A common but wholly bewildering problem founders face is apathy among their employees.
As a successful founder, I’d be willing to bet you are wired to drive forward. No one without that wiring would be daft enough to start their own company, which has an 80%+ chance of failure. No one without that wiring would be able to endure the hardship of building something from nothing.
You probably don’t have an off button (at least while you’re awake). If you become aware of something in the business that needs correction, you are on it. If you find a way to make a customer happy, you’re going to do it. If you see a new opportunity start to show, you take it.
Employees can be a whole different story.
While I don’t wholly agree with his dim opinion of the average worker, I do agree with his view of the cause for the chaos. He goes on to say the difference between a group of employees and a team is a unification around a shared goal and a desire not to let one another down.
He then puts that burden squarely on the leader or manager, and I couldn’t agree more. I had a rule of thumb that I used when coaching the leaders on my team.
- If you have a problem with one employee on your team, it’s their problem to fix and your responsibility to make sure it happens.
- If you have a problem with multiple employees, it’s your problem to fix and your responsibility to make sure it happens.
Henry Cloud, in his book Boundaries for Leaders, agrees, saying, “leaders get what they create and what they allow.”
While there are obvious implications for hiring, I usually find hiring fixes to be nothing more than a temporary bandaid, covering up but doing nothing to address the root cause.
Suppose you have apathetic, uninspired, or lazy employees. In that case, it is because you haven’t invested the time and effort aligning them around a compelling vision and empowering them to move the company toward that vision.
It’s not their fault. It’s yours.
The good news is, you can fix it, and it’s a lot easier than you may think. Together, we can end employee apathy in your business and get it moving forward faster than ever.
Let’s first talk about why this disconnect happens.
How is it that highly Visionary founders so commonly fail to align and empower their team? I believe there are five main reasons.
- The vision is already clear to them. This is the most innocent of the three causes. So many founders take their vision for granted. They may even feel bad about pushing their vision on someone else because of a past negative experience. Founders are almost always visionaries. They can see the future so clearly that it can fog up their day-to-day. It’s so natural for them they may fail to realize that it is not natural or easy for just about everyone else. And this causes them to under-communicate the vision to their employees.
- They are too busy. Running a company is no joke, especially one that is growing fast. Time spent saying the same thing repeatedly feels like a luxury a founder can’t afford. That is if they even think of doing it. Often founders are so overwhelmed with everything they need to keep up with that they don’t even think about taking the time to share their vision.
- They said it already. Samuel Johnson says, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” Yet, as leaders, we do the exact opposite. We only instruct. We think the only time we need to share is when there is new information. It’s not unlike the old man who, when his wife complained he didn’t say he loved her enough, responded, “I told you I loved you, and I’ll tell you if that changes.” Vision, like love, doesn’t work this way. It needs to be shared again and again and again. If you are sick of saying it, you haven’t said it enough. If your employees can’t impersonate you sharing your vision, you haven’t shared it enough.
- They have too many visions. This is a huge challenge for founders. The moment an idea is conceived is the peak endorphin rush for these Visionary leaders. They love, savor, and even need exciting new ideas. This relentless pursuit of new can be completely overwhelming and hopelessly confusing for their team, who feel like they are constantly changing directions, whether that is true or not.
- They hang onto the keys too long. Some leaders like to walk away and take the keys with them. In very different words, they tell their people responsibility but withhold the necessary authority. It feels risky, allowing others to make decisions. Horst Schultze gives his staff at the Ritz-Carlton responsibility AND authority when he tasked them with providing incredible customer experiences and gave them all a discretionary budget of $2,000 per customer to make it happen. Vision without permission is a sure recipe for apathy.
If employee apathy is so common and so frustrating and founders are so prone to creating an environment for apathy to flourish, what do we do? How do we, as founders, move our people to a unified vision while still keeping up with everything else we have to do?
- Start with team-based decision making. We have talked about this in multiple articles (1, 2, 3), but in this context, I would like to add that you need to create time in your schedule to do this. Only you can provide the vision for the company, so you need to lean into your team and rely on them for everything else that they can do. You have to give yourself time to focus.
- Shift your focus from creating a vision to clarifying the vision. This is the most common coaching tip I share with my Visionary clients. You have a gift for seeing the future clearly. You can use that gift to confuse your company by sharing every new idea you see, even when you have no intention of pursuing it (Yeah, we do that all the time.). Or you can use it to clarify the existing vision. The first time you share a vision with your team will only come through as a fuzzy black and white photo that will quickly vanish. When you share it repeatedly (especially if you use your creativity and clarity), you added color, sharpness, and persistence to it.
- Use goals, strategies, and tactics. Use goals, strategy, and tactics to draw a straight line from the vision to your team’s everyday tasks. A vision is of no value unless it informs the day-to-day decisions of both employees and leaders. However, vision on its own is abstract, aspirational, and distant. It is, by definition, something other than our current reality. The leader’s work is to tie the future to the present so that everyone can work together toward a common goal.
- Delegate responsibility AND authority. If you have ever had responsibility and not authority, you know how painful this is. Nothing will drive out your best people faster. To solve this without setting you and your team member for failure, start small, schedule time for two-way feedback, and take your time. Take confidence in all the work you did to align and empower your team and then give them some room. Check out this article to learn more.
- Don’t stop with mundane tasks. While I recommend that you start with simple and often mundane tasks, by no means should you stop there. Empowerment isn’t as much about freeing up your schedule as it is about creating the capacity for your company to scale. By delegating decision-making authority appropriate at all levels in the company, you’ll get your agility back, and you’ll have more positive momentum behind you than ever!
Go build an amazing company!
You can take your business to the next level. It can thrive under your leadership like never before. You have all the raw ingredients. As a founder, you have everything your company needs to get to the next level; you just needed the recipe to do it.
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Over the course of the last four articles, I’ve laid out that recipe. I’ve given you the exact same recipe I use in my Capacity Intensive to help my clients create the capacity to double, triple, or even 10x their growth with no signs of slowing down. It has worked wonders for them and will work wonders for you.
You can continue to work through the content in these articles on your own, but if you are interested in fast-tracking the process and working with me directly, use the link below to schedule a free consultation.
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