Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Humankind is the best and worst thing about business, says Steve Hutin, the managing director of Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd.
Working with fellow Homo sapiens can be hugely uplifting and rewarding. The best thing about the successes we have been able to achieve at my company is the positive, knock-on effect it’s had on people’s careers and lives away from the workplace. The business has offered me opportunities to give individuals chances and enjoy the sense of accomplishment when they have taken them and succeeded. I’ve made lifelong friends, and strived towards collective goals with many of them. Without people I couldn’t have achieved very much. People are great.
Yet, most problems are people problems. They know who they are. In my life and yours. The folks that seem to go out of their way to create a complication or issue when there’s no need for one. There are many ways a person can become a nuisance, such as fuelling office politics, being disruptive, working to hidden agendas, or allowing jealousy to get the better of them. All create unnecessary stress and often prove right the theory that one bad apple can spoil the bunch. If one only ever deals with a single person at a supplier, for example, they’re responsible for 100% of the impression they get of that firm.
We’re lucky; 99% of our personnel and wider community are salt of the earth, but we’re not bullet—or bullshit—proof and we have to manage certain situations that arise with troublesome people along the way. The key is not to let that minority grow or spoil it for everyone else. At best, a negative influence takes away another person or group’s focus from the job in hand. At worst, it can derail a whole project and wreck lives. I’ve employed people who’ve experienced such toxicity elsewhere and heard countless stories more. I’ve been caught in a few storms myself too.
Don’t get bitten
Venomous behaviour has got to be identified and dealt with early. Small drops of poison add up to a lethal dose. Interestingly, when such matters are raised, it’s remarkable how often it’s revealed that they started over something petty or trivial. A person might have been accidentally knocked off an email chain, or someone may have felt overlooked for a promotion when one wasn’t even on the table. Bill might have been given too much credit for a landmark order, or Jessie blames Julie for something that had nothing to do with her. If it happens to the wrong person an overreaction often follows. Even if it starts by making someone wait or sweat on a reply because they might have stepped out of line in the past, it’s bad for business.
Some companies seem to have a stronger grasp on these issues than others, but none are immune to it. If someone wants to create waves it’s hard to stop them. The real issue is how big those waves are allowed to get. A negative personality will find a way to rock the boat even on the calmest of waters. I’ve heard of those who have been well supported by management and colleagues alike only to sabotage the situation with a meaningless campaign over something that could have been avoided by a five-minute conversation. If a person’s demeanour doesn’t look or feel right, staff should be encouraged to honour protocol and address it via the right channels, within the boundaries of honour. Consider the emotional capacity wasted by someone on the receiving end of bad conduct.
One solution lies in the psychology of representing oneself versus the company. I’ve blogged about this before. I encourage staff to represent themselves as much as the business. The more memorable site or business visits I make, for example, are the ones where staff are confident, polite, well-mannered and communicate well because that’s how they want to be remembered as individuals, not because they were told to act that way in a memo. One can tell the difference a mile off. A lot of people have a tendency to hide behind a company badge and blame the business for their own shortcomings. We were driven to it, they say.
There are two approaches that can be taken towards decision making that keep positive energy flowing through a business:
1. To understand the first one, picture a fast-flowing river; it’s typically alive, clear, and healthy. It’s powerful. Compare it to a stagnant waterway or pond; the ecosystem dies out and one is left with something murky that smells bad. It’s the same in business. The quickness of a decision prevents pontification, which is where negative influences can make hay. The longer the meeting, the more conference calls, the greater the length of emails, the higher chance there is for something to go wrong. Rashness is different; what I’m talking about is spontaneous, clear, courageous thinking. It works. Good businesses move quickly.
2. The second strategy also related to decision-making, is giving people the authority to make decisions. It sounds obvious but at too many companies, too few people can actually press the button on anything and it creates a monster. Each of my regional managers, by contrast, has close to carte blanche at their facilities. Why would I want a detailed document on why they feel it’s necessary to implement something or acquire a piece of equipment if they’ve already identified a need for it? It’s their budget and their bottom line. This also relates to the earlier point about taking responsibility for one’s own reputation.
Power can be tricky to manage, of course, and the higher up in a company a person is before they go rogue can lead to the greatest damage, but it’s also easier to detect. And one can usually tell when a person is ready to accept a challenge. Reference to the word itself should really be avoided. After all, it isn’t actually having ‘power’ to be a regional manager of a lifting business; it’s more about responsibility and the realisation that other people now depend on one’s decisions and actions. Setting a good example is important. A lot of poor managers have been poorly managed themselves once upon a time.
Meanwhile, business continues to be good as Q1 2019 reaches its midpoint, and we have made a significant acquisition that I know trade media in our sector is looking forward to covering. Watch this space!
Thank you for reading.
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd