Susan was furious as she hung up the phone. It was 3 O'Clock on Tuesday morning. Susan was told by her distributor that another shipment would be delayed.
This late shipment meant Susan would, once again, have to pay penalties to retailers who would get their candle shipments late. She told her staff they needed to start meeting deadlines, or they would be fired. She reminded them again in the past week that the shipment needed to leave their dock by 12 noon on Thursday, if they wanted to meet their Monday delivery deadline. It was as if she was invisible.
It was her company and no one was doing what they were supposed to do.
At 57-yrs old, Susan was tired of micro-managing a bunch of deadbeats that never did what she needed them to do.
Ten years ago, Susan made craft candles to be sold at craft fares. She upped her game when she sold over 1,000 candles on Pinterest. After five years of craft sales, Susan thought she hit the big time when she opened her candle factory and warehouse.
She was so proud when she got a contract to supply candles to all Hallmark stores in the U.S. She was a success story who was now tired of being a business owner. It seemed that 30% of her shipments were late; she couldn't sell candles on the internet because of agreements made with those same retailers. This late shipment was the last straw.
Susan decided she needed to sell her business and retire. The pride of creating a successful business was not worth the dreaded early morning failure phone calls.
She knew a local business coach who helped her friend sell her business; and thought he would be a great resource for her. Everyone called him “Coach Russ”. Instead of going to the office to deliver the “late delivery” bad news to her employees, she decided to give Coach Russ a call.
Russ started the conversation, "So, you want to sell your business. Can you tell me what has led to this decision?"
Susan replied with clarity, "I'm tired of managing a group of deadbeats that can't get anything right."
"Interesting. How much do you feel your business of deadbeats is worth to a buyer?"
Susan understood her sarcasm was not serving her well. If she wanted to get a buyer to pay her top dollar for her company, she'd have to be more positive.
Susan corrected herself, "Sorry. I have okay employees. I guess I'm tired of running this business, and I feel like a larger company can run it better than I can."
"I want you to be honest with me. If you were to take a 6-month vacation, how well would your candle company operate without you?"
Susan said, "Ok... We've missed three deadlines in the past month out of a total of 10 major retailer shipments. That poor performance included me hounding my employees to get these shipments out on time. I was notified early this morning, that another shipment would miss its deadline."
"I'm going to ask you again. If you were to take a 6-month vacation, how well would your candle company operate without you?"
Susan hung her head, "I don't think they would meet any of our deadlines, if I weren't on top of things."
Russ knew Susan would not like to hear what he would say next, "Susan, I can help you evaluate the value of your company; and find some interested buyers. But, unless you can figure out how to get your company to run well without you present, you'll have a difficult time getting the price you want."
Susan was clearly disappointed. She wanted out. She was convinced she didn’t have the energy to fix whatever was wrong with her employees. Even if she fired her staff and hired new employees, it would take months to train them. And she wasn't convinced that her new employees would be any better than her current employees.
With tears in her eyes, Susan asked, "What can I do, Russ? I want out."
"What if you could get better results from your employees? What if you could take a 6-month vacation and never have to worry about your company's operation?"
"I think that would be a miracle. I’ve threatened my employees with their jobs. Nothing seems to work."
"Maybe I can help. Do you mind if I attend your meeting with you, when you tell your employees about your most recent late shipment?"
"It couldn't hurt. Maybe you can identify some folks that are causing my problems."
It was now a full day after the late shipment news, on Wednesday morning.
The staff was aware of the missed Monday delivery deadline. They were ready to get chewed out by Susan once again. Susan promised that heads would roll this time; so everyone was on edge. Her employees were packed into the small company break room awaiting Susan's wrath.
As Susan and Russ walked into the room, there was instant silence.
Susan didn't waste any time, she got right to the point, "I have Coach Russ with me today for our meeting to observe. As all of you may know, we missed another shipment deadline this past Monday. That late delivery cost me a lot of money, and I'm tired of paying late fees for poor productivity on your part. I’ve worked too hard for the last ten years building this candle business, and I'll be damned if I let you ruin it. We have another delivery that will be due to another group of retailers this coming Monday. I'll be walking through the factory the rest of this week. If I see any of you slacking off, I'll fire you on the spot."
The silence remained in the room after Susan was finished. Susan and Russ left the room, and headed for Susan's office.
Susan sat in her office chair, as Russ entered the room and closed the door behind him. Russ sat in a comfortable chair in front of Susan's desk.
Susan started, "You see what I mean? They didn't say a word. No apology or anything. These folks don't give one damn, if this company crashes and burns."
Russ knew he had to be careful, "Susan, you have every right to be angry at the continued missed deliveries. Any business owner would be. What do you expect to happen with next week's shipment?"
"I don't know. My employees seem to improve the last time they got a good ass-chewing. Maybe they'll get with it and meet this next deadline."
"I was wondering if there could have been a different way to address your employees after yesterday's missed shipment?"
"I know what you mean. Could I have been nicer? I've tried nice, and it doesn't work. The only thing my people respond to is the threat of losing their job. Nothing else matters to them."
