Your business isn’t ‘yours’, and your problems aren’t all about ‘them’

When you start and run your own business, your company inevitably means more to you than anybody else.

As a business owner, it’s easy to get wrapped up in everything and become frustrated with staff that don’t understand ‘your’ business like you do. This mindset can lead to you spending too much time and effort battling with employees, and this is not good for business.

  • “Why does everything end up on my desk?”
  • “Nobody shows any initiative – it’s like managing a bunch of children.”
  • “I do everything I can to look after them, yet they still complain about me behind my back.”

Do thoughts like these keep you awake? Do you worry people don’t understand your well-meaning efforts on their behalf? Are you frustrated that you can’t get them to do what your business needs?

How much do you really understand about your business? Not its finances or production cycle, but the people issues, culture and attitudes that cause it either to be a great organisation, or one in which conflict, politics and finger-pointing thrive? It’s an area of organisational life that many leaders regard as a bit of a mystery.

These are common patterns, however, and the solutions are straightforward and easily learned. The first thing to do is to explore your existing mindset, which just might be getting in your way…

The prevailing mindset

Graham is a senior leader of a household-name UK property company. They are the market leader and the business is doing very well. Employees are technically good at the ‘property’ side of their jobs and create successful client relationships.

Internally, however, occasional problems with people and their behaviour show up in complaints and dissatisfaction among employees – a warning sign that the culture of leadership and management is not as well-managed as it might be.

In discussions with Graham, our conversation always goes something like this: “We have a problem with Joe – he rubs people up the wrong way and his team complains about him. Can you help us turn him into a better leader?” … “Then there’s Sarah. She never quite delivers what she promises, on time, or sometimes at all. Can you sort her out?”

We are being asked to fix people problems one at a time, very often rather late in the day. It’s difficult to convey to Graham that he might consider bringing us in before relationships are at crisis point, because his current mindset only allows him to consider one approach.

Graham thinks people issues stem from individuals. He homes in on one person as the source of a problem, even blaming them for the trouble he feels they cause. This leads to solutions like mandatory coaching sessions to remedy their behaviour.

Joe or Sarah may indeed have issues and might change their behaviour after coaching, or being warned to raise their performance. But managing people this way is like playing Whack a Mole – you bash down one only to have another and another pop up. You never win.

This is typical of the way many leaders manage people, but it’s nearly always unfair to assume that the solution to a complex problem lies in one individual. It also causes leaders great stress because everything seems to come back to their ability to diagnose and fix people.

They might be able to do this once or twice, but with fifty people to manage? Two hundred? Clearly, this mindset doesn’t work as a business grows.

There is a way of understanding what is going on that gives you a handle on how to tackle issues that arise. Get your head around this mindset, and you will be able to develop your business so it runs smoothly by itself.

Individuals will not only need less of your direct hands-on input, but actively start to regulate themselves and lighten your load.

A more productive mindset

There is a point at which a group of individuals becomes an organisation in its own right. Like a beehive, the group becomes an organism, and organisms have rules of their own. People in groups communicate and manage themselves in a different way from a group of random individuals.

Spot the rules by which your particular organism operates, focus on adjusting these to deliver the kind of behaviour you are looking for, and you will often be surprised by the speed of change for the better.

Think about that beehive. It would be crazy for the beekeeper to take an individual bee and carry out a check on its performance in isolation from its group. The bee’s behaviour only has meaning in the context of the hive and, for that matter, so does the beekeeper’s.

People in groups behave the way they do because they work with others – they are all part of one organism, like the bees in a hive. You are part of the organism too; you’re a reflection of it and it of you.

It’s impossible to fix any one individual, or yourself, without causing a knock-on effect elsewhere. Many leaders miss this essential insight, but thinking in terms of a team, a group or an organisation has to be learned.

Lead and manage the hive as a whole: examine its environment, its interactions and the written and unwritten rules it operates by. And don’t do it by yourself – that’s just more of the same.

Some vital conversations to have with your colleagues

Hold these conversations together – with outside help if necessary. Negotiate rules and thrash out solutions which work for everybody. That way everybody takes ownership, and you no longer need to pull the strings personally with each individual or department.

  • Where are we going and are we all really on board?
  • What are our values?
  • What behaviour is and isn’t acceptable?
  • Does each of us role model our values and behaviours?
  • What are the basic groundrules around here?
  • Who is accountable for what and to whom?

So the company isn’t ‘yours’ even if in legal terms you happen to own it. It has a life of its own, and comprises not just you but many other people who interact with each other and influence the group’s behaviour.

It’s not you versus other people, though it sometimes feels that way. Get your head round this, and you will have an organisation that runs as smoothly and organically as a beehive.

About the author

This guide has been written for ByteStart by Kate Mercer, author of ‘A Buzz in the Building – how to build and lead a brilliant organisation’ and co-founder of Leaders Lab which specialises in leadership, team and organisation development, as well as delivering executive coaching on a one-to-one level.

More help on motivating and managing staff

For more tips and ideas on how to hire, motivate and keep great staff, read these guides;

And for guidance on other employment issues, try some of ByteStart’s other guides;

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