This may or may not surprise you, but entrepreneurs are a rare breed. In some cases, entrepreneurial people rise to leadership positions within large companies, or they get fed up with corporate bureaucracy and start their own business. In any case, entrepreneurs are different.
The primary difference between an entrepreneur and other people is the way they see work. Entrepreneurs have a vision, and they then persist in achieving that vision. They will sacrifice time with family, invest their savings, risk bankruptcy, and tirelessly navigate around obstacles to achieve that vision. All these traits result in a highly independent and self-reliant individual. While admirable, these traits tend to create problems once the entrepreneur hires other people to help who are not so independent.
Here are the typical complaints I hear from my entrepreneurial clients:
My people won’t take ownership of results.
Employees come to work late and leave early.
My staff doesn’t understand the financial implications of their actions.
My people don’t have good business acumen.
My salespeople can’t seem to negotiate a deal with a customer on their own.
I end up doing the work for my people that they won’t do.
I can’t afford to hire high-talent people.
My employees don’t “get it.”
My people ignore bonus systems designed to grow our company.
Most of these beliefs are true, but not helpful. What happens with the entrepreneur after these epiphanies is that they try the following remedies.
Fire employees and hire new ones.
Re-organize putting their most entrepreneurial folks in leadership roles.
Do critical tasks themselves.
Provide training to improve their staff.
Institute bonus programs designed to spark that entrepreneurial spirit.
Offer shares of company stock or equity in lieu of compensation.
Create clear employee reviews so that people know what they are doing wrong.
Each one of these efforts may or may not work depending on the types of employees you hire. If you are paying near the bottom of the pay scale, as most small business owners are, then most of these remedies won’t work.
Management is clearly a two-way street. A leader cannot grow his/her employees through amazing leadership skills. It is up to the employee to ultimately grow and provide the requisite value to their employer. However, entrepreneurs can be aware of typical blind spots associated with their independent personality and lead their people accordingly.
The Entrepreneur’s Blind Spot
Entrepreneurs operate their business based on a truth that is not apparent or welcome for most employees. This truth is that their business must make money to survive and grow. As obvious as this is to entrepreneurs, it is not obvious to employees. Employees view their world differently. They want to earn a certain amount of money to pay their bills, pay for vacations, buy a nice house, and save enough to retire someday. They view work as a necessary evil. They are afraid to lose their job because they’ve amassed debt, bills, and need to earn an income. While you view business growth and profitability as personal wealth-building tools, they see both items as unnecessary trappings of a greedy business owner.
No employee will ever say this to you. And, you cannot hold these natural desires against your people.
Successful Leadership Starts with Planning
Your job as an entrepreneur is to plan out what roles your company needs to create its product or service to your customer. This starts with a business plan, but it doesn’t end there. The roles required for your company will vary. You will employ minimum wage people to fill low-skilled positions, and higher waged people to fill high-skilled positions. While unique traits and skills are required for each position, it’s most important to set the salary, wage, and bonus structure properly. The notion that others will care as much about your company as you do, is a myth. This only happens after you’ve gained so much momentum that others can clearly see their payoff soon.
Paying people what they are worth is a start. The next step is to help your people grow. Your company’s growth is dependent on your employee’s growth. Remember that your employees have different hopes and dreams than you do. Like you, finances feed your growth and their dreams. If you pay your employees too much, they’ll become complacent. If you pay your employees too little, they’ll look for work elsewhere. If you create a clear plan for your employees to grow their income that is aligned with your company growth, both will be happy to grow.
Money is Not Enough
Financial needs are important, but money is not all employees care about. They face the same life challenges as you. They have kids, spouses and friends who want their time. They have hobbies, need for vacations, and sleep. Health emergencies happen to your people just like they can happen to you. On top of all these priorities is their need to grow at work.
While work may not be the same to your employees, it’s still an important part of their lives. They also want to spend most of their life contributing to something worthwhile.
Here are ten actions you can do to help your employees feel their work is worthwhile:
Empathize: Treat your people the way you want to be treated. When they have personal emergencies come up, do what you can to be flexible. Team members help each other out.
Use Giftedness: Each employee has different gifts, and they want those gifts to be used and expanded. Imagine if you learned to speak another language and then never had the opportunity to speak that language in your job. Your language skill will atrophy. Likewise, if you use that second language, you will feel a great sense of worth.
Growth: Each industry is different, but all employees want to grow in some way. They want to grow their skill, their income, and their impact on the world. This growth may or may not be aligned with your company’s growth. Regardless, if you help your employees grow, they will help your company grow.
Clarity: Entrepreneurs give their employees work goals and expect their employees to “get it”. This means they will automatically understand what they are supposed to do to grow the company. This is not the way most people think. As their employer, it is your job to clearly communicate the role of your employee. Give them the necessary authority and responsibility their role demands; and then hold them accountable.
Reward: If your employees are contributing beyond their expected work level, be quick to pay bonuses are raises. The benefits of rewards diminish the longer you wait to acknowledge your employee’s excess contributions.
Coach: Coaching is the job of the person on the sideline, not the person playing the game. Coaching is investing yourself in another person so that they excel. In most cases your employees will not see their own obstacles. It is natural for you to criticize and discipline that individual. Instead, dig deeper into the thought processes causing undesirable behavior; and help that individual trust their giftedness. Encourage your people whenever you can.
Confrontation: It’s important that you confront your employees when you see behavior you believe is not productive. This doesn’t mean to criticize or argue. It means that you approach that employee with curiosity and questions that elicit thought and clarity. Don’t assume anything. Be proactive. Don’t wait for problems to grow. And never label your employee as a broken human being.
Don’t Expect Empathy: Many entrepreneurs believe that if they explain profitability, and work productivity, that their employees will work harder to earn them the profits they need to grow their business. It’s lonely at the top; and your employees cannot be your friends bailing you out of tough situations. Hire a consultant, coach, or colleague who is not an employee if you need understanding and empathy. Ultimately, you will need to make difficult decisions and like it or not; most of your employees will not empathize with your emotional strain.
Stop Doing the Work: It’s a matter of necessity that entrepreneurs do the work their company needs when it’s first starting up. It is critical that you extricate yourself from the doing role as soon as humanly possible; and then don’t re-insert yourself into a working role in your company. When you do the work, you rob your people of growth, you destroy clarity of roles, and you cannot do the important work of the CEO of your own company. CEO is a fulltime job. If you’re not doing it, hire someone who will.
Hire Slowly and Fire Quickly: One of the most difficult jobs of an entrepreneur is to hire people who will be gifted in the roles they are assigned. The tighter the labor market gets, the harder it is to attract the best people. This means that entrepreneurs hire less-than-qualified people hoping they will grow into their role. The growth doesn’t and won’t happen, and the entrepreneur is reluctant to fire that individual because they don’t believe they can find a replacement. In the meantime, this poorly qualified employee is a burden on everyone else. Keeping the wrong employee working for you is unfair to you, your other employees, and the person who ought to be working somewhere else.
I confess that I learned most of these lessons the hard way. I still help my business owner clients navigate similar challenges as they grow their businesses. If you’re struggling with growing your business in a way that creates success and peace of mind, please schedule a no-cost discovery session. I’d love to hear your story and help you however I can.
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 an Energy Service Company (ESCo) called Ennovate Corporation (1997 to 2013). I now coach business owners, engineers, and business development executives in the energy efficiency industry.