This past week I’ve been interviewing prospective participants for our new “Noise Reduction System®” training which was created by Larry Linne. It focuses on teaching Second-In-Command (SIC) managers (anyone who answers directly to the owner, the First-In-Command or FIC) how to communicate, lead and think more effectively.
Last week in “Never, never, never, never give up” I discussed the resistance we get from employees to change. How your employees prefer to learn one way of doing things, and push back when owners try to innovate.
Perhaps I should have read my own column more carefully, because this week I went right out and ran into the same problem I had just warned you against.
Several of my interviews were with both the FIC and the SIC together. I realized that the SIC’s were campaigning against enrolling in the program! In every meeting, the FIC was trying to say why he thought it was a good idea, and the SIC was rebutting him point by point.
I was surprised, since the whole purpose of the NRS approach is to make the SICs more valuable to the owner. Why wouldn’t they jump at the chance to become an even bigger element in the company’s success? What was the harm? Who would it hurt, especially since the boss was in favor of it already?
I couldn’t change the meeting participants on the fly, so I began listening more closely to the dialogue that passed between the three of us.
FIC: “So tell me, what will my SIC get from this?”
JFD: “Well, we work with a number of tools to teach your SIC how to keep you better informed, and how to walk through a decision making process that is based on your vision for the company.”
FIC: “That sound great.”
SIC: “But boss, when do I make decisions you don’t approve of? I always do exactly as you want, that’s why you depend on me.”
It continued throughout all the points. “We will help your SIC understand how to better communicate with you on a daily basis… ” SIC: “But boss, we talk together all day long. You know about everything I do! What don’t you know?”
“We can free up much more of your time to do the things you do best…” SIC: “But boss, all you have to do is tell me what you need me to do. Don’t I do it? Do I not do anything you tell me to do?”
The class itself wasn’t a threat to the SIC. Every one of them admitted that he or she would like to be in a peer group, and have a place to discuss and learn more about running a business. In fact, they were worried that the FIC’s interest in the program is because they (the SICs) are somehow failing in their job performance.
Because the SIC is in the room, the FIC can’t discuss what he or she would like to see happen without embarrassing the SIC in front of a stranger. Every owner wishes for someone who would take more from them; who would proactively look for ways to free up the owner’s time and attention. Every owner wants an SIC (or several) that keeps them fully informed about what they need to know, and acts as a cut out for the “noise,” the things that they don’t want to deal with, but have to do because no one else does it.
The approach of any effort to improve SIC performance is to take the responsibility on yourself. It is what we do as owners and leaders every single day. You would say “I have delegated, and you have taken, everything I think you can. I know you are able to be an even bigger asset to this business, but I’ve been unsuccessful in determining how to make that happen to the level I would like. If I am to be more effective, it has to come from you proactively identifying what you can do, not from what I think you can do.”
Your key employees hold their positions because they accomplished things that others couldn’t. They are proud of that distinction, and of the recognition that their title and responsibilities gives them. If you want them to be even better, it can’t come from making them feel that they aren’t doing the job well enough. They just don’t know what they don’t know. Growth will come by giving them permission to stretch without the fear that they will fail.