You Are The Problem

“I need help.”

While taking my regular 4 or 5 mile walk the other day, I found myself contemplating the reasons people who own and/or lead companies reach out to me for help. I thought about recent new clients as well as those who just wanted an hour or two of my time to listen to their story and share a few ideas.

My conclusion is that these seekers fall into two categories.  One category consists of people running companies that are doing great, but they want them to perform even better: grow faster, increase profit margins, launch a new business unit.

The other category consists of leaders who  are having problems of all kinds: poor sales, shrinking profits, employee issues.

I don’t tend to hear from the people in the middle.

Thinking about the latter group, those not doing very well or even worrying about surviving, led  me to realize that they never learned C. S. Lewis’ idea for solving your problems:

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

In most cases, the scared owners or managers who call on me are stuck in the past. They’re unable to break free from what they’ve been doing, and what they’ve been doing has led them to their current precarious predicament. They’ve been unwilling to take a really hard look at the business, especially the things hiding in the corners that are the root causes of most of their problems. This is especially true when what is lurking in the corners are problem employees.

In fact, the root cause of most of the problems that owners and leaders lay before me is people issues. People issues: the hardest issues for most managers to solve.

I used to be softer in the way I advised clients about people issues.  I let myself be talked into agreeing to plans to redirect or retrain the problem employee—even though their problems had been going on for a long time—but these plans would drag on for months without positive results. Finally, I realized that if I wasn’t firm about what needed to be done—move the “root cause” out of the company—leaders would offer an unending stream of excuses for why the employee should be kept on in spite of their horrible results. The next time we talked they’d complain once again about the problem employee, and on and on the pattern continued.

I’ve learned that  what leaders need from me is direct and clear factual assessments backed up by results metrics both about the problem people and about themselves. The most important and powerful assessment is laying out their role in the poor results. After all, they are the source of the problem. As leaders, they’re  ultimately accountable for all that happens within their company. And solving the poor employee problem quickly is high on their accountability list.

This tougher, more direct approach has led to leaders accepting accountability more rapidly and showing problem employees to the door, albeit often reluctantly.  Once it’s done they always realize it was the right thing to do as they see how operations and results improve.

Become a stronger manager. Take responsibility for your role in  enabling poor performance and lousy results. Enjoy feeling your aggravation decrease and watching your results improve. Wherever you are act rapidly and improve the ending.








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