The (busy) life of a small business owner
When you started (or joined) your business, you did a lot of work yourself. As the business grew, you added staff to take care of the daily “work” yet you never seem able to get yourself out of everyday responsibilities.
Your days are busy but progress is slow, and you go home feeling like you didn’t accomplish anything. A 40-hour week seems like a luxury.
You would like more free time, but you are afraid to leave since problems surface and you “pay for it” when you come back.
You have a big list of ideas to improve your business, but these never seem to get started [much less finished].
The cycle repeats
You might even have hired someone new to take some of your workload, or started “delegating” some of your work to others.
But despite your best efforts and good intentions, your to-do list is long and your days are filled with endless calls, meetings, and requests that eat up your time.
Or someone recently quit, leaving you and the team hanging. Now you spend your precious time interviewing and training the new person (which you hate), and then catch up for the lost time.
Frustrating, isn’t it?
It’s an endless cycle. Every Monday you start out with big plans for the week, only to leave Friday with not much progress to show for all your hard work. Some days you feel so burnt out and overwhelmed, you think about exiting the business.
And deep down you know this can’t be the way to grow your business.
What could be the cause? Why are you doing so much in your business?
Because you don’t have the team you need to support you—a trusted, reliable team.
If you did, you would be comfortable letting them handle the daily activities.
You would be confident that they are doing a great job: growing sales, caring for your customers, making great decisions, while keep you updated on progress and achieving your ambitious business goals.
So let’s explore some possible reasons you don’t have a reliable team.
Reason 1: You are under-staffed
Sometimes you truly don’t have enough staff to cover the work to care for your current client base. People are spread thin and are just trying to keep their heads above the water. Obviously if everyone is handling a high workload, it’s hard for you to be confident everything is being done well.
Perhaps you just added a burst of new customers, or you have a seasonal bump in demand, or you are in the process of training a newbie.
Teams under pressure, overworked, and stressed are notorious unreliable.
You may think hiring is the answer, but it isn’t always the best solution to start.
When you address the other reasons (below), this usually increase the effectiveness, capacity, and therefore the reliability of your current team.
Reason 2: You have low performers
You likely have at least one person who is not performing well.
It might be someone whose job changed but their skills didn’t keep up, or they are struggling with the workload or an aspect of the job, or they are slow in taking on new responsibility. They might have inconsistent output, working hard some weeks and slacking off others.
You tried feedback, coaching, or training with short-lived improvement.
When someone on the team has sub-par performance, of course you don’t feel you can rely on him or her.
Reason 3: You have people with attitude issues
Sometimes you have people who do an adequate job, but it comes at a price. They give you or co-workers a hard time, grumbling and complaining when you assign work or ask for a status update. They might be toxic to peers, openly difficult to their supervisor, or continually resist change.
Just like the low performers, Debbie Downer and Toxic Theo aren’t your go-to people either. They may do the work (if you are willing to put up with the negativity), but it’s a good possibility they may not do the work well.
When you avoid performance correcting conversations with low performers or those with attitude issues you are not building a reliable team.
What most managers do is “reward” unreliable people by taking work and giving it to a more competent high performer. A great solution? No, but you would rather give work to the reliable. So you are stuck in this “catch-22.”
Both these types of employees drag down the reliability of your team, lower your confidence that everything is under control. Because it isn’t under control.
Even more importantly, “unreliable co-workers” is a main reason top performers quit, so ignoring these issues can force out your reliable ones!
Reason 4: Your “open door” has a line of people asking for help
When you let people pop on by to run things by you, you are enabling “problem bringers” instead of developing “problem solvers.”
“Hey boss, what do you want me to do about this? Mr Z called and wants to know what is happening with the new thing” These continual interruptions fill up your day, and distract your ability to focus on anything else.
Remember the biblical parable about “teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime”? It’s the same for decision making.
When you are the source of problem solving you also become responsible for the decision, and enables a co-dependence on your input and guidance.
If you can’t rely on your staff to make good decisions without you, you will be chained to the office, worry when you are not there and be called 10 times on your vacation.
Reason 5: Your process is broken
Sometimes it’s not the people who are unreliable, it’s the process itself that causes problems, delays and customer issues.
If there are 5 people who are involved in the process to convert a proposal to delivery of a new sale, there are at least 5 places where the handoff can be incomplete or inaccurate or dropped entirely.
Sometimes your people are doing their best struggling through the convoluted and flawed process. To improve the human-side of reliability, check the underlying system.
If your good performers sometimes have issues with reliability, it might make sense to look at the work flow for effectiveness and efficiency.
Reason 6: You resist delegating
Hey, I get it. You need to trust first before you delegate.
If you can’t be sure the work will be done timely and accurately, you keep control of that task yourself. Even if it is boring or you hate the task.
I find that owners I work with have two main reason they don’t delegate.
