PEOPLE PROBLEMS: A company is not just bricks and mortar.  It’s not just a name.  It’s not just a product or service.  The biggest determinate in a business’ personality (and ultimately, its success or failure) is people. Why, then, do business owners allow people problems to go unaddressed?

Before we answer that, let’s explore some typical people-problems that surround us in our companies.  Here’s a shortlist:

  • A salesperson that doesn’t bring in new business.
  • The staff member that likes to bring personal drama to work every day.
  • Someone with a poor work ethic.
  • A person who lies, cheats or deceives.
  • The employee that makes a lot of mistakes; incompetence.
  • A selfish person that serves him or herself first; the team second (or worse).
  • Someone that resists positive change.
  • The happy employee that is always extremely “busy,” but doesn’t accomplish much that’s worthwhile.
  • The once fabulous team member that has slipped into mediocrity.

Feel free to take a minute here to add to this list…it’s endless!  Now ask yourself candidly, “Do we have any of these people-problems at (your company)?”  It’s likely you do!  Now ask yourself, “What am I doing about it?”  If you’re like most business owners, the true answer to that question is either “not much” or “absolutely nothing;” you’ve just accepted it.

There it is!  The biggest mistake business owners make!  If you’re guilty, please stay with me!

Now, we’ll answer the question, “Why do business owners allow people-problems to go unaddressed?”  How’s this for starters:

  • No time.
  • No energy.
  • Too busy.
  • The person may quit, besides, nobody’s perfect.
  • I don’t like conflict.
  • He/she will only make excuses and be offended and it won’t work anyway.
  • I don’t want to make waves.
  • There are a lot of great traits the person has; I don’t want to be too critical.
  • I’m loyal to my people for better or for worse.
  • If I ask that person to improve, he/she will want me to improve on my weaknesses, too.

The complete list of answers to why people don’t address people-problems is just as long as the list of problems people have…it’s endless!  Now ask yourself, “Why aren’t you addressing the specific people problems you have at your company?”

If you answered the questions above candidly, you may be starting to squirm in your seat right now.  You may be tempted to make the conscious decision to stop reading this, stop thinking about this and bury your head back in the proverbial sand.  Here’s a shortlist of why you shouldn’t do that:

  • It’s costing your company money.
  • It’s killing the morale of the very best people on your team.
  • Your customers are either directly or indirectly suffering.
  • Your business is not as valuable as it could be.
  • You’re losing growth opportunities.
  • You’re personally suffering from stress and frustration caused by poor performers.
  • You’re robbing the poor-performer of a personal and/or professional growth opportunity.
  • You’re making your own life more complicated than it needs to be.

I encourage you to go ahead and take my next statement personally:  If you –the business owner- aren’t addressing the people-problems in your company, then you are a people-problem.  Please read that last sentence again; it’s very important.  “If you aren’t addressing the people-problems in your company, then YOU are a people-problem!”

If my candor has ticked you off, I’m sorry.  The intention of my honest feedback isn’t to hurt your feelings; it’s meant to be constructive.  I want to help you help yourself, which in turn will allow you to help your own company.

If you’re still reading, then you probably see the incredible benefits of addressing people-problems.  Maybe you’re hoping for a suggestion to get you into action.  If so, here it is:

Schedule a time to meet with your problem-person.  When the time comes, start your meeting by telling the person that you’re going to have an honest, adult conversation with him or her.  Let that person know that your intention isn’t to hurt his feelings; it’s meant to be constructive.  You want to help that person help himself, which in turn will allow him to be more valuable to your business.  (Sound familiar?  Go up two paragraphs and read it!)

Then, give it to him straight!  As unemotionally as you can; let him know the real deal.  Take your time.  Be specific.  Don’t allow things to get out of hand; remember the goal isn’t to prove someone guilty, it’s to help that person see what you see and then to agree on specific actions to start down the road to improvement.

Don’t allow this meeting to end until you’re both on the same page relative to:

  • The specific problem(s).
  • The ramifications of those problems on that person’s career, your company, your customers, etc.
  • The expectations moving ahead.
  • The precise action steps required of that person (and perhaps even of you) to alleviate the problems.
  • A written commitment from each of you to follow-through on your specific action steps.
  • An agreed upon date to meet together again to check progress.

Sounds like an employee review, doesn’t it?  That’s exactly what it is…sort of!

