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Unethical, but not illegal

What would you give to win, to hit gold, to achieve your dreams? In many sports we are becoming accustomed to being on or even at the top of the podium. Even in the snow, where we are rarely at our best (witness the recent transport problem) we are winning Olympic medals.

In the Summer Olympics, after coming third in the medals table in London and second in Rio, and with Great Britain dominating sports like rowing and cycling, there’s an expectation of success.

Success is of course based on performance and the results it delivers. And the criteria for success depends on the context and who’s ‘judging’.

In sport, that means medals and personal performance. In business, success is measured by criteria such as growth and profitability. And while encouraging people to their limit is almost a given in sports – indeed, cycling has seen accusations of a bullying culture as well as other “unethical” practices – in my experience, the same is rarely true in small businesses. The autocratic business owner, whipping their team towards greater output, is not the norm.

Performance ‘at all costs’ is rare in small businesses

If you are a business owner you will probably have connections in your local business community. These connections make owners sensitive to the lives of their employees and the role the job has in their employees and their employees families’ lives. In my 15 years as a business adviser, I’ve seen most business owners as compassionate, caring and willing to share the benefits of success – and as importantly, wanting to be seen as such. What is sometimes missing is the skill, experience and judgement to deliver business success in this way.