"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
This was said by President Reagan in a speech given in, what was then West Berlin, June 21, 1987.
For many, this phrase continues to ring as a call for freedom for people to live and work, maximize their strengths, live their dreams and create nations around those principles.
But did small business hear it?
How many asked "Do we have walls that block communication, collaboration, solutions, ideas prevent our people from bringing their strengths to work, each and every day?"
Sadly, not enough.
And, where's the person (like President Reagan) to issue this demand for small businesses, their leaders and employees; even customers, vendors and partners:
Small businesses. Tear down those walls!
Tear down those walls that keep your employees from working together, from collaborating together, from communicating together.
Tear down those walls that keep their ideas never heard.
Tear down those walls that crush their passion and enthusiasm for the experience they create for your customers.
Tear down those walls that keep you and your partners from discovering new products or services.
Tear down those walls that enforce fear of failure and eliminate innovation, change and growth.
Why and how should you tear those walls down?
Here's the answer to WHY: you have no choice. As a small business your number one asset is your people. For many small businesses, it's the only asset, ultimately.
- You don't have market share (you're small)
- You don't have the economies of scale (you're small)
- You can't compete on price as a result
No one knows you yet. You don't have access to multiple sources of capital.
You have a dream, with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. And a lot of work awaits you. You have one asset, your people, to make that dream real: deliver your brand promise, execute your tactics, adjust them when they meet the marketplace, create sales, keep customers, deliver on your growing IT needs, find new partners, create new products, market...
Ultimately, your people will be the ones that deliver your dream. You owe it to them to tear down those walls that keep them from living to their potential.
For some that thinking may be too humanistic.
Here's a financial reason, then: ROA, return-on-asset. It's one of the great metrics of a successful business. It measures how well you're managing, leading, your assets. It's a feather in your manager/leader cap. It could be. Call this the enlightened self-interest protocol. The messy procedures to insure their growth means you grow towards your financial goals.
Now, we'll answer HOW to tear down walls.
Step 1: Read two books: "First Break All the Rules" and then "Now Discover Your Strengths." First Break all the Rules shares what all the great managers do. They: 1) manage for a person's strengths, 2) don't waste time correcting weaknesses, 3) place people where they're able to make their best contribution, 4) recognize, recognize, recognize their contribution.
Step 2: Tear down the walls. Start the transparent conversation. No more hidden agendas. No more silence. No more silo-mentalities. Experience is the best teacher: Show how everyone's accomplishments contribute to the success of the company.
Step 3: Be quiet. It's their conversation. Remember this ratio -- two ears: one mouth. Listen twice as much as you talk.
Step 4: Be patient. Old dogs can learn new habits and unlearn bad habits. Expect resistance, fear and trepidation as people relinquish tightly controlled territories of influence and the habits (and ego) they developed to maintain them.
Step 5: Acknowledge openly. Do it in writing, too. I used a wiki called Basecamp to document conversations, to-do, milestones, ideas, etc.
Step 6: Celebrate early, often and late. Find and celebrate every victory, step of progress, achievement. Recognize, recognize, and recognize their contributions. You're asking for a lot of change from people. Some will find that tough. Make the journey easier with celebrations, big and small.
Step 7: Don't stop. You'll discover more of your strengths on this journey. That makes you better, your life better. Those around you will enjoy the result.
Step 8: Enjoy, and good luck. And be sure to share your stories for others starting this journey.
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About the Author: Zane Safrit's passion is small business and the operations' excellence required to deliver a product that creates word-of-mouth, customer referrals and instills pride in those whose passion created it. He previously served as CEO of Conference Calls Unlimited. Zane's blog can be found at Zane Safrit.
Zane is a member of the Small Business Trends Expert Network.