Many entrepreneurs and managers would acknowledge that people issues are often on their minds. An underperforming employee, a manager who is causing friction within the leadership team, or the never-ending battle to recruit and retain talent. Unfortunately, they often struggle to deal with these issues because they feel the solution would unearth even bigger problems, leaving these problems unresolved, leaving everyone to suffer the pain in silence.
A business depends squarely on its people. Everyone in the team must feel right, a trusted member with whom you would go for a second beer or leave your kids, and also performing to the required level in their seat within the organisation. No matter what a great strategy it has on paper or how many financial resources it can resort to, the fundamental truth is that a business is only as good as its people. All other issues will be surmountable as long as the business has a great team.
In this post, we will see how the people issues affect a business and then take you through the 5 steps to build your dream team, explaining why each step of this process is important.
What are People Issues?
These are typical examples of people issues:
• The Good – People typically excuse this by saying “He’s such a good friend” or “He tries his best” and “He just needs some more help and training”. However, this person would not be performing well and worse still, could be impacting others either because they have to cover for him or else because he should be managing them. This is what is known as a “Right Person / Wrong Seat” issue, where although the person is a good cultural fit overall, he is not performing in his current role and has not improved despite clear attempts.
• The Bad – Although this is a destructive person to have in a team, often times a manager would excuse such an issue by saying “At least he can deliver work”. The manager would be aware that this person is not fitting in the team and that he is not trusted by the rest but since the company’s business plan requires the team to deliver ever more so then the manager is unwilling to even consider letting this employee go. This is what is known as a “Wrong Person / Right Seat” issue, where the person is a bad cultural fit but since he is performs well in his current role, the typical “performance review” would retain him and possibly promote him ahead.
• The Ugly – Being a “Wrong Person / Wrong Seat” situation, this is typically the easiest people issue to deal with. This person would be performing badly in his role and the team also feels that he is not a good fit culturally, so therefore the manager has no excuses to avoid letting such a person go.
All the above types are either creating toxicity in the teams or else performing badly at their work. Arguing which one is worse may be an academic exercise because the fundamental truth is that your business will only grow with “Right Persons” in their “Right Seats”.
Who are “Right People” and what do we mean by “Right Seats”? The concept of “Right People” was coined by Jim Collins, who explained that having the “right people on the bus” allows you to drive your metaphorical bus wherever the business needs it to go and they will still be motivated and enjoying it altogether on the “bus”.
Right people are able to work closely together, understand each other and enjoy time together. They are also not afraid of conflict between themselves because they can have healthy discussions. They will always enjoy being part of the organisation, irrespective of its direction or strategy.
You can only create this group of wonderful people, who will enjoy working with you, by discovering your core values, and living and breathing them every day. The “Wrong Persons”, on the other hand, will never really feel part of the team. They might be on your bus simply because of the direction it is currently going, or other reasons for personal gain, but they will eventually, at the very least, cause disruption when the bus changes direction ever so slightly.
Persons who find their “Right Seats” are working in roles that they clearly get and understand thoroughly. They are able to perform in this seat and they have the potential to train and grow to become awesome at it. “Wrong Seat”, on the other hand, means that the person does not understand what it takes to do this job and no amount of training will ever improve this beyond mediocrity (in comparison to someone who gets it). The litmus test for a “wrong seat” is when you find yourself having to explain over and over again, to frustration levels, what it takes to carry out the job in question. Flash news – they don’t get it so they don’t even understand why you are so upset about their mediocre performance!
The 5 steps to achieve your Dream Team
Many entrepreneurs often describe their dream teams by defining the skills that each team member would possess. However, the more experienced entrepreneurs would describe a team who is closely knit, whose members like working together, would always be there for each other, and who would uphold the good of the team before themselves. Simon Sinek refers to how the army defines a high performance team, where it’s all about trust between team members rather than individual technical performance.
Building a dream team takes time, commitment, consistency in the approach and courage to see it through. Patrick Lencioni points out that entrepreneurs must be prepared for the fact that it will “inflict pain” as it will make “some employees feel like outcasts” and also “leave executives open to heavy criticism for even minor violations.”
If you are ready to do what it takes to build this dream team, then we should start with the end in mind, defining what good looks like and then setting a plan to achieve it. We split the steps as follows:
1. Foundational Planning Phase
2. Discover your real Core Values
3. Define your Accountability Chart, including all the seats in the organisation B. Assessment Phase
4. Uncover People Issues
5. Deal with People Issues
6. Growth Phase
7. Treat recruitment like your biggest investment and plan its execution thoroughly
Note that there are no “Advanced to GO and Collect $200” cards in this game. You have to do all the above steps in the right sequence because each step builds on the previous ones and the resulting organisation can only be stable if the foundational steps are done right.
Core Values Discovery
This is one of the most underestimated aspects of a business, one that many entrepreneurs unfortunately gloss over it due to various reasons, be it lack of time or focus, understanding or even belief in the power of core values. It is, in fact, fundamental to know yourself and what you stand for, to understand your core values, in order to be able to lead and cultivate the right organisational culture that will make your business healthy.
