Running a business can be hard work. I have talked about the need for a clear vision and a well-articulated purpose in this space. Now I want to hit on competence.
There is a satirical work written by Lawrence J. Peter in 1969 called The Peter Principle. The premise is that if an employee performs his or her job well, they are rewarded with a promotion. They do that job well and are promoted again. This continues until the point they are no longer performing at a level deserving of a promotion, which leaves them at a level where they are over-matched by the demands of the job—in other words, incompetent.
While intended to be a funny observation, The Peter Principle got life because of its “face validity,” in that there are enough real-world examples of this phenomenon that it is believable. I am sure you have seen examples of this in your career. There’s no malicious intent on the part of either the promoter or the promotee, it just happens.
Using the saying that the only way to boil a frog is to put it in cold water and turn up the heat gradually otherwise they jump out of the pot, small business owners do not go through the rotation of promotions, but the demands of the business slowly increase. Like the frog in the water, we don’t notice that the environment is changing, that the management process is becoming less than optimal. That’s when Peter is emerging!
So how do you know if you are Peter? Many of the signs are simple, and most of the symptoms are so common that we just think it’s normal. Do you delay making business decisions so you can gather more intel? Do you put in long hours? Do you keep secrets that you can’t tell the staff, or are you hesitant to be direct and honest with them? Do you focus on small tasks or patient care? Do you feel like you have little control over the business? Do you feel like your day is dictated by the demands of the business? Do you have a feeling that you are flying by the seat of your pants sometimes? If you answer yes to more than a few of these, then you may need to consider bringing in a business operations professional.
I recently heard the phase that a particular manager “manages by Google.” I had never heard that expression before, but I learned that it is not uncommon. This happens when a company does not have a well-articulated vision, and the manager has been put in a position beyond their competency. To maintain their feeling of relevancy, importance, or sense of contribution, they identify the “next big idea” from something they hear about on the internet and decide the team should adopt it. This breaks any sense of strategy and consistency, and even emotional attachment to the work the team is already doing. It leads to chaos, distrust, and disgruntled employees.
A good manager trusts the team around them. They will have clearly articulated the company’s vision, and they will have empowered the team to accomplish their goals. There will be an identified path, and there will be an understandable purpose to the work being performed.
The manager’s job is to scan the business environment, identify new opportunities and challenges, and then work with the team to either leverage the new opportunity or to overcome the challenge while honoring the company’s vision with a consistent strategy.