"I was not thinking of 'nicer'. Instead, I’m thinking of your goal of selling your company. What if you could get your employees to meet deadlines without these kinds of meetings?"
"Like I said, Russ. The only thing my people respond to is threats. I wish I didn't have to do speeches like the one you just witnessed."
"How did this speech you just gave make you feel?"
"I felt awful. I just don't know of any other way that works."
"How do you think your employees felt after the speech they just heard?"
Susan teared up, "I'm guessing they feel awful too. What am I supposed to do? If I'm nice, they just take advantage of me."
Russ offered, "Can you meet with me for an hour tomorrow in my office? I think I can show you a more effective way of motivating your folks that results in both sides feeling better; and performing at a higher level. What do you say?"
"Sure. What could it hurt?"
Russ and Susan met in Russ's office at 7:00 am on Thursday morning.
After some small talk, Russ started, "I want to introduce you to the concept of Energy in the workplace."
Susan looked confused, "Energy? I don't understand."
"When we lead other people, we create a type of Energy. You indicated that you felt bad after your meeting with your employees. And you said that you thought that your employees also felt bad. This bad feeling and environment is what I call Energy."
"Look, Russ. We had a bad experience as a company. I'm not sure such a bad feeling can be avoided."
"It can. I want to show you how. I’ll describe five levels of this Energy I'm talking about. Lower levels of energy are called Catabolic. Catabolic energy is used to motivate people with negative consequences. It will get results, but often leaves a bad feeling in the air; and requires you to constantly enforce rules, like you’re doing now."
Susan asked, "What’s the 'nice' energy called?"
Russ smiled, "It's not 'nice' energy. The opposite of Catabolic energy is Anabolic energy. Anabolic energy is a type of building and creative energy that’s desirable for long-term success. Let me explain with a visual representation of what I'm talking about."
Russ drew the numbers 1 through 5 on his office white board. He then penned the word VICTIM next to number 1.
Russ said, "The first level of energy is 100% Catabolic. It's called "Victim Energy". It's core thought is 'I lose'. When you commented yesterday that you had worked so hard and your employees were wrecking your company, that's an example of Victim energy."
Susan interrupted, "Now, look Russ. That's the truth. I have worked hard and built this company only to see a bunch of lazy workers destroy it."
"Your perspective may in fact be justified… However, I want to talk about how these energy levels work."
Russ penned the word "CONFLICT" next to the number 2 and said, "The second level of energy is still quite Catabolic. It's called "Conflict Energy". It’s associated with fighting and competition and has the core thought 'I win, You lose'. Business owners often use this language to threaten an employee's job."
"Now, wait a second. If my employees only care about their job, isn't it right to threaten something they care about in order to get them to meet a deadline that I care about?"
"Again, Susan, I'm not saying that any of these energy levels are right or wrong. I just want to be clear on how they work."
Russ penned the word "ACCEPTANCE" next to the number 3, and said, "The third level of energy is the start of the Anabolic range of energy. It's called "Acceptance Energy". I’ve also called this level Responsibility or Coping. The core thought of Acceptance energy is 'I win.' At this level, you’ll be fine as long as your candle factory works well. There may be room for improvement, but as long as deliveries are made on time, and quality is okay, you’ll tend to accept you current state of operations."
Susan nodded her head in agreement.
Russ wrote the word "COMPASSION" next to the number 4 and said, "The fourth level of energy is much more anabolic and is called Compassion. The core thought of compassion energy is 'You win'. In the case of your employees, the You is your employees."
Susan smiled, "My employees must be feeling compassion, because they are winning at the expense of me paying late delivery penalties."
Russ responded, "Actually, this energy is felt by you, not your employees. Compassion on your end would be a feeling of concern for the well-being of your employees. If you feel like your employees are winning by under-performing, that’s conflict energy because there is a winner and a loser."
Russ continued to write the word "OPPORTUNITY" by the number 5, "The highest level of energy that I want to talk about today is quite anabolic and is called Opportunity. The core thought of Opportunity Energy is, Win/Win. This means that you find ideas where you and your employees win together."
"You mean, like, they keep their job, and we meet our delivery deadlines?"
Russ smiled, "I suppose that's one way to look at it. Although, I would term that deal lose/lose. If they don't meet a deadline, someone loses their job. What reward will they get if they meet the deadline?"
"You're kidding me, right? It's their job to meet deadlines. They get paid to do their job."
"Winning is not simply about keeping what you have; but bettering what you have; and feeling in control of the opportunity at hand. What would happen, if you asked your employees to make recommendations on how to correct your late delivery problem?"
Susan chuckled, "I've asked them in the past; and all they do is make excuses about why they can't deliver on time."
"Could they have legitimate reasons for missing deadlines?"
"Russ, I'm already a high-priced candle-maker. If we can't get our act together, I'll be forced to move our factory to China."
"Are your people aware of this?"
"Are you kidding? As you've already pointed out, morale is at an all-time low. Why add one more thing to demotivate my employees?"
"Got it. However, getting employees to participate in correcting inefficiencies with all of the facts is what Opportunity energy is all about."
