The biggest business change for me came when I left corporate life and got involved with coaching.

I spent 25 years working in a Corporate environment, starting as an apprentice Engineer and working my way up the greasy pole to become a senior manager with what I believed at the time to be a important role within the company.  During this time I was focussed on doing the right things and putting in maximum effort to enable my progression and sure enough at each annual appraisal I was rewarded with a good review and reassurance that I was doing the right things.  At the time my mood was mixed with elation as the promotions came through but also frustration as progress felt so slow. I was confused and wasn’t able to understand what was causing this at the time however the reason for my feelings have become clear as my time in my new environment has increased.

In the corporate environment the organisation had grown so large but some of the essential building blocks of Vision, Mission and Culture had not been put in place properly. Now I’m sure that the senior team would have argued that these were clear, however from an employee point of view I can now see that they were not clearly communicated within the organisation to ALL levels, and they (the senior team) certainly didn’t live to the culture that was written in the culture statement. That isn’t to say that none of them did, but there was a definite lack of consistency across the board. 

So looking back on this, what has it taught me?

The main challenges start right from the top.  

  1. The Leadership team needs to be aligned and communicate the same vision effectively through all levels of the organisation.  This vision which is generally clear in why it’s good for the company needs to be communicated in a way that shows why it’s good for the employees as well. If not presented as a ‘Win – Win’ why would any of the employees ‘buy in’ to it?
  2. There needs to be some level of autonomy in the decision makers throughout the levels of the organisation.  I had a handful (sadly only a handful) of great bosses in my time in this environment and at my appraisals they would let me know how well I was doing, they would help with my development, however there was no real ‘talent development’ system within the organisation which allowed the best to progress.
  3. The overall Leader cannot just write down a few values on the wall to get ISO9001. This isn’t a list of what values they would like to have, they have to demonstrate that they live the values first and then be the keeper of the culture for the rest of the organisation. Unfortunately, if the leader doesn’t live the values they have no hope that the rest of the business will.  With a multitude of Values being displayed between the Leadership team it created an environment of mistrust. The expressions ‘Back stabbing’, ‘not pulling in the same direction’, ‘lack of teamwork’ were very commonplace and all lead to reduced company performance. For reference read ‘The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team’ by Patrick Lencioni.
  4. It is important when recruiting that the recruitment process understands the need for VALUES first and makes sure that only people with values in line with the company values get hired. For reference read the book ‘Top Grading’ by Brad Smart
  5. The business that I was in was littered with people in senior positions that I describe to fall into the category of ‘The Peter Principle’.  For reference read the book ‘The Peter Principle’ by Laurence J Peter.  Basically this says that people are often promoted to their level of incompetence, ie; the are continually promoted due to good performance until they are eventually put in a job that they cannot do.  This in itself is not the crime, the crime is that the management above who promoted them are generally too weak to deal with it (possibly because they are already in the job that they are unable to do) and leave them in that position.

I see a lot of the same problems within the SME marketplace however with fewer employees involved and the desire from the Business Owner these challenges can all be fixed.  Certainly, if the goal for the Business Owner is to grow their business, then it’s imperative that these things are fixed first as a strong business can’t be built on weak foundations!