I am going to tell you what I have observed to be among the most damaging words ever uttered in business over the last 20 years: “You must work on your business not in it.” That probably comes as a surprise because you've heard that phrase repeated so many times by so many "experts." The problem is that uttering those words causes some leaders to separate themselves from their employees.
This statement has also caused some contractors to become frustrated and discouraged, resulting in those contractors going right back to working in their businesses because employees can’t make any decisions on their own. We forget that we created that mindset when we declared “you work in and I work on.” As well-meaning owners and leaders, we now must take action and fix this mess.
Focus on the ‘we’
The first step is re-establishing communication in your organization by giving people the freedom to communicate. We all know the importance of meetings and sharing information, but this goes beyond just telling people something or giving them information that is forgotten when they walk out of the room.
Communication that builds teams happens when the culture allows team building to take place. There is a purpose for the communication, which focuses on a mission or outcome that benefits everyone.
I would like to suggest that you try a new battle cry as a leader: “What can we do to find a better way?” The power of this new battle cry creates the mindset for great communication because it puts every member of your team in the game with the word “we.” It also brings the most important factor in for great group communication: a clear question.
Consider the following two examples. “What can we do to find a better way to increase more sales to current customers?” Compare that to, “You have got to sell more to existing customers … so what’s your plan?”
The first question engages thought, asks for multiple ideas and puts everyone in it together. The second example points a finger, puts the solution on one person, and may cause that person to come up with any response just to get through the situation; later on he or she will find someone or something to blame.
Owners must become expert communicators
As an owner or leader, choosing this “focus on the we” mindset places a good deal of responsibility on you. It means you must continually be growing your communication skills to engage those employees who may have been tricked into believing that if they will just do the work, you will do the thinking—and everything will be OK.
We now know that in this decade, the pursuit of a better way means everyone must be given the opportunity to think, the freedom to work smarter, and the opportunity to share in the rewards and quality of life that will ultimately come from this approach. As you improve on your ability to find and implement a better way of doing things, and your entire team begins to work smarter, you will be reminded as an owner or leader that you really decided at the beginning of all of this to “be in business” not to “be on business."