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MONEY

Who's Holding Your Company Back?

A hard look at your financials can give you some clues.

Do you ever hear these thoughts running through your head as you ponder your company's financials?

"That's a great idea! It will really help us grow. But even with everyone else on the team behind it, we will need to get him on board. We can't get it done without him."

"But that's not how it's done; we do it this way. He's always handled that part. And he's not changing."

"Once again, she was the reason we grew this year. That's three years in a row that she led new business generation for us. No one else is even close to her production."

All of these scenarios point to one question: Do your employees hold back your financial growth? Or are they catalysts who help drive it forward? 

Your organization, whatever the size, has critical dependencies on key people. You are likely one of them. Those individuals can either lead your business toward success or inhibit it. 

You might already have processes in place to figure this out--perhaps a semiannual or annual review, where managers provide feedback to employees. These reviews often take the form of a manager telling the employee what he or she did well and where improvement is necessary. 

These reviews often fail to determine if someone isn't creating real value for your company, mainly because the conversation mostly focuses on the manager's feedback, not on how well that employee is doing for the company.

It's difficult to diagnose these inhibitors to growth, but statements like the ones cited above hint that your company may be suffering. Yet, you and your managers muddle through because facing up to the person holding you back is not fun. 

What can you do when you realize that certain employees are holding back your growth, while only a select few are creating most of the value?

Engage in "real" reviews: Invest the time to prepare and take a holistic approach. Read across all the reviews as a group, and consider which employees contribute consistently and which ones do not.  Consider whether some employees have impeded your company's development. Don't focus too much on minor personality or issues. Instead, ask yourself: If this person left tomorrow, would we be upset? And if we had someone better in this role, would we as a company be better off?  Be brutally honest. 

Hire smarter/better/complementary to you: Fixing a personnel problem starts at the beginning.  By hiring employees who are either smarter than or complementary to you and your current employees, you raise the bar and propel your whole organization forward.  Strong new blood can often motivate current employees to go further faster. Don't be threatened by new stars. Embrace them.

If it's always about you, it's not a company: Train your human resources microscope on yourself, too.  Are all major sales running through you? Do customers always call you when there is a problem? Are all decisions at your feet? If the answer to those questions is yes, then you aren't managing a company. You are managing yourself. For real success, you need to empower others to get some leverage from your employees. You may be putting your company at risk if all of the value is coming from you. At a minimum you're restricting your company's potential for growth.

"We let him go too fast:"  Ever hear that one? Rarely. Once you start to feel like someone is holding you back, don't brush that feeling aside. It's never fun to let someone go, but if they are truly holding back your company, you owe it to yourself and your other employees to move them along. 

Letting someone go who is holding your company back often leads them to find a job that suits them better, and unleashes more growth on your side than you expected. 

People decisions are harder than any other decisions in a small company. Each person matters more because they are a larger percentage of the workforce, and any decision can feel even more personal.  But don't let people--yourself included--hold your company back.

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IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Sep 5, 2013

ED POWERS | Columnist | Head of Capital Access Funds, Bank of America

Based in New York, Ed Powers is a managing director and head of the Capital Access Funds team at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Capital Access Funds is an experienced, returns-driven private equity fund-of-funds.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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