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Edition 247 – Turn Up The Wick!

Most family business owners and managers are great at what they do, but sorely lacking in their ability to lead and manage people. I’ll come to why in a moment.

One of the interesting things that has played out this year is that even though the world was turning to hell in a hand basket in the middle part of this year, almost every family business I deal with had an issue with at least one employee who didn’t understand the gravity of the situation and, as a result, dug their heels in when things needed to change. Some of that recalcitrant behaviour has continued even in businesses where normality has been mainly restored.

The reason why family business owners and managers aren’t that great at leading and managing circles back to three things:

  1. They don’t know how to strategically manage personalities.
  2. They don’t hold their people to account to the tasks and performance criteria they are meant to achieve.
  3. They’re not great at articulating business direction to their team.

My third point, articulating business direction, is a bigger topic that deserves more time, another time. Today, I wanted to cover off on the first two, which when done well, can create significant and immediate results.

In terms of strategically managing personalities, most family business owners simply want to get on with the job. As such, they don’t see the way the personality traits of their staff (and at times, their line managers) impact the business. Family business owners don’t play games, or don’t play them that well and, as a result, they lose control of the emotional situation in the business and amongst their workforce.

When it comes to monitoring and reviewing performance, it never ceases to amaze me how poorly it’s done. New staff are given a job description on day one, walked through the premises, shown a desk or spot to work and then left to their own devices. At the end of the first week, that staff member may be presented with a “so, how was it?” question from someone in a position of authority. However, for the most part, THAT IS IT! Before too long, these people start doing things their own way, because:

  1. They’ve not been shown differently.
  2. They default to their known skill set.
  3. They’re not held to account as to “the way we do it here”.

Now, here’s the thing. In my opinion, when you get better at monitoring and reviewing performance, you have less likelihood of the first issue actually arising. That’s simply as a result of the fact that as a family business owner or manager, you’re taking notice and keeping people to account. Getting better at monitoring and reviewing performance involves:

  1. Talking to staff, semi formally, every 30 days for the first 6 months.
  2. Ensuring the training is a two way street – often the best way for them to learn is for them to teach!
  3. Re-iterating, at any point of deviation, your expectations of the employee.
  4. Praising good performance.
  5. Counselling poor performance.
  6. Achieving mutual commitment towards progress and development.

The end result of this is that when performance lapses, or personality issues start to rise to the surface, the first thing you do as a business owner or manager is “turn up the wick!” It’s a strategy that I’ve encouraged a number of clients to engage in this year and simply involves sticking firmly to the 6 steps above. Invariably, when you turn up the wick, you’ll achieve one of two things:

  1. Improved performance and engagement; or,
  2. A vacant position.

Either way, it’s a win for you, the individual and the business. 

Managing people is the hardest part of running a family business – and the most important part.