Businesses are mostly about people. People work in our businesses and people are our customers so the greatest skills an entrepreneur, of any size, can possess are bound to be people skills.
I have often quoted a passage from Daniel Goleman’s essential book “Emotional Intelligence” which states “CEO’s are hired for their intellect and business expertise- and fired for a lack of Emotional Intelligence” But the three skills I am referring to here today are much more down to earth, much more practical, basic and nonetheless absolutely essential.
They are the core people skills of:
- Hiring well
- Developing well
- Firing well
Hiring well is fairly obvious.
If business is about people then the quality and calibre of the people that you allow onto your team is critical. I love the Russian Doll analogy I once heard. You know the dolls that each sit inside another one. The story goes that if you always employ people that are smaller than you, you will always be the biggest doll in the stack but the business will never grow bigger than you. If you are always looking for and hiring a bigger doll, then the business cannot help but grow.
Richard Branson always attributes his trait of surrounding himself with people who are better than him as a major secret of his business success. But I wonder how many of us have a robust system and process to ensure that we hire well.
Hiring is probably the second biggest decision we ever make, after deciding to go into business in the first place, but I will be surprised if many people have ever studied it as a skill set and developed a tried and tested methodology or even read great books like “Topgrading” by Brad Smart to learn from the masters. Developing people is not just necessary if our businesses are to grow, but absolutely essential.
If our people are not developing, and I of course include ourselves in that, then we are going to be no better today than we were last week. In which case we are going backwards in a world that is changing and developing so quickly.
As Jack Welch once said “The ultimate competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn and translate that learning into action rapidly.”
Again I wonder how many of us have developed any skills in developing our people, how much of our budget have we allocated to training and development, to coaching and mentoring, to developing the number 1 asset in our business? And we finally come to the elephant in the room.
It is relatively comfortable to commit to developing a hiring methodology, to understanding how to assess people and to interview them well. It is also uplifting to dedicate time and money to developing our people; to helping them perform at a greater level and become better than they were. Both of these are positive, but firing!!
That is an altogether different subject. Yet by the same token we absolutely have to accept that continually upgrading our team is a necessary corollary of growing a successful business. We won’t get all of the hiring decisions right. Even the best development processes might find people who can’t or won’t develop sufficiently quickly or far enough and it won’t always be possible to find them a more suitable berth in the business. You will never have a beautiful garden if you don’t pull the weeds out, and if you don’t the weeds will proliferate.
So it is inconceivable that anyone will successfully grow a truly successful business without having to exit some people from the business. Now in the UK we have a whole web of laws and rules and regulations to make sure that we only take such action judiciously and properly. I absolutely support that in principle but what it does mean is that not only do we have the emotional challenge about firing that all well-meaning leaders have but we also have a huge disincentive in terms of potential fines and prosecutions.
As bosses, we just need to deal with it. We cannot let the laws that are designed to protect our people jeopardise our businesses by default, or by our ignorance, or our fear and so again I wonder how many of us have taken the time to learn the rules and the processes that we need to comply with.
- How many of us know how to exit someone from the business quickly, effectively and legally?
- How many of us have reliable advice that we can turn to that will tell us what we can do rather than what we can’t do?
- How many of us have thought through our strategy of how we handle performance that is acceptable and performance which is not acceptable?
- If the leaders and owners of our businesses just concentrated on developing these three core competencies how much better would our businesses be?
- If we had these skills how much less turmoil would we experience?
As businesses grow the problems don’t become any smaller, but our ability to deal with those problems should become greater. That won’t happen by accident. These three competencies are typical of the skills that an entrepreneur needs. They are also typical in that they are not taught in colleges and business schools and that their execution depends more on our courage than on our knowledge.
By Ian Kinnery.