What Did You Expect??

Monday, January 21 2019

What are your expectations for 2019?  Your employees’ expectations? Are they aligned? If not, it will be like driving a wagon with one horse pulling in a different direction from the others. It doesn’t work very well.

Suppose you expect to guide the company until you’re seventy, and then pass it on to your daughter. Does she know, or are you planning a discussion at some unspecified time in the future? Is your long-time friend and loyal general manager aware of what you are contemplating? Your senior managers?

A few years ago, I had a client, who was approaching his seventies and had never discussed the future of the company with his key employees. He thought it was none of their business. He was the boss, it was his operation, and they were lucky to have solid, well-paying jobs. So his plans (if he actually had any) were never communicated. When asked, he would become hostile and change the subject. He did not act on my recommendations.

In the absence of information, the employees began to make assumptions. They wondered:

What would happen if…

  • He died or became disabled? Who would take over? His daughter did not even work there. How could she possibly run the business successfully?
  • He sold to a competitor? Would they still have jobs?
  • A group of managers wanted to band together and make him an offer?
  • He just decided to shut it down and walk away?

Without a frank discussion and a communicated plan, even long-term employees worried about their future. They had families and mortgages. Most had trouble seeing a future that included advancements of any kind. It became a common subject of discussion whenever the owner wasn’t around.

One by one, good people left for more secure jobs. Those who stayed were not the cream of the crop. Sales dropped. Productivity suffered. Profits tanked. A downward spiral began that was difficult to turn around. Then when they were weakened and vulnerable, 2008 and the recession finished them off. He closed the doors and 80 people lost their jobs.

What if:

  • He had initiated a frank discussion with his key people, setting out his expectations, even if it was uncomfortable?
  • He had created a strategic plan that identified goals, objectives, and timelines with champions who would be responsible for making the inevitable transition?
  • Complacency, fear or arrogance hadn’t blinded him to the predictable conclusion of his legacy?

It’s not necessarily easy, but setting out your expectations and getting buy-in from your team is often the best way to make sure you’re all pulling in the same direction.