One reason is the “it’s easier to do it myself” syndrome. Yes, it will take 20 minutes to show someone once to do this 10 minute task, but remember it’s 10 minutes every week (=500 minutes a year, 8+ hours.) So consider your time investment choices carefully.
The other reason is that a prior delegation was a disaster or just a big pain. You had to chase the person down for an update, nag them to finish it, they did it wrong, or worst of all created a big problem. Painful conclusion: brings you back to reason one- it’s easier to do it myself.
If you want to build a reliable team, you must improve your skills in coaching and training to achieve a successful transfer of work that doesn’t belong on the to-do list for a CEO or manager.
Reason 7: Desired Results are not clear (or rewarded)
You may not realize it, but if you are like most business owners, you are not clear about desired results or clear about priorities.
Most decent employees try to figure out what “Done Right” looks like and to do their best with the resources and tools you give them.
If you don’t measure or track any results, they may not know how they are doing. Absent of any data or feedback, most people assume that “no news is good news” and they are doing their job to meet your expectations.
So the “unreliable” don’t know it and don’t have any reason to change.
You also may not be rewarding the trusted reliable ones. Those that step up are given more work, those that duck and cover are given less work, and everyone gets a 3% raise and about the same year-end bonus.
Consider the messages you are sending with feedback, recognition and pay—is it rewarding reliability?
Reason 8: You can’t find good people to hire
Yes, I advise that you should improve your current team performance first.
But the lack of “good people” to hire is part of the reason you accept low performance or poor attitudes. You feel hostage because if you address the issues they might quit, and a mediocre person is better than no person.
You probably also dread the hiring process and rush to fill an open position. You take the “best” applicant, even if you worry they won’t work out.
If you settle for third-string players on your team and in your new hires, this is definitely a reason you don’t have a reliable team.
After you read this list, how many reasons do you have?
How many of these issues exist on your team?
If you have 3 or more, you likely don’t have a reliable who you trust to delegate work, run daily activities and work on projects to grow the business.
The Solution: Building Your Team Model
To build a reliable team, you need the Right People in the Right Jobs, Doing the Right Things
Next Step: Read the Guide
Would you like to learn the exact steps to go from stuck in the day-to-day to building a trusted reliable team?
Click to Download the detailed guide:
Building Your Team: Right People… Right Jobs
Last week I had similar conversations with owners at two very different businesses. I asked them:
“Do you have Right People… in the Right Job?”
If you have been in business for a few years, you start to realize that getting new customers isn’t the challenging,
getting “good people” who want to take care of your customers is far more challenging!
Before I tell you how to build a great team…
Let me ask you, “How many A- Players do you have?”
[Those that go above and beyond your expectations, are trusted, accountable and a good team player, open to feedback, eager to learn….]
If you have more than 25% A-Players, congratulations, you are in an elite group of small businesses! This is the foundation to build the rest of your team.
But until you get to +75% A Players, you don’t have the foundation in place to grow your revenue, profits, and customer
base without overwork and overwhelm.
When you don’t have the Right People:
Without a team of A Players, you are captive in your business, involved in daily activities, fire-fighting, and are the only one who drives results. You may feel hostage to the low performer or toxic employee, for fear they will make trouble or quit and leave you hanging. You worry that things are falling through the cracks, you chase people down to find out if something was done, and you get interrupted all day long with questions and “checking” routine decisions. You feel like you can’t leave for more than a few days, and you pay for it when you go on vacation.
When you have the Right People, sometimes they are not all in the Right Jobs:
Perhaps you have promoted a good employee to a new role, but she is struggling adapting to the new demands. You hired a new employee who seemed like a perfect fit, but he is not working out as expected. “Old-timers” are slow to adopt new ways of doing things and resist changes you want to make. You are frustrated with young employees who learn fast but leave in a year or two because they say you don’t have any future opportunities for them.
If any of these situations sound familiar, you are not alone!
Most of us focus on hiring A Players to help us achieve our company goals, but once they are on the team we don’t give them the tools to be successful or reach their potential.
For our current staff, we are not sure how to build up their capabilities and performance. They have settled into the
habit of “good enough” and the status quo.
You are left wondering how to light a fire under the average Josie, and how to turn around the performance or attitude
of your most challenging employees.
You don’t want to be the bad guy or the witch, your attempts at coaching have not worked, and it is just easier to
tolerate mediocrity or do the work yourself. Or worse, your best people keep picking up the slack, but they may be
reaching burn-out or are frustrated with you.
If you wonder how some businesses seem to be easy to work with and have a great team, they have the Right People in the
When you have this, your trusted team works together to make good decisions (good for the customer and good for the
You don’t have to oversee every sale and every customer, yet you are confident that things are being done right and
customers are happy. You have a sense of control, and trust that the business on target for healthy growth.
The team initiates and implements process improvements, for fewer hassles and more sales without working harder. This
allows you to finally take time off guilt-free and worry-free.
