Susan was furious as she hung up the phone. It was 3 O’Clock on Tuesday morning and was told by her distributor that another shipment would be delayed. This late shipment meant Susan would, once again, have to pay penalties to retailers who would get their candle shipments late. She told her staff they needed to start meeting deadlines, or they would be fired. She even reminded them again in the past week that the shipment needed to leave their dock by 12 noon on Thursday, if they wanted to meet their Monday delivery deadline. It was as if she was invisible. It was her company and no one was doing what they were supposed to do.
At age 57, Susan was tired of micro-managing a bunch of deadbeats that never seemed to do what she needed them to do. 10-years ago, Susan made craft candles to be sold at craft fares. She upped her game when she sold over 1,000 candles on Pinterest. After five years of craft sales, Susan thought she hit the big time when she opened her candle factory and warehouse. She was so proud when she got a contract to supply candles to all Hallmark stores in the U.S. She was a success story who was now tired of being a business owner. It seemed that 30% of her shipments were late to retailers; she couldn’t sell candles on the internet because of agreements made with her retailers
This late shipment was the last straw. Susan decided she needed to sell her business and retire. The pride of creating a successful business was simply not worth the dreadful early morning failure phone calls. She knew Coach Russ, a local Business Coach, helped her friend sell her business; and thought he would be a great resource for her as well. Instead of going to the office to deliver the bad news to her employees on Tuesday, she set up a meeting with Coach Russ on Tuesday afternoon.
Russ started the conversation, “So, you want to sell your business. Can you tell me what has led to your decision to sell?”
Susan replied with clarity, “I’m tired of managing a group of deadbeats that can’t seem to get anything right.”
“Interesting. How much do you feel your business of deadbeats is worth to a buyer?”
Susan quickly understood her sarcasm was not serving her well. If she wanted to get a buyer to pay her top dollar for her company, she’d have to be more positive.
Susan corrected herself, “Sorry. I have okay employees. I guess I’m tired of running this business, and I feel like a larger company may be able to run it better than I can.”
“I want you to be honest with me. If you were to take a 6-month vacation, how well would your candle company operate without you?”
Susan said, “Ok… We’ve missed three shipment deadlines in the past month out of a total of 10 major shipments to retailers. And that was with me constantly hounding my employees to get these shipments out on time. I was notified early this morning, that another shipment would miss its deadline.”
“I’m going to ask you again. If you were to take a 6-month vacation, how well would your candle company operate without you?”
Susan hung her head, “I don’t think they would meet any of our deadlines, if I weren’t on top of things.”
Russ knew Susan would not like to hear what he would say next, “Susan, I can help you evaluate the value of your company; and probably find some interested buyers. But, unless you can figure out how to get your company to run well without you present, you’ll have a difficult time getting the price you want.”
Susan was clearly disappointed. She wanted out. She was convinced she did not have the energy to fix whatever was wrong with her employees. Even if she fired her staff and hired new employees, it would take months to train them; and she wasn’t convinced that her new employees would be any better than her current employees.
With tears in her eyes, Susan asked, “What can I do, Russ? I want out.”
“What if you could get better results from your employees? What if you could take a 6-month vacation and never have to worry about your company’s operation?”
“I think that would be a miracle. I have threatened my employees with their jobs. Nothing seems to work.”
“Maybe I can help. Do you mind if I tag along with you, when you tell your employees about your most recent late shipment?”
“It couldn’t hurt. Maybe you can identify some folks that are causing my problems.”
It was Wednesday morning. The staff was aware of the missed Monday delivery deadline are were ready to get chewed out by Susan once again. Susan promised that heads would roll this time; so everyone was on edge. Everyone was packed into the small company break room awaiting Susan’s wrath.
As Susan and Russ walked into the room, there was instant silence.
Susan didn’t waste any time, she got right to the point, “I have Coach Russ with me today for our meeting to observe. As all of you may know, we missed another delivery deadline this past Monday. That late delivery cost me a lot of money, and I’m tired of paying late fees for poor productivity on your part. I have worked too hard for the last ten years building this candle business, and I’ll be damned if I let you ruin it. We have another delivery that will be due to another group of retailers this coming Monday. I’ll be walking through the factory the rest of this week. If I see any of you slacking off, I’ll fire you on the spot.”
The silence remained in the room after Susan was finished. Susan and Russ left the room, and headed for Susan’s office.
Susan sat in her office chair, as Russ entered the room and closed the door behind him. Russ sat in a comfortable chair in front of Susan’s desk.
Susan started, “So, you see what I mean? They didn’t say a word. No apology or anything. These folks don’t give one damn, if this company crashes and burns.”
Russ knew he had to be careful, “Susan, you have every right to be angry at the repetitive missed deliveries. Any business owner would be. I want to know. What do you expect to happen with next week’s shipment.”
“I really don’t know. My employees seem to pick it up after a missed shipment and a good ass-chewing. Maybe they’ll get with it and meet this coming week’s deadline.”
