• 50 Shades of Grey, Small Business Edition

    How could I not take up the challenge of finding the link between the 50 Shades juggernaut and my beloved Stage 2 small business clients!?!

    Putting aside the more mundane topics of what Christian Grey’s DISC profile is, the importance of proper inventory processes, and the merits of NDAs, I’m struck by the similarity between Christian’s dominant role and how Shane Yount, owner of the Process-Based Leadership system, describes some companies:

    “(Managing by position, proximity, or persuasion) creates dependency. Employees become dependent on their leaders to make the decisions, to solve the problems, to show them what to do and when to do it. Certainly managing by position, proximity and persuasion gets short-term results. But dependency is dysfunctional.”

    It may seem extreme to draw a parallel between 50 Shades’ dominant/submissive relationship and how many small business leaders operate, but there’s probably more truth to it than many owners would like to admit.

    Recently I talked with a group of Stage 2 company CEOs, and one of their big a-ha moments was when they realized how dependent their organizations are on the leader’s opinion, intuition, and judgment.

    If you realize that your leadership is out of balance, or if your employees start to refer to you as Mr/Ms Grey…what can you do?

    The first step is creating a dialogue with your managers.  You want a process to be guiding the company, not a person, and to do that, you need to start a process that involves your leaders in key decisions – and then you need to stay committed to it.  And, if you’ve been doing a lot of the talking, start listening more.  Don’t totally hand over the reins, but start to share them.

    What should you talk about?  To start, I like to focus on today – what is working, what isn’t working?  Once you have things working OK, then you can start looking out farther on the horizon – to the next few months, and then to the next year, and then to the next 2-3 years.

    Let’s be honest about something Christian Grey knows – it’s fun and exciting to be in charge, to be The One Who Makes the Calls.  But it’s also not sustainable, and if you’re looking for your business to prosper for the long-run, you need to mature as a leader and expand how you relate to your business.

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  • First Steps Toward Accountability

    16 May 2014
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    I have 2 clients who are focused on “accountability” this year, and it’s proving a hard row to hoe for both of them.  Why?

    Well, first of all, accountability is a somewhat scary term.  If someone is saying we need it, then that must mean that we are not being accountable, and that sounds like someone’s not happy with people’s performance.

    Worse, if there’s not a way to gauge performance, the people are likely to take a need for accountability as a judgment on their dedication.  They’ll confuse accountability with work ethic.

    It’s unfortunate that accountability gets this reaction.  In Stage 2 companies, accountability is more about making things that used to be managed intuitively into things that are managed objectively.  It does make a judgment about how people are working, but not in the way they think – accountability focuses on working on the right things, not the level of effort.

    In fact, most of the time I work on accountability, people have a clearer sense of direction and less stress in their jobs.

    I can spend lots of time talking about how to make your organization more accountable, but for now, let me finish by answering the question, “How do you overcome the initial resistance to accountability?”

    I recommend 3 steps.  First, before you bring up accountability, praise the team’s work ethic (assuming it deserves praise…if it doesn’t, that’s a deeper problem…), so that they know that you know they are dedicated.  Second, give them an example of people spending more time in an area than they should.  (Serving the bottom 20% of your customer base is a fairly typical area.)  Finally, ask the team, “Do you have a way of quickly seeing whether the other people on the Leadership Team are succeeding?”  If you don’t, then you’re probably spending more time than you should simply understanding how you’re doing, instead of diving into the issues that will make your business better.

     

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  • Greg Smith of Goldman Sachs teaches small business about culture

    14 March 2012
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    One of the pleasures of working with Second Stage small businesses – the largest part of the economy – is that I can mostly ignore Wall Street.  It’s not the people – I’m sure there are good people and bad people working there.  It’s just that for the small business economy, money is the benefit of good work, not the reason for it.

    But today is different.

    Greg Smith, a leader at Goldman Sachs, has pulled back the curtain on Goldman Sachs culture in an Op-Ed article in the New York Times.  Not surprisingly, he portrays a culture focused on making money, sometimes to an extreme.

    Although small businesses mostly ignore Wall Street, there’s actually some value for us in what Mr. Smith has to say – because he highlights 2 key ideas about culture.

    First, company culture comes from leadership.  For a small business, this means that leaders have to be aware that their little behaviors get magnified and projected in the organization.  There are many benefits of being a small business leader, but one of the burdens is that you may need to crimp your style for the good of the company.

    Second, culture must be evaluated in the context of strategy.  Strategy provides the direction, but culture provides the energy.  So, before you work on “solving” culture problems, you first have to make sure your strategy is right.  It sounds like Goldman Sachs has done a good job of aligning its culture with its strategy – with enough clarity that talented and motivated people who aren’t a fit are self-selecting out.  Although there may be long-term problems with the strategy, you have to give the Goldman Sachs leadership credit for being focused.

    You’ve probably made a difference in 5 or 10 small business’ cultures by your article today, so thank you Mr. Smith and Goldman Sachs for the lesson.

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