Pay Attention to Not Paying Attention
Are your employees regulated by a different clock than you are? Is there something about today's short-term, instant gratification, now-not-later culture that that carves out different goals for entrepreneurs and those who work for them?
I believe the answer is an immediate "yes." Think about it. Entrepreneurs work within a long-term (or at least a medium-term) time horizon. That's one of the benefits of running a business that isn't imprisoned by quarterly earnings reports and the need to pander to snarky analysts. For you -- if you're one of the entrepreneurs who normally read this column -- the now serves the later, and the later is created by the now.
Now consider your employees. The younger ones were raised on a quick-cut, game-reset, MTV culture where nothing is really permanent. They've seen their mothers and fathers get screwed by staying in their jobs and assuming that loyalty was a two-way street. And it's not just big companies that are heartless: Willy Loman didn't exactly work for IBM.
In this fruit fly world, relationships need not have a shelf-life beyond sushi: note the phenomenon of commitment-free "hook-ups" as part of the dating scene. (Being published this month: The Happy Hook-Up, a Single Girl's Guide to Casual Sex.)
As for older employees, they're often more focused on building their careers than building your business. There are a number of reasons for this. Working for intense, but often erratic, business owners has given entrepreneurs something of a bad name in the employment marketplace. So while many want to experience what it's like to work for a small or medium-sized company, they have no intention of enduring the heat (and the weekend e-mails) for long. Entrepreneurs are also famous for not letting go, which turns off many who are anxious to assume more responsibility.
So what can an entrepreneur do about these strong cultural headwinds? First you need to recognize them and be alert to their manifestations. Be on the lookout for staff who are ready to abandon strategic projects and initiatives out of what is really nothing more than disguised boredom. Or those who exaggerate the obstacles so they can move onto something new and more immediately seductive. Your job is to keep them on track and not be distracted by frustrating barriers -- not an easy task because entrepreneurs are naturally impatient. This requires a lot of self-discipline.
You should also go to great lengths to explain your culture, your vision, and your level of business patience to prospective employees who are being recruited at any level. Make it clear that you're not interested in those who want to make a quick hit and move on, that substantial rewards will come to those who work with you and the team to achieve the vision.
To accomplish this, make sure your rewards and incentives are structured in the right way. You need to balance the need for performance with the creation of an Action Culture that is informed by a calm yet driven focus on the future. Find a way to compensate key people for incremental but important success in moving towards a large goal -- rather than for loud short-term victories that are more are style than substance.
It's no secret that obstacles to entrepreneurial passion are everywhere, and quite well documented at that. You need to look no further than the chilly reception of banks and landlords to the difficulties you have doing business with big companies (not to mention the biggest company of all: the Federal government). A less-celebrated problem is the challenge of aligning your business goals with the personal and career goals of your employees. They want it yesterday, and you're waiting for tomorrow.
If you can put them on EST -- Entrepreneurial Success Time -- you'll find it can make a big difference to your business. And not a moment too soon.
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