This concept is credited to Jim Collins who wrote about this in his book “Good to Great.”
1. Define the Right Things
2. Evaluate if you have the Right People
3. Ensure work is Done Right
You can read more in my detailed guide, Building Your Team, Right People…Right Jobs. Click here or below to download.
My first experience with recruiting was 1985.
Our family business would run a short ad in the Buffalo News weekend edition and at 9 am Monday morning the phones would literally ring off the hook. Everyone in the office would frantically take down applicant’s names and numbers, and my mother and I would call back each one for a 5-10 minute chat, and then mail an application and wait for them to be returned (via mail).
Fast forward 30 years– how things have changed.
Now applicants want to find out about your job opportunities before they are open, from their social network, apply online in 10 minutes from their smartphone, and get frequent updated communication about the status of their application and next steps.
Can your selection system handle all this?
If not, you will be missing at least 40% of candidates this year. Likely more if you want tech-savvy candidates of any generation…
Quick article to outline the concept “Do You Have a Mobile Recruiting Strategy?”
INFOGRAPHIC that shares statistics of the need for mobile recruiting
Luckily most larger employers aren’t prepared for mobile recruiting – yet– but 90% indicate this is a top priority for 2016.
Passive (employed) candidates are your largest source of applicants- so you need to meet them where they are and make it easy to attract A Players.
Scary statistic– according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 1.5 unemployed per every 1 job opening.
Now you know why you are getting a trickle of applicants to your job postings, and why you “can’t find good people.”
When the economy really heats up, this situation will be even worse.
So how can a small employer attract and convince top candidates to join your team?
The answer is that you will need to turn your recruiting and selection process into a well-oiled machine.
- Continually source a flood of applicants, appealing to those that are attracted to your culture and opportunities.
- Find and woo the “passive” candidates who are already employed but not “loving it” at their current job.
- And then you need to be super-selective in who you let join your team (remember the rotten apple effect).
Most small business managers dread having to hire someone new…
- It’s time consuming, frustrating trying to find enough qualified applicants, and there is time pressure to fill a role as work piles up.
- You don’t have extra time to spend getting to know your candidates so you rush though the interviews.
- You typically find the “last (wo)man standing” and make an offer. Then you wonder if you are making the best choice.
- Or even worse, the candidate declines the offer and you are back to the beginning. [Ouch!]
Mid-sized and large employers solve this with an ongoing recruiting “funnel” and automated screening and a rigorous selection process, using modern online tools.
- They approach hiring as they do sales…
- They identify the ideal prospect,
- market to them with an Employer Brand and enticing offers,
- and then have a system to decide if there is a good match to work together.
If you want an automated selection process that makes your job roles stand out, here are resources to assist you:
“Recruiting is a process, not an event. It must be ongoing and continuous. Can you imagine only going after a new customer when you lose an existing one?” Jack Daly
Really- why not?
I hear this phrase far too often from managers who are now urgently rushing to fill an open position. Perhaps someone quit on short notice, or an employee on leave decided not to come back. Or you had to take decisive action to terminate an employee whose behavior warranted such a quick outcome.
Moral of the story? Here you are scrambling to find “someone good” on short notice.
And everyone on your team is feeling the pain, because they are picking up the workload for the missing person, most likely doing tasks that are unfamiliar or not in their area of expertise.
What does the team want? A new, awesome, fabulous team mate (who needs no training) – and make it quick! Can she start tomorrow?
Despite the apparent urgency of the situation, you know what I am going to tell you next….
“Take your time to find the right person.”
In the midst of your crisis, pause, take a breath, and met me remind you what is at stake…
Hiring an A player may take a few more weeks of recruiting, more focused and stringent selection, and passing up on “good enough” candidates who can start tomorrow. But that A Player who starts in 4 weeks will likely learn the job more quickly, be an asset to the team right away, and be performing at a higher level in six months.
Rushing to settle for a C player (usually a perfectly nice person who was a decent performer at a prior job, but NOT a fit for your job) means a few weeks saved now, and hundreds of hours lost later.
C Player’s are estimated to take 25% of a managers time—the one or two people on your team who struggle with the job knowledge, performance expectations, or do not match the attitude and culture you need can suck 10 hours a week!
Do the math- 10-20 hours now versus 500 hours next year … and that does not count the actual and opportunity cost of lower quality or service, slow processes, lost sales, unhappy customers, unhappy co-workers, and unhappy managers.
You are not a beggar, and you can be choosy! Only settle for A Players with a 90% chance of success.
There are fabulous candidates out there—but you have to cast a wider net, be more selective and systematic in your selection, and wait until you have found “the one.”
Read our articles on “selection” to find out more about what you can do to evaluate and validate your candidate’s job fit.
Read our article about how to always be scouting for talent and building a virtual bench, so that you are not scrambling for applicants next time!
Image Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.