“I was wondering if there could have been a different way to address your employees after yesterday’s missed shipment?”
“I know what you mean. Could I have been nicer? I’ve tried nice, and it doesn’t work. The only thing my people respond to is the threat of losing their job. Nothing else matters to them.”
“I was not thinking of ‘nicer’. Instead, I am thinking of your goal to sell your company. What if you could get your employees to meet deadlines without these kinds of meetings?”
“Like I said, Russ. The only thing my people respond to is threats. I wish I didn’t have to do speeches like the one you just witnessed.”
“How did this speech you just gave make you feel?”
“I felt awful. I just don’t know of any other way that works.”
“How do you think your employees felt after the speech they just heard.”
Susan teared up, “I’m guessing they feel awful too. What am I supposed to do? If I’m nice, they just take advantage and miss deadlines.”
Russ offered, “Can you meet with me for an hour tomorrow in my office? I think I can show you a more effective way of motivating your folks that results in both sides feeling much better; and performing at a higher level. What do you say?”
“Sure. What could it hurt?”
Russ and Susan met in Russ’s office at 7:00 am on Thursday morning.
After some small talk, Russ started, “I want to introduce you to the concept of Energy in the workplace.”
Susan looked confused, “Energy? I don’t understand.”
“When we lead other people, we create a type of Energy. You indicated that you felt bad after your meeting with your employees. And you said that you thought that your employees also felt bad. This bad feeling and environment is what I call Energy.”
“Look, Russ. We had a bad experience as a company. I’m not sure such a bad feeling can be avoided.”
“It can. I want to show you how. I want to describe five levels of this Energy I’m talking about. The lowest level is called Catabolic energy. Catabolic energy is often used to motivate people with negative consequences. It will get results, but often leaves a bad feeling in the air; and requires you to constantly enforce rules as you are doing now.”
Susan asked, “What is the ‘nice’ energy called?”
Russ smiled, “It’s not ‘nice’ energy. The opposite of Catabolic energy is Anabolic energy. Anabolic is a type of building and creative energy that is desirable for long-term success. Let me explain with a visual representation of what I’m talking about.”
Russ drew the numbers 1 through 5 on his office white board. He then penned the word VICTIM next to number 1, “The first level of energy is 100% Catabolic. It’s called “Victim Energy”. It’s core thought is ‘I lose’. When you commented yesterday that you had worked so hard and your employees were wrecking your company, that’s an example of Victim energy.”
Susan interrupted, “Now, look Russ. That’s the truth. I have worked hard and built this company only to see a bunch of lazy workers destroy it.”
“I’m not saying that your perspective isn’t justified, I want to talk about how these energy levels work.”
Russ penned the word “CONFLICT” next to the number 2, “The second level of energy is still quite Catabolic. It’s called “Conflict Energy”. It is associated with conflict, competition and has the core thought ‘I win, You lose’. Business owners often use this language to threaten an employee’s job.”
“Now, wait a second. If my employees only care about their job, isn’t it right to threaten something they care about in order to get them to meet a deadline that I care about?”
“Again, Susan, I’m not saying that any of these energy levels are right or wrong. I just want to be clear on how they work.”
Russ penned the word “ACCEPTANCE” next to the number 3, “The third level of energy is the start of the Anabolic range of energy. It’s called “Acceptance Energy”. It is also called Reconciliation, or Coping. The core thought of Acceptance energy is ‘I win.’ At this level, you will be fine as long as your factory seems to work okay. There may be a lot of room for improvement, but as long as deliveries are made on time, and quality is okay, you will tend to accept you current state of operations.”
Susan nodded her head.
Russ wrote the word “COMPASSION” next to the number 4, “The fourth level of energy is much more Anabolic and is called Compassion. The core thought of compassion energy is ‘You win’. In the case of your employees, the You is your employees.”
Susan smiled, “My employees must be feeling compassion, because they are winning at the expense of me paying late delivery penalties.”
Russ responded, “Actually, this energy is felt by you, not your employees. Compassion for your employees would be a feeling of concern for your employees’ well being. If you feel like your employees are winning by under-performing, that is conflict energy because there is a winner and a loser.”
Russ continued to write the word “OPPORTUNITY” by the number 5, “The highest level of energy that I want to talk about today is quite Anabolic and it’s called Opportunity. The core thought of Opportunity Energy is, Win/Win. This means that you find ideas where you and your employees win together.”
“You mean, like, they keep their job, and we meet our delivery deadlines?”
Russ smiled, “I suppose that’s one way to look at it. Although, I would term that deal lose/lose. If they don’t meet a deadline, someone loses their job. What reward will they get, if they meet the deadline?”
“You’re kidding me, right? It’s their job to meet deadlines. They get paid to do their job.”