I’m not talking about the typical, useless dog and pony shows that many people call reviews.  I’m talking about a true, meaningful, constructive conversation that will help everyone -and your company- become more successful.  Unlike a generic employee review, this isn’t an “event.”  This is the beginning of a process that will require constant follow-up.

Without follow-up and follow-through, nothing really changes.  An annual performance review, even a great one, is transactional in nature; not transformational.  Everyone knows that lasting change only happens when there’s transformation.

You have to invest time, effort and energy into this.  I know that sounds draining, but when you do it right, you’ll see the results.  When you see the positive results, you’ll find a renewed energy and happiness.  I promise!

Your people are either making or breaking your company.  The rewards from developing your team are just too great to ignore.  The dangers associated with people-problems can be deadly to your business.  So stop burying your head in the sand and stop worrying so much.  Instead, just start talking candidly about it with the people that need the help.

One last offer of advice:  Do your best to develop your individual team members, but at some point, you may simply need to cut your losses.  In other words, if you can’t change your people; change your people.  Think about that!

It’s not easy and it’s going to take time, but you can do it.

Review / Action Steps

  1. Think about every person on your team and determine where you have “people problems.”  If you have an executive team, ask each executive team member to do this for the people in their individual chains of command.  (And, of course, you should determine any executive team members who have developed their own “problems.”)
  2. Prepare for and then have a meeting with your problem person (or people) and make sure you address the following with specifics and detail:
    • The specific problem(s).
    • The ramifications of those problems on that person’s career, your company, your customers, etc.
    • The expectations moving ahead.
    • The precise action steps required of that person (and perhaps even of you) to alleviate the problems.
    • A written commitment from each of you to follow-through on your specific action steps.
    • An agreed upon (and scheduled) date to get back together to review progress.
  3. Be sure to follow-up regularly to make sure the issues discussed are being addressed properly.  Also- be sure you’re living up to your end of the bargain.  If you had actions steps to help the person, then you must always lead by example and meet your obligations.
  4. You must acknowledge that some people just don’t (and won’t ever) fit in your company.  If you can’t change your people’s behavior so they are a fit, then you need to change your people for other people who will fit.  Remember- A small business can’t afford to have even a single “weak link.”  It is ultimately your job to make sure that you and your executive team are fixing people-problems quickly and appropriately.  It is also your ultimate responsibility to make sure your company is always fielding the best team possible.  “People problems” are way too costly to ignore or to put off until later.

*For more information on how to field the best team you can, read the book Winning, by Jack & Suzy Welch.  It’s a fantastic book that covers a myriad of topics that are important to small business owners (as well as large business owners).  An entire chapter of Winning is focused on “Differentiation.”  I think this is a “must-read” for all business owners.  The chapter on “Candor” will make you see honest communication in a whole new light!


By now, you should be clear on which people problems you have in your company, the negative impact those problems are having on your company, and you should be prepared to face these problems head-on.

You know that feeling you get in your gut sometimes when you see someone do something or you hear someone say something that doesn’t seem right to you?  Well, it’s your job to listen to your gut!  You have a responsibility to honestly and thoughtfully address things as they happen so that little problems don’t become big problems.

This takes courage, but as a leader, it’s your job to have and to exercise courage.

As you’re fixing people-problems, please do yourself and everyone else a favor and act more like a “coach” than a “judge.”  No matter what; you must respect the dignity of the person you’re talking to.  If you don’t, then YOU are a people-problem of a different sort!

I’m not suggesting you be weak in your approach; far from it.  Hit it straight on and be completely candid – just don’t become emotional and don’t berate the person.

People problems cost small businesses untold millions of dollars every year.  They break the morale of your great people and they frustrate your customers- possibly to the point of finding a new supplier to replace you.

The emotional drain caused by people-problems is substantial.  Your people pay for it and so do you.

One final tip regarding your people:  If you frequently ask yourself, “If I knew then what I know now about this person when I hired him, would I still hire him?”  If the answer is “no,” then you have to ask yourself, “What am I going to do about it?”  And then, you have to act.

Remember, as CEO, it’s ultimately your job to make sure that you and your managers address people problems immediately.  Otherwise, your business will suffer in all the ways we’ve discussed and your great people will likely run for the hills.

Congratulations on taking the first steps in solving your people-problems!  It’s not going to be easy.  It’s going to require work and patience, but it will either work or you’ll know that it’s time to part ways with the problem-person.  Remember, addressing people problems is not an event.  It’s something that has to be done real-time, every time you see it.

I wish you all the best.

Copyright 2013 by Jon Denney

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