It’s Not People. It’s The Person! – Grow Great Daily Brief #92 – October 29, 2018

It's Not People. It's The Person! – Grow Great Daily Brief #92 – October 29, 2018

Oh, the uproar is continuous. The collective yelling is deafening. People seem to enjoy being offended, always prowling the universe for something with which to disagree — and find offensive. Most recently headlines are filled with strong opinions about Megyn Kelly. Specifically, the outrage at her reportedly getting the full payout of her contract, $69M. I don’t much care one way or the other because I don’t watch the news (a personal choice). The headlines alone are enough to make me feel pretty ill. But I’m old school, remembering a time when honest journalism reported facts they uncovered and fostered the audience to think for themselves. But sentimentality is a problem. Falling in love with how things ought to be, or how we wish they were, or how they once were.

Last week small business owners engaged in conversations about social media and digital marketing efforts. “If Megyn Kelly who earns that kind of money can create such turmoil for NBC, what am I opening myself up to by putting a $35,000 a year person in charge of my marketing?”

It’s not a bad question. I get it. We’re operating companies that do a few million bucks a year, or a few hundred million bucks a year. A far cry from the deep pockets (and PR recovery capabilities) of an NBC. 

Then there’s the ever-present quest to find “good” people. Forget social media marketing, we sometimes just need good, honest, reliable workers to help us accomplish the company goals. How hard can it be? Go visit Main Street U.S.A. and you’ll quickly find out it’s harder than you might think. The talent squeeze is on and we’re scrambling to figure it out. To find and hire capable people. Then, to hang onto them. 

“We spend 90 days on pretty concentrated training,” said one CEO, “and some don’t even make their first year anniversary. They have a different clock than me. To them, 18 months on a job is a long time. After that, they’re ready for something new. Continuity is all but gone except among my leadership team, and I’m nervous about them.” He chuckled, but it was an anxiety-fueled chuckled. 

People. Whether it’s your small business or NBC, we need them. Talented people. People with integrity and no major skeletons in the closet. People good under pressure. People who won’t get us into hot water. 

People. We need them to help us build our business. To execute superior service to our customers. To be good teammates. To contribute to the culture we most want. 

Problems. We have enough of those already. We don’t need somebody – much less a whole bunch of somebodies – saying something stupid, doing something stupid that could melt down our company. 

Potential. We feel like we’ve got plenty of upside in our business, but we’re also painfully aware there’s a ton of potential downside, too. 

I’m not sure who started it, but I’ve heard it my entire career. And I’m sorta old. 😉 (I said, “Sorta!”)

Hire slow. Fire fast.

That’s great if you can. Great if you have time. If you’re not under the gun to get bodies in positions so the work can continue, and so you don’t burn out those left lifting more than their fair share while you work to get them some help. And it’s great if you’ve got folks poised, waiting in the wings, to step up and fill the gap. 

We’re not running football teams where we’ve got first, second and third string players on the roster. Most of us lack depth, the vital ingredient needed to execute “hire slow, fire fast.”

It’s our fault. We’ve only got ourselves to blame. 

People is a BIG topic, one I’m unable to distill in a 10-minute podcast episode. But it’s my job to give you as much value as possible. Not to tell you what to do, but to encourage you, provoke you and serve you. So let’s give it a go as we consider people, problems and potential (both the good kind and the bad).

Contingency plans count!

Most of us don’t have them when it comes to people. We’ve likely got them for other things. Business disruption strategies, including insurance that will help us get back on our feet in case of some disaster, like a fire. But how many of us sit down and consciously think about what we’ll do if that key employee walks into our office today and resigns? Or what if that front-line person who isn’t on our leadership team, but they’ve got talents we just take for granted…what if they suddenly quit?

Mostly, we employ the ostrich strategy. If we don’t think about it, it won’t happen. Ignore it, and it doesn’t exist. 

And we couple that with the arrogance that if it happens, we’ll deal with it then. Successfully. Even though history has shown us how wrong we are…our past is often littered with colossal hiring (and firing) errors. 

I’ve coached multi-million dollar organizations with skilled “HR” people who assemble hiring committees for key jobs. Big time vetting processes. Doing a pretty good job of hiring slowly. And seen them get it wrong, by their own admission, 50% of the time. That’s disheartening. To think you go to all that trouble only to achieve results you could likely replicate by flipping a coin!