“Winning is not simply about keeping what you have; but bettering what you have; and feeling in control of the opportunity at hand. What would happen, if you asked your employees to make recommendations on how to correct your late delivery problem?”
Susan chuckled, “I’ve asked them in the past; and all they do is make excuses about why they can’t deliver on time.”
“Could they have legitimate reasons for missing deadlines?”
“Russ, I’m already a high-priced candle-maker. If we can’t get our act together, I’ll be forced to move our factory to China.”
“Are your people aware of this?”
“Are you kidding? As you’ve already pointed out, morale is at an all-time low. Why add one more thing to demotivate employees?”
“Got it. However, getting employees to participate in correcting inefficiencies with all of the facts is what Opportunity energy is all about.”
Russ paused and then asked,”Susan, I’d like you to take some time and some up with different ways that you could have handled yesterday’s meeting at each energy level. Can you do that?”
“Sure. I may need you to help me on a few of them.”
Susan worked for the next several minutes. Russ could tell that Susan was taking the exercise seriously. She used a pencil and was writing and erasing furiously. After 30-minutes, Susan handed Russ the paper. Russ smiled as he read his new client’s approaches to her meeting:
Level 1: Victim: Probably the same approach that I took. Get offended, blame my employees and play the part of a victim owner.
Level 2: Conflict: This was also represented in yesterday’s meeting. Threaten my employees with their jobs, if they didn’t meet the deadlines.
Level 3: Acceptance: Understand that there must be a systemic problem with production that is causing missed deadlines. I would ask my employees to identify the challenges with timely delivery so that we can meet our deadlines. I may also try to move agreed upon deadlines with retailers to accommodate a more reasonable delivery schedule.
Level 4: Compassion: I would have approached our meeting completely differently. I would have sat down, instead of stood over my team yesterday. I would then express a sense of concern for my team. I would have said something like, “I’m concerned about you all. We have missed some aggressive deadlines recently, and I am curious how we can have less stress around here.”
Level 5: Opportunity: I would explain to my folks the nature of the candle business and how we need to find creative ways to compete in our market place. I would then ask them for ideas they have, given our current constraints.
Russ asked, “Susan, How did you feel as you thought about each level?”
Susan smiled, “I suppose I felt better at the higher levels.”
“What would it take for you to have a Level 5 meeting with your people?”
“I can do it, but I’m a little skeptical. I just don’t know if my people will come up with anything meaningful.”
“You have to give them the space, Susan. Remember, they have been living at Level 1 and Level 2 for a while; and will be a little shocked that you want their advice. You may have to be quite patient at first.”
“It’s worth it, if I can create a positive workplace for both me and my employees.”
Susan met with her employees a second time. She could see that her employees were expecting the hammer to fall on some unsuspecting employee who wasn’t working hard enough that week to meet next week’s deadline. Instead, Susan opened with an apology. She was noticeably tearing up as she told her employees she was out-of-line in the meeting earlier that same week. She went on to ask for help in identifying the obstacle for meeting deadlines. She filled the team in on how they had to figure out ways to beat the efficiency of China candle factories in order to compete.
Susan couldn’t believe how different this meeting went. She got immediate sympathy from her veteran workers when they saw her tears. She was amazed at the ideas that started flowing when she asked for help. It turned out that a certain type of candle was taking more time to make than the majority of candles; and the retailers were okay with a delay on the long lead time candle with aggressive delivery schedules on the simple candles. After making candles for ten years, Susan was a little embarrassed that she didn’t think of this herself.
Just think. All of that angst, threats and bad feelings; when all she had to do was change how she shipped a difficult candle.
Susan reported her new-found success to Russ. Russ said, “I’ll ask you again. If you were to take a 6-month vacation, how well would your candle company operate without you?”
Susan smiled, “I think I could take that vacation. However, now that we have shifted the energy level at work, I don’t think I want to sell for a while.”
As a business coach, I help my business owner clients change their mindset in a way that allows them the freedom and profitability they have always hoped for, but never thought possible. If you’d like to develop a successful business mindset, I urge you to sign up for the free Business Success Wheel exercise below to see how you can grow yourself as a successful business owner.
Note from the Author
My name is Jeff Schuster. I am a certified Life and Business Coach serving small business owners, corporate executives and others who want to transition from “expert” to “entrepreneur”. I have been a small business owner for most of my 30-years in the workplace. I grew an energy efficiency and renewable energy engineering and construction company from nothing to over $10-million/year and sold it in 2013. I now help other business owners make amazing progress toward their own dreams of business ownership independence and success.
As a long-time small business owner, I know how hard it is to create the business of your dreams while struggling with the financial realities of attracting prospects, converting those prospects into high-paying customers, and making money for you and your family. My biggest mistake in my past was not seeking the advice of wise counsel sooner than I did. I don’t want you to make the same mistake. I help my clients see exactly what they need to work on in their business by doing the Business Wheel Exercise. If you’d like to try it out, sign up to the right. It’s completely free.