The core values discovery exercise is a simple 4 step process that aims to extract the real core values of an organisation from the behaviours of its best employees. The results can be “painful” for leaders who already believe that they already have their core value set but which would have been more aspirational than real. Once the real core value set is discovered and validated, the real work begins.
Another heavily underestimated aspect of organisational planning is the design of the accountability chart. Most business have an organisational chart, showing who reports to who. Although this is good to group people into teams, it fails at giving the clarity required around who should be doing what function in the business. Consider the function of “customer satisfaction” as an example.
In many organisations, one will find many misconceptions around who is responsible for this function, who should do what, and what happens if things don’t work out as they should. Is it the responsibility of the operations/delivery team or the sales team, or is it an administrative function that should report to the finance team, to maintain it separate from the delivery function who may have messed up the service to the customer in the first place?
An accountability chart must be designed without persons names but rather in terms of functions and roles. This will ensure that the accountability structure is solid and designed with what is best for the business and that it is not based on the limitations and egos of the current staff compliment. Once this is in place, it introduces the clarity required to know what it takes to fulfil a role, what it means to “get it” in each specific seat of the organisation and therefore provides the ability to benchmark the performance of someone sitting in that seat.
Uncovering People Issues
Now that there is clarity about the organisation’s culture and about the organisation’s accountability chart, you can review each of the organisation’s employees to see, first of all whether they are a “Right Person” by living by most of your core values, and secondly whether they are in the “Right Seat” by understanding whether they “get” the role. Although this is probably the tougher part of this process, you should keep in mind that you do not afford to have anyone in your organisation like “The Good”, “The Bad” nor “The Ugly”.
Keep in mind that you first assess for “Right Person” cultural fit. This is fundamentally important because a “Wrong Person” will be very toxic to your organisation, no matter where he works or how good he is at this job. A typical core values review process would be to benchmark the employee with regards to each core value individually, scoring them as a “+” is they live this value consistently, “+/-“ if they live it sometimes and “-“ is they rarely do, against which you should have a minimum acceptable level of say not more than a third of the values should be less than “+” and definitely no “-“ scores.
As for ensuring whether everyone is in their “Right Seat”, one would have to do a performance review. One should particularly watch-out for situations when you are having to repeatedly point out the lack of basic performance. You might be getting uselessly frustrated because if the employee does not “Get” the role then he is not understanding the reason and level of your expectation for improved performance. They just do not “Get It”. Unfortunately, in such situations, no amount of training will improve their performance to the high level you are expecting because the fundamentals are just not there. You may also encounter “Wrong Seat” situations where a person does not want to be in that role but is living in denial.
Dealing with People Issues
Once you have identified one or more people issues, you have to face them to have them resolved once and for all. In the case of “Wrong Person”, it depends the gravity of the review. If the person has one “+/-“ more than the minimum, then you might consider coaching the employee to improve and review the improvement over 3 months. On the other hand, if the employee scored a “-“ in at least one of the values, then the approach should be more around making the employee understand why there is a core value mismatch. In the case of “Right Person/Wrong Seat” (i.e. Good guy), then you should try to find a more suitable role where he “Gets It”. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and so the only avenue left would be to part ways.
It must always be the organisation’s topmost priority, above and beyond all other priorities (or urgencies), to resolve people issues. Just keep in mind that in all probability, you have caused the issue in the first place by recruiting the wrong person or promoting someone to the wrong seat, and therefore you are duty-bound to resolve it for everyone’s sake including the employee himself.
Plan & Execute Your Recruitment like a Pro
So how do we avoid making the same mistakes over and over again? I would dare say that the most underestimated process in an organisation is recruitment. Notwithstanding the fact that this process provides the people who will make the organisation, it is often outsourced or “delegated” to the HR
department (because only they deal with people, right?). The result is anything from misalignment with the real core values of a company to inadequate assessment for whether a candidate “Gets” the role he or she applied for.
Recruitment can only provide a successful outcome if its process is well thought out. Although everyone asks for a CV at application stage, this rarely gives any relevant information nowadays, other than the possession of relevant academic qualifications or potential experience. Moreover, gone are the days when one would have tens or hundreds of applicants to choose from at any point in time. Let’s face it – recruitment has become pretty much like dating to find your future life partner. You just have to kiss some frogs, one at a time, before you find the one. And you must always be ready to find the one. Given that you now know what “good looks like” in terms of behaviour and role responsibilities, all you need to do is craft the right questions to bring out the real behaviour and aptitudes of the candidate to check for a match. Anything that doesn’t quite fit should disqualify the candidate immediately. Forget telling yourself that maybe he was nervous during the interview or perhaps he will act differently with us.
One last tip. Design the interview questions by referring to scenarios that are familiar to the candidate, so that he may give you the most candid reply possible. If you ask for hypothetical scenarios, you will get hypothetical replies and he could only be hypothetically a good candidate. So forget asking “What would you do if…” and ask “What did you do when…”.
This is hard work. I mean building a great organisation is really a tough job. It takes time and determination to stick to your plan, and it takes guts to be frank with ourselves and others in order to take the right decisions. But it is so worthwhile having your dream team that you will find yourself asking how you ever managed before. Are you managing without your dream team?