Unknown Unknowns

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021

I help business owners make their businesses easier to grow and run. I am working with a copywriter to develop some new marketing collateral and he asked “What have your clients tried that hasn’t worked before they come to you?”.

A thoughtful question that required a thoughtful answer. Having spent time producing one, I thought I would get a blog out of it and so I reproduce it below:

What have my clients tried that hasn’t worked before they come to me?

Many business owners believe that the stress, frustration and limited growth they experience is just the way it is – it comes with the territory. They don’t know what they don’t know and so don’t think about changing things.

Others, perhaps more enlightened or more unhappy with their working life and business performance, try to change things when they come across something that looks like a solution. Here are the most common:

  • Vision-building sessions with staff. Often these result in a mission statement or pictures on the wall of people rock-climbing and so forth. These efforts lose momentum quickly as staff engagement and belief are low to zero from the outset; they have little say in the vision, little impact on the outcome and little stake in its achievement.
  • HR initiatives. Implementing job descriptions, appraisals, team meetings – maybe even Investors in People. After the first rush of excitement the lasting legacy for employers and employees is bureaucracy. The whole thing is seen as a bolt-on unrelated to the real business or what really matters. At its worst, I have seen appraisal objectives invented for the sake of completing a box whilst the things that actually matter to the business go ummeasured.
  • Computer systems. Often this will be something glamorous and new from the cloud that is implemented to track performance or co-ordinate projects (“collaborative working”) or even something major like an ERP/MRP system. Even when such systems are needed and functional, they are seen as an imposition and a handicap by everyone affected, who think they just add layers of data and inputting and reports. In the worst case they are seen as Big Brother, removing independence and autonomy and threatening jobs.
  • Some business owners develop fantastically complicated strategies and plans on their own using dozens of spreadsheets or Powerpoint slides or similar. If they present the results to employees no one else understands them or feels any ownership (see Vision above). Often employees don’t even even know these ideas exist. Either way their utility is limited to providing the besieged business owner with the illusion of control and a brighter future.

The problem with all of these approaches is that they do not focus on developing people and accountability as the core belief and the enabler of growth, which is the only way to sustainably grow a business. They are imposed from the top and glued on to the outside of the mess instead of addressing the root cause. They often won’t survive the first operational crisis and so lose any faint credibility they might have had with employees. That is not to say they aren’t sensible and useful things to do once you have the necessary clarity and accountability in place – you just shouldn’t start there.

For an insight into what my clients do after they come to me and how that changes the way they run their business you could do worse than book a free one-hour taster session.

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