This article was originally posted in Successful Business News
When I come into a new business, I know a good deal about what’s going, but I’m not arrogant enough to think I have it all figured out. To solve the problems plaguing the operation, I leverage the greatest asset any business owner has—the TEAM. The team is always my go-to problem-solving resource.
In addition to a company-wide meeting I convene on the first day, I meet individually with every employee and ask for their unfiltered feedback. They open up to me, because I promise them nothing they say will come back to bite them in the butt.
I always left those meetings knowing exactly what was wrong in the company based on what the employees told me. Their insights were invaluable. The banks always ask me why the previous owner didn’t utilize the collective knowledge of his team. The answer has always been obvious to me. Why on earth would an employee working for a bullheaded owner put their future on the line by telling that owner something he didn’t want to hear? Employees are smart enough to know the answer their boss wants to hear, and often it’s not the truth.
To continue paying their mortgage and putting food on the table, the employees wisely choose to tell the owner what he wants to hear, knowing full well even if they offered up meaningful suggestions, the owner would simply continue running things how he wanted.
I continue to use “he” and “his,” because every business I’ve taken over was run by a man. A large part of the reason male-driven businesses get in trouble is because of ego. The drunken businessman views himself as smarter, richer, and better looking than everyone. Is he going to listen to his employees? Will he even seek their input? I’ve learned hiring women for high-level positions is extremely healthy for companies. Women aren’t hampered by ego like men and tend to use common sense more. When it comes to the financials, I’ve watched men round up to the nearest hundred dollars all my life. A woman in that position will stay at the office all night balancing her books down to the last penny. Women value precision, which is a sterling trait for CEOs or presidents of businesses to have during a turnaround.
Regardless of gender, a top-down approach to problem solving works best when business owners see themselves as the conductor of an orchestra. If one member of an orchestra is playing the wrong note, the collective performance suffers. I meet with every employee in a new business, from the managers down to the janitors, because each of them and their families is invested in the success of that company.
As the conductor, I’m always asking my team, “How can we do things faster, cheaper, smarter, and better?” I want every employee to play their part during the process of change we’re undergoing.
People ask me what I do for a living, and the best words I’ve found to use are “teacher” and “coach.” In each of my businesses, it’s my job to teach and coach the team to think, not just act. I can recall countless times well-intentioned employees did a bad job, because they didn’t stop to think.
A prime example was the head of maintenance for a real estate development, who made $20 an hour, marching into my office and proudly telling me he and two other guys, each making $15 an hour, had fixed the commercial vacuum cleaner.
The maintenance crew had worked earnestly to do a good job. The only problem was the vacuum cost $200 to replace, and their collective labor cost $400. As a business owner, teaching your team is a huge priority because it’s an ongoing process of growth. It’s not enough to get them involved in the turnaround of the company. When you learn something new, teach it to your team. The more time and effort you invest in educating your employees, the stronger your company will be.
Being a business owner also means being a leader. I’ve studied history, I don’t recall Winston Churchill or Franklin D. Roosevelt being called managers, although they were. They are always referred to as leaders. Being a leader is not always easy. I crashed and burned in my first business in large part due to my young age and not being experienced enough to run a business, but I was also too concerned about the employees liking me. Now, I don’t care if employees like me; I’m more interested in their performance as team members.
I’m going to treat the team fairly, be honest with them, and act consistently from one day to the next. If I expect my employees to show up at 7 am and leave at 5 pm, I’ll be there at 6:30 am and leave at 5:30 pm. What I expect in return are employees who want to be team players and contribute to our company’s journey and profitability. You’ll be amazed at how effective and honest leadership improves the performance of your business. I always try to keep the CEO around when I take over a new business, because he’s a good source of insight. However, like my dad said, “Put me in a room full of horse crap, and I’ll start looking for the pony.” In all seventy-seven businesses, part of the solution was firing the CEO, because his ineffective leadership was sabotaging our progress.
As the owner, the turnaround of your company starts with you, but you can’t implement top-down problem-solving unless you get everyone involved. Teach your team and value their ideas. You’ll still make the ultimate decision, but I promise you some of the best ideas for aiding your turnaround will come from the places you least expect.
Robert Thomas Bethel is the orchestrator of seventy-seven business turnarounds over the past fifty years. Early successes and troubles in his own professional career inspired his passion for taking over struggling businesses and guiding them towards the road of profitability. Bethel has turned around companies in various industries—from moderne child collections chains to engineering firms—and has helped save over ten thousand jobs as a result of his strategic business counsel. A graduate of the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, Bethel owns several companies across the southern United States and has operated businesses both nationwide and internationally. He is an Eagle Scout and, in addition to counseling, also spends times teaching three-day seminars on best business practices throughout the country. He currently resides in Orange Beach, Alabama with his wife, Reese.