I had an interesting and thought-provoking conversation yesterday with a good friend. I haven’t talked with him in many years, and since we last spoke he has worked up the ranks in his business to a project lead position. It really put a lot of things in perspective since I have been hanging around with many CEOs, MBAs, and other business school/well-connected folks who have worked hard, but have worked up the ranks in their business through more entrepreneurial/less traditional routes.
From the people who worked up through those routes, many of the biggest personal issues I’ve encountered with running a business they take in stride (Dismissing people, handling hostile clients and doing blind sales.) Oddly though, many of the the pieces of running a business that I have little problem with, they have found difficult. So, naturally, I had a lot to learn from them. Even if, in the end, ethically I disagree with some of their methodologies or their philosophies behind their actions.
However, the conversation I had with my friend brought back to the forefront of my mind the biggest part of running a business (especially small business) to me. If I wanted to be sole contractor, making money simply by doing the development myself or providing high level security work, I would just go and work for a larger organization like IBM, CN Rail, Google or Amazon. I actually remember working for Car Accounting at CN Rail and loving it, and I have very fond memories of my days working as an IBM business consultant under the AERIS banner. I’d make a relatively stable income, and generally be pretty OK with it.
But, business is more than that to me. Never fully figured out why, but I really enjoy giving people the opportunity to work on projects they never thought they’d be able to work on and find ways to take the awesomeness from those and make it work to improve the ROI (or organizational processes) of our clientele. It was hard to reach considering some of the ups and downs I have had in hiring, but there is a deep pleasure in having faith in someone and having that faith fulfilled.
Giving a project to someone who really wants to do it and do an awesome job on it, and then seeing them create something beyond your wildest dreams. That’s a pretty awesome feeling. It’s the 1+1 = 3 phenomena. I, alone, could not accomplish this, and neither could they alone, but combined, through faith in each other, we are able to produce something more.
Now, business doesn’t run on faith. Business runs on product, profits and financial statements. So you need to have one other piece of the puzzle – trust that they person you employ to do this job will be able to not only do an awesome job, but stay on task enough to build a product that supports them and the larger organization moving forward.
I’ve always found, contrary to many of my more atheistic friends, faith is easy; trust is hard.
Especially when your trust is betrayed or, worse even, entirely proven baseless.
That leads to disorder, not only for the organization but also for yourself. You need to re-examine your core beliefs and try to find out why you had this trust and what you missed that showed how that trust would be betrayed. You need to restructure the organization (sometimes at heavy financial and personal cost) to prevent such a failure again (that is if the failure was something massive.)
And you need to find a way to move forward. As hard as it may be.
So, we return to my friend that I enjoyed a lovely dinner with last night. His organization has some serious issues that need to be sorted out. The dysfunction is so inherent that individuals who are clearly skilled and capable of doing the work are being dragged along by the chaotic maelstrom that happens when organizational trust is betrayed. Trust goes both ways, you see.
It’s possible if I read this 10 years ago, I’d scoff at it. However, now I know it’s immensely true. These structures in corporations, non-profits and other organizations exist to allow for products and progress to be made. When you as an employee have no trust or faith in your leaders to lead, you will betray their trust in you to do what you have been hired to do. In the end, you both get disorder. You are a miserable employee, and your employer is stuck trying to decide what to do to make the engine work again.
This doesn’t mean you should put up with hostile or toxic business environments, far from it. It means that if you are unhappy (for any reason) and you can walk away, you should do so. Don’t betray the trust of the people who put you there.
However, don`t also assume that the chaos and disorder around you is due to a bad strategy by those who are doing their best above you, and most importantly trust that what they are assigning you is not entirely without purpose and void.
Their job is to ensure their department does it’s job and, in the end, that the organizations continues to be successful and sustainable. Sometimes they fail, yes, but don’t aid them in that by failing to keep up to what they expect of you.
Otherwise you just in a self-fulfilling maelstrom and more and more will get caught until someone pulls the plug on everything.