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Ideas to achieve a values-based business practice

Expert Answers to Biz Questions

Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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The Biz Question

I started working in my father's 25-year-old service-industry business about 4 years ago. In the first few years after my father started his company, he attained what appeared to be true "overnight success." Several setbacks over the past 10 years seem to have sapped much of his energy, as well as led to a dramatic shrinking of our business.

I think we have several major problems -

First, he still seems to be in some type of shell-shocked state (early on, he hired some family members and friends who promptly screwed him over), and appears paralyzed by fear or inertia. He knows we need to change something, but can't seem to decide how to (or even decide to) proceed.

Second, our company has never built the type of organizational structure or policy/procedural foundation required in order to realize significant growth, so it seems we "reinvent the wheel" every time we hire a new employee, and have no organized way of measuring individual productivity or activity. We (my father and I) also find our time consumed by day-to-day operations, unable to transfer those responsibilities to someone else and therefore make inefficient use of our time and skills.

Third, in my opinion, there is a general malaise that is all-pervasive, here. I think it may originate with my dad, and with some of the employees we've had working here for some time. We just fired a few pains-in-the-tail, hoping to address the problem, but it doesn't seem to have had the desired effect. Meanwhile, I find that even I am reaching a point of frustration and discouragement which causes real discomfort.

The bright side? Yes, there is one. We are in a dynamic industry and have a solid, 25-year-old reputation for quality service. We have exciting and creative ideas which could truly move us ahead of our competition and fuel significant growth over the next several years. In addition, I am young, and have a real desire to see this company succeed, with the hope that I will some day sit in the CEO's chair and manage the growth of a well-organized enterprise. I am also willing to devote considerable energies toward this aim (I just can't continue devoting them forever, with no signs of progress).

If we could just get past our current stagnancy (and I mean in a structural, as well as an immediate sense), we would be able to jump-start our growth and take advantage of the tremendous opportunities in our industry. I don't know where to turn for advice.

Thanks for your Advice.


Answer from our Guest Expert Allison Gaea Jucha of Yes!Coaching

Dear KM,

When I read this, I first wondered what position you hold at your father's company and what kind of relationship you have with him. I ask this because you have an obvious desire to see the company develop and succeed, and you've clearly identified areas for improvement. But I wonder what opportunities you have to make this happen?

You may or may not be able to do anything about your father's current indifference. But if you have an open,communicative relationship, you may be able to simply ask him about his feelings about the company, about himself, and about his vision for his professional and personal life. He may have business reasons for not moving forward in a way you think you would. He may have personal reasons for not investing himself. Try to talk to him. And when you do, I'd ask you to just listen. Avoid telling him what you think ought to be going on. Just listen to what he has to say. Ask questions. Uncovering avoidances, blocks, fears may well be the first step to rebuilding a plan for the future.

If the company needs policies and procedures and other personnel and operations issues identified and resolved, do it. Delegate it. Or hire it out to a professional. I find it hard to believe that you and your father are "unable" to get someone else to do this work. I hear that you're unwilling to let go of control of your company. That's why it may be important to hire a human resources consultant, because indeed, you may not have any staff who's trained in this area. The good news here is that a professional HR consultant will leave control up to you, and will put together the package you want.

Leadership Let Downs

My last comment is going to sting a little, but imagine how your employees must be feeling. They look to upper management/owners for a sense of the company. What they're seeing, instead--according to your question--is inertia. The desire to control, and the inability to delegate and trust. Do you trust your employees? Do you hire them to do their jobs mechanistically or are they part of the team?

According to Stephen Covey, seven common leadership problems are:

1. There are no clear goals.

2. There is no well-defined plan to reach the goals or fulfill its mission.

3. The company hasn't organized to implement the plan.

4. The wrong style of leadership is being used.

5. Leaders are not aware of the styles of leadership and therefore lack the skills to choose an appropriate leadership style.

6. There is a lack of trust.

7. Leaders are often perceived as lacking integrity (do they do what they say they will do).

Recommended Reading

A good book about leadership is The Situational Leader by Paul Hersey, published by the Center for Leadership Studies, 1992. The ISBN number is 0-446-51342-39. It's a small book but gives an excellent exploration of leadership concepts as well of examples of leadership in different situations.

I know this is tough work, but your question shows a really honest and professional desire to do what's necessary to build this business into a thriving success. Help your employees help the company by fixing the problems at the top and you create a new vision and a dedicated team.

Good work and a prosperous New Year!

Allison Jucha, Coach du jour

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