When I first met Geoffrey, I spent a half-day with him getting to learn as much as I could about him and his small company (about 35 employees). He was the owner and everyone else reported to him directly or indirectly through a few departments. It’s very common for small business owners to employ friends and family members or use their services as a provider and this can be challenging.
When Geoffrey began telling me about his company’s structure, I learned that three of his direct reports were friends, people with whom he went to college and had known for nearly 20 years. Personal friends and family members can become very comfortable working for someone like him and could take advantage of the situation. During our first meeting, I understood that some of his major challenges in leading his business was toleration. How much is someone willing to put up with while being frustrated? How do you have difficult conversations in the workplace with people with whom you share a beer after work or come to your home on the weekends? How can you separate the work from the personal?
While Geoffrey was very aware of his issues, he wasn’t sure how to get through them. For quite some time, he resisted my suggestions even though he knew that he needed to heed my advice. It was very difficult for him to adjust. We worked on each relationship rather slowly and made some progress. What seemed to help a great deal was instituting a Performance Management Program (another one of his coaching goals). For years, he felt he was giving out raises and bonuses solely based on personal feelings, loyalty, longevity, or wanting to look like a benevolent boss. Procuring my company’s services to develop and then administer an effective PM program with actual metrics allowed him to provide more honest feedback based on results, which in turn were reflected in different levels of financial rewards. By having both the program and me (as an external consultant), greater objectivity was attainable. Over time, he also modified individual roles including those who were supervising others, and eventually brought in others (strangers) when reorganizing.
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