I recently attended a meeting of 15 very different people who have long-term business relationships with each other and with my company. Important issues surfaced: What is our goal as a group? How do we fit into a system of many groups? How do we want to govern ourselves? What will be the underlying rules that create an infrastructure that supports the success of the group?
I don't have to tell you that if you have 15 people working on anything (think: your company) they will be very different in how they view the challenge and what solution seems just right to each participant. They may even disagree on how to go about disagreeing. Some will feel they know the right way to do everything, not understand why others don't fully agree and make a decision, and be relatively quick to anger when things don't go their way. Others will want to research the issue into oblivion, get totally bogged down in the details, and be largely driven by fear of being wrong. There will be some who consider the issue logically, want to work as a team, who are patient and listen well but want to follow a leader. There undoubtedly will be some who love working and influencing others, may talk too much, want a collegial decision, and are overly optimistic that everything will just “work out.” And, of course, there will be lots of folks in our group or company who represent a mix of all these traits in unique combinations. How do we get anything done in groups?
Another key player here: your company, within which these folks operate. There are undoubtedly rules, procedures, and systems that affect just how much leeway there is for change. And one other hugely important player is the client, who has their own unique personality, style, needs, wants, expectations.
In a successful company, the company “way” creates the platform for everyone's success in their job, success in delivery to the client, and success for the company's continued operation. But that “way” must allow leeway for change and input and empowerment. In most challenges, there is no major conflict. In some of the most difficult challenges, the company owner walks a fine line and must make some Solomon-like calls after listening to divergent opinions.
This is where zooming back out to the big picture is so helpful. I recall the company values, the key systems that have enabled our clients to be successful, our process to be supportive and cutting edge, and the company to succeed. For me it is going back to bedrock, to the boundaries that mustn't be crossed, then seeing how much leeway for change and innovation can be incorporated.
It may sound simple on paper, but it is not. How do you make these “there may be no clearly right answer” calls? How do you accommodate all the personalities in your organization? (And, by the way, if you don't have a rainbow of personality styles in your organization, you are lacking a valuable diversity of viewpoints.) What is bedrock in your organization? Where are your boundaries that cannot be crossed? What are the values that can't be tarnished? Be sure you have this well thought through before you meet a critical challenge.
Business books tell you to listen, listen, listen to your staff. Get everything out on the table without rancor. The books also tell you that listening and acknowledging, and then doing what can be done and explaining what can't be changed, keeps almost all those unique players happy.
While in the midst of my challenges with these 15 caring clients who have the best of intentions, who want to improve the system and pioneer a new path, I was next to a hardworking remodeler who was trying to decide whether to take a $1 million job with an angry and demanding client who wanted to bend his rules. I could almost hear the conflict grinding through his mind as he weighed the alternatives. The right path isn't always clear, and we must make some leaps of faith based on our bedrock.
Speaking of leaps, have a wonderful holiday season and hopping New Year! — Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Fulton, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5620; firstname.lastname@example.org;www.remodelersadvantage.com.