Russ paused and then asked, “Susan, I'd like you to take some time right now and come up with different ways that you could have handled yesterday's meeting at each energy level. Can you do that?"
Susan worked for the next several minutes, as Russ patiently waited. Russ could tell that Susan was taking the exercise seriously. She used a pencil and was writing and erasing furiously. After 30-minutes, Susan signified that she was done with her task. Russ asked her to read them aloud.
Susan read each item she had written down:
"Level 1: Victim: Probably the same approach that I took. Get offended, blame my employees, and play the part of a victim owner.
Level 2: Conflict: This was also represented in yesterday's meeting. Threaten my employees with their jobs if they didn't meet the deadlines.
Level 3: Acceptance: Understand that there must be a systemic problem with production that’s causing missed deadlines. I would ask my employees to identify the challenges with timely delivery so that we can meet our deadlines. I may try to push deadlines out with retailers to accommodate a more reasonable delivery schedule.
Level 4: Compassion: I would have approached our meeting completely differently. I would have sat down, instead of stood over my team yesterday. I would then express a sense of concern for my team. I would have said something like, "I'm concerned about you all. We’ve missed some aggressive deadlines recently, and I’m curious how we can have less stress around here."
Level 5: Opportunity: I would explain to my folks the nature of the candle business and how we need to find creative ways to compete in our market place. I would then ask them for ideas they have, given our current constraints."
Russ asked, "Susan, How did you feel as you thought about each one of these levels?"
Susan smiled, "I suppose I felt better at the higher levels."
"What would it take for you to have a Level 5 meeting with your people?"
"I can do it, but I'm a little skeptical. I don't know if my people will come up with anything meaningful."
"You have to give them the space, Susan. Remember, they’ve been living at Level 1 and Level 2 for a while. They may be shocked that you want their advice. Be patient."
"It's worth it, if I can create a positive workplace for both me and my employees."
Susan met with her employees a second time. She could see that her employees were expecting the hammer to fall on some unsuspecting employee who wasn't working hard enough that week to meet next week's deadline. Instead, Susan opened with an apology. She was noticeably tearing up as she told her employees she was out-of-line in the meeting earlier that same week. She went on to ask for help in identifying the obstacle for meeting deadlines. She filled the team in on how they had to figure out ways to beat the efficiency of China candle factories to compete.
Susan couldn't believe how different this meeting went. She got immediate sympathy from her veteran workers when they saw her tears. She was amazed at the ideas that started flowing when she asked for help. It turned out that a certain type of candle was taking more time to make than most candles. Susan also discovered that their customers would accept a longer delivery on the complicated candles. After making candles for ten years, Susan was embarrassed that she didn't think of this herself.
Just think. All that angst, threats and bad feelings; when all she had to do was change how she shipped a difficult candle.
Susan reported her new-found success to Russ.
Russ said, "I'll ask you again. If you were to take a 6-month vacation, how well would your candle company operate without you?"
Susan smiled, "I think I could take that vacation.”
“That’s great! Should we talk about selling your company?”
Susan laughed, “Now that we’ve shifted the energy level at work, I want to put off the idea of selling my candle company for a while."
I hope you enjoyed the story. I want to talk briefly about the two lessons I was trying to convey with our candle maker, Susan.
The first is Empowerment.
Susan empowered her people when she gave them more information and then asked them to help the company solve the delayed shipment problem. Most employers look at their employees as wanting more and more from them. Most people who work, want to make a positive difference with their work. Yes, they need a good paycheck… but the reason that most people love their jobs has little to do with compensation.
In addition to feeling like their work is meaningful, employees want to use their minds. When Susan asked her people for their help, they were eager to contribute to solving the problem.
You must give your people enough information to make the right decisions. If you don’t, they will often give you solutions that can’t work within the constraints that they never knew existed. In Susan’s story, she had to tell her employees that a factory in China was a real possibility if they couldn’t figure out how to fix their delivery problems. This China factory could have been used as a threat as well… but in Susan’s case, it was a real-world constraint that she felt her employees needed to know in order to come up with a solution that worked.
The next topic is Energy Levels.
The energy level language and concepts have been developed by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching or iPEC in their trademark Core Energy Coaching™ program. I happen to be a Core Energy Coach™ and so you'll hear a lot about these concepts in my stories.
The catabolic stages of energy that Susan was experiencing in her company were creating a victim mindset in Susan as being a victim of her employees’ incompetence. Susan’s employees weren’t interviewed in our story, but they were also feeling bad. They were most likely feeling like they were victims of Susan’s wrath and her ignorance of the problems causing late deliveries.
Catabolic energy is the easiest to use in emergency situations. We all do it when we have not taken time to be deliberate about viewing our challenges or opportunities in a more constructive way.
Once Susan took 30-minutes to think of alternative ways of thinking and acting with her employees she was able to conduct a more productive meeting with her staff.
We only covered five of the energy levels in this story. Core Energy Coaching™ includes a total of seven different energy levels. I plan to cover these in future stories, so stay tuned.
I hope you’ve learned a few things from Susan’s story. If you’d like to learn more about me or my business coaching practice, I invite you to check us out at www.mmbizcoach.com.