It’s not people. It’s the person!

Scaling up. Everybody is clamoring to do it. Or do it bigger. Or faster. “How can we scale this?” And THIS includes every facet of our enterprise. The problem is we’re attempting to do the details of PEOPLE sometimes at scale. That means, we prefer to paint with a roller instead of a fine, detail brush. Man alive. I can paint the whole room really fast with a roller. Wait a minute. Give me a spray gun and I’ll do it even quicker. A little detail brush? Are you out of your mind! 

But the illustration doesn’t hold up when we’re considering PEOPLE. 

Because people aren’t a process. Or a system. Or a thing. Program your point-of-sale computer and it’ll do what you program it to do. Ditto for that accounting software. Or the phone system. As well as all the systems and processes you employ. But these people have a mind of their own. They don’t always do things exactly the way we want, or exactly when we want. They’re this constant variable forcing us to adapt and adjust – and more times than we’d like, foiling any hope we have to hit the third leg of that business building trifecta I talk about: not going crazy in the process! (The trifecta is getting new customers, serving existing customers better and not going crazy in the process.)

Emotional intelligence. Pattern recognition. Learned wisdom. The power is in the individual.

Here’s my bias. Well, to be fair. It’s my philosophy. My truth. 

We lead people. We manage the work.

But too frequently we go wrong because we try to manage everything. Meaning, we try to control everything. Influence or manipulate everything. Enter people who won’t tolerate it. They once did allow it because “management” had tyrannical power. Study the industrial age. 

Start leading. Stop managing. People. Grow your leadership. Make it great. 

I’ll give you just a few points to consider.

One, make time to sit down with every employee. Most of you are operating companies with fewer than 100 employees. Some of you have hundreds of employees. Companies with 100-999 employees are considered medium-sized. That’s still a manageable number of people to make individual time for. Yes, it will take longer to get around to everybody the more people you have, but here’s my proposal.

Schedule time every week, multiple times a week if you’re able, to give each employee a few minutes with you, the CEO. Make the meeting about them, not you. Find out what they want in their career. Acknowledge that there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s largely driven by where they are in life. The single guy who just dropped out of college isn’t likely going to want the same things the single mother of two in her late 30’s wants. So it goes. It’s fine. 

Make them feel safe. And heard. Listen.

This is where you’ll be tempted to get it wrong. You’re going to want to tell them what they “should” do. Don’t. You’re the #1, the CEO. You don’t want people telling you what to do. Give your employees the same consideration. We’re not addressing the specifics of the systems involved in their work. Yes, your company has processes, procedures and systems. But this conversation is two people sitting down to get to know each other, with one of you — YOU — being the leader driven to serve the other person. 

Two, the sole purpose of the time with each employee is for you to figure out what you can do better to serve them. You’re not patronizing them. You’re going to have to really mean it. This is about the practical reality of scaling humanity – PEOPLE – in your organization. 

I know how you roll. You’re always looking for a competitive edge. That big differentiator. The thing that makes your company stand apart from the competition. But…

You haven’t been doing that when it comes to the people who perform the work inside your company. You’re too busy complaining that they don’t behave the way you did when you were their age. Or you complain about their obvious (to you) lack of skills. Meanwhile, nothing changes. Nothing improves. There is no growth. 

It’s been said that people quit bad bosses, not jobs. Maybe. Maybe not. But you can do a better job of being a better boss. I’m challenging you to get the people component more right than you ever have before. Be the leader people clamor to follow…the person anybody would love to work for. Because you care about the individual. And you demonstrate how hard you’ll work to make them successful. 

Yes, you’ll lose some. You’ll retain more. Some will let you down. Others will behave foolishly sometimes. Most won’t. Let them make mistakes so they keep learning. Show them how much you care by urging them to not make a mistake from which they can’t recover. 

Practice, practice, practice. You’ll get better at it. As you grow, so will all your employees. And you’ll develop a terrific culture with a high-achievement focus.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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Grow Great a public sector leadership podcastAbout the hosts: Randy Cantrell brings over 4 decades of experience as a business leader and organization builder. Lisa Norris brings almost 3 decades of experience in HR and all things "people." Their shared passion for leadership and developing high-performing cultures provoked them to focus the Grow Great podcast on city government leadership.

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