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The conversation you really need to have

Posted: June 14, 2014 9:44 p.m.
Updated: June 14, 2014 9:44 p.m.
 

Throughout the years at the Advisory Board meetings I facilitate, I’ve heard a fair amount of laughter and grumbling from the business people who participate.

Often, those who attend come to learn new things to become better leaders and some attend to get validation for what they are already doing.

In every session, all kinds of topics are on the table to be discussed. Sales, marketing, human resources, benefits, taxes, partnerships, vendor relationships, social media, growth strategies, recruiting, compensation, expansion, facilities, regulatory affairs, import and export opportunities and so on.

But one thing stands out clearly. After investing considerable time speaking about and framing what is perceived to be a critical issue for their company, most owners fail to have the difficult follow up conversation they need to have to resolve people issues.

Advisory Board members are not ordinary people. These are successful business people of every age and stage who have founded, bought or inherited and now lead profitable companies. In many cases, these are individuals who have leveraged all that they own or could borrow to launch and grow their business, paying employees and suppliers before they even think about cashing their own paycheck.

They don’t invest in being part of an Advisory Board because they want to be in a lonely hearts organization. They spend precious time and money because being in a group like this makes them better owners, more educated, more focused and prepared for whatever the future holds.

Yet if they have an Achilles heel, it is their failure to address the lingering problems in their businesses related to non-performing and under-performing employees.

All owners want to be perceived as nice people. Nice people often struggle with having to conduct challenging conversations related to people. So, instead of talking action and having the conversation they dread, they ignore employee behavior hoping it will go away. It rarely does.

These are people who have surrounded themselves with many fine loyal and dedicated employees who have been on the payroll for years. In some cases employees are treated like family and sometimes they are family.

Every time an employee is seen not doing what they are supposed to be doing, or doing the right thing the wrong way, it drives the owner crazy. The owner bites their tongue and allows their blood pressure to rise rather than deal with the issue.

What makes it most difficult to have a candid discussion with someone who is not performing is that the top executive has ignored the situation for years, in some cases, decades.

When I remind my clients about this, they cringe. They are embarrassed that they have let this situation continue for so long without being addressed.

It’s almost impossible to hold these conversations in smaller businesses where one minute the owner is telling someone they aren’t meeting expectations and the next minute the employee is being asked for help to get something faxed.

Most owners have not made it clear what they expect from people that are on the payroll of the company they own. Receptionists get hired and are simply told “answer the phone.” Drivers are hired and told “take this stuff to the clients.” Those in sales are told “Go sell something.”

Do you have people that are not performing? Sit down and have the long overdue, difficult conversation. Don’t delay another day.

The employee might not take everything you have to say well, but given enough time to consider what you have said, they will appreciate knowing how you feel especially if you make it clear what you expect of them. You will feel better for having had the courage to have the meeting and this will make future sessions easier and even more productive.

Ken Keller facilitates The Wise Owners Advisory Boards, bringing business owners together for education, sharing and on-going success. Contact him at KenKeller@SBCglobal.net. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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