Have you ever encountered a team member who was negative or pessimistic? I have worked with teams made up of family members and unrelated partners. It’s not uncommon that individuals have different views on their company’s strategy, outlook on business and financial risk, roles and responsibilities, and many more key areas of the business. What holds them together may be family, or past shared successes or a common vision.
But, sometimes, these companies run into stumbling blocks that retard their growth, cause missed opportunities or may even result in their demise. I’ve been called into clients facing these issues who are looking for a way to resolve their conflict. Typically, these clients have no tools or professionals helping them resolve these conflicts, which is why they reach out to a coach. I’m sort of a corporate “shrink” inserting my personal and professional business growth processes and tools into their lives.
Inspire your Team with Strategic Planning
One of my clients, a medium-sized commercial mortgage lender, had two primary founders – one in administration/operations and the other in strategic planning and business development. These founders struggled to agree or enjoy their long-term relationship. Judged by any financial measures, they were hugely successful. But, no matter how much money you make, dealing with the emotional stress of divergent outlooks can make a business partnership painful.
When one partner has a “negative attribution bias” and the other a “positive attribution bias” conflict over everything can become a problem. I know on a personal level how difficult this type of conflict can be to live with day in and out. It’s the type of conflict that tears a team apart.
Recently, I was facilitating a meeting with a client – a family-owned, commercial exterior maintenance business with almost 100 employees – where one of the siblings was quite pessimistic towards all of the suggestions being put forth by the team. Similar to the situation above, he was in operations. His brother, involved in marketing and sales, had been excited to grow the business and launch an aggressive marketing campaign, but had been held back due to the company’s inability to find qualified laborers. Although both shared the desire to double the size of the company, the brother in charge of operations claims that they just cannot find workers and therefore cannot grow until they solve their labor problems.
The issue in this situation – finding labor – is one that’s quite common in their industry. Nonetheless, my job is to get results and so the first thing I had to do was chide the sibling running operations for his negative bias. As a coach with a penchant for sales, marketing and growth, I have to be reasonable in my expectations and remind them we’re here to try to solve a problem, not put up obstacles and make excuses about why we can’t solve the problem.
Other companies have solved this problem in their industry. So, I needed to understand why they were really struggling with it. And, find out I did. The real problem was that they had an uninspired team being led by an inexperienced operations person who only saw the problem and could not get “out of the box” to solve the problem. The lack of excitement for working at this company by newer employees was more of a “cultural” problem, i.e., the owners had done little to nurture the culture with the newer employees.
Whether or not labor is an issue facing your company doesn’t matter. The point here is that when faced with a serious challenge, how do you respond? Do you look for solutions? Or do you succumb to the overwhelming challenge and practically speaking, give up? Do you suffer, like some operations people, from a negative attribution bias? Or, by contrast, are you a sales & marketing type who is maybe overly optimistic, even unrealistic?
While I know operations people can be matter of fact people, the reality is when faced with this obstacle there is really only one right solution. Brainstorm on how to solve the problem. In business, you are either growing or dying. Doing neither or standing still, means that eventually you will be surpassed by younger, more assertive/aggressive competitors.
Are you going to accept the status quo as reality and succumb to your current reality? Or, are you going to face the obstacle and ask how do we solve it?
This situation is very much like the challenge our soldiers face when attempting to pull their comrades up and over a fifteen foot wall at an obstacle course. I know I’ve faced this challenge (not in the army, but in a team-building course where there was a ropes course) and we conquered it. The 15’ high wall is seemingly impossible to get over. Most people would look at that wall (as I did while wondering how in the heck anyone could climb it) and just simply say it’s impossible to get over.
This is like the employee hiring problem in the exterior maintenance industry where there is a real labor shortage. But, problems must inspire a solution otherwise we all get stuck staring at the obstacle. So, after 3 – 4 comments from the sibling about the employee hiring problem, I jumped in. And, I confronted the one brother for having what I call “a negative attribution bias.” And, I challenged him to start working with the team, not against it, to brainstorm solutions to the problem.
Using a series of discovery questions, I challenged this 50+ year-old company that management had allowed its employee morale and pay to fall to its lowest levels since the grandfather founded the company. No wonder they couldn’t find any qualified employees. Given the option to work at another company, why would they choose to work at this one?
It should come as no surprise that we had our work cut out for us. In order to grow, first we need to solve the labor problem. Starting by building a campaign to inspire our leadership team to build a culture that is vastly improved – possibly even world class. Inspiring your team sometimes just happens when people wake up, face reality and start seeing things more objectively. The reality is that it is difficult for most of us to slow down, reflect and plan out our strategy because we are so ‘busy being busy’ that we can’t see or deal with our true situation, behavior and results.
The role of an executive/business coach is to challenge leaders thinking by asking tougher and better questions. We are hired to help leaders who are suffering from denial, complacency or self-imposed (or market-imposed) limitations and inertia.
So, let me ask you a few questions in closing:
• Are you being proactive vs. reactive? • Are you leading and inspiring your team to be great? • Are you asking how do we find solutions vs. accept our problems? • Are you utilizing a coach to help you focus, be accountable and trouble-shoot your problems?
If you did not answer YES, then you need to consider hiring a strategic coach who can help you in your business.