in a risk/reward environment, but seldom share this culture with their employees. To the extent your employees can impact the success of your business, create financial incentives that reward those employees. Be careful not to create bonus systems where the employees win without giving a win for the business. If employees balk at such incentive compensation, they either see little opportunity in your business; or they’re not opportunity-minded employees.
This is the most critical obstacle for most small businesses. The CEO feels like they are experiencing all the stress of running their business and eventually give up trying to communicate risk and reward to their employees. They think, my employees don’t care and won’t care, so they tend to drop to one of the lower-level cultures. They stop painting a rosy picture of the future. Worse, they tend to see the negative aspects of their employees and their business; and focus on “what’s wrong” instead of “what’s possible”.
The best way to learn if someone is an opportunist is to ask questions in interviews that uncover an opportunity mindset. Here are a few good ones:
“Tell me about a failure in your past that turned out to be a success?”
“What opportunity do you see for yourself in our company?”
“What products and services should our company sell that it doesn’t offer now?”
“Given what you know about our company, how can you make it better?”
“If you get hired in this job, how will you measure your success six months from now?”
These questions are not focused on the past, but on this individual’s future success with your company. The answers you must look for in the right candidate should be clear, positive, and mutually beneficial for you, the employee, and your customers (win/win/win). If their focus is only on themselves, or only on the company, then you may want to consider a different candidate.
At the beginning of this blog post, I hinted that the CEO controls the culture in their own company. As the CEO, you must constantly evaluate your own thoughts and feelings about your business, your employees, and your customers. I use an exercise with my coaching clients I call, “climbing the ladder”. In this exercise, you check your thoughts against the five cultures I’ve described in this post: 1) Victim; 2) Conflict; 3) Acceptance; 4) Compassion; and 5) Opportunity. This will help you pick the opportunity mindset in most situations.
Opportunity is NOT Easy
The average corporate culture in large and small businesses is the Conflict Culture. This culture seems to make the most sense in a dog-eat-dog world. In fact, all four of the lower levels take little effort compared with the opportunity culture. That said, the opportunity culture is much more rewarding. Employees will feel energized to come to work. You will start seeing more and more opportunities. Employees who want to collect a paycheck and give nothing back will be working for other companies. And, best of all, you will stop having to motivate your people to create your Growth Mindset Business.
About me. I have been actively engaged in the energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy conservation industry all my professional career from 1987 until now. I was a licensed Professional Engineering in six states and a Certified Energy Manager (CEM). I worked as a sales executive, energy engineer, sales manager, and entrepreneur. I started, grew, and sold my own Energy Service Company (ESCo) called Ennovate Corporation (1997 to 2013). I am now a certified professional business coach for business owners, engineers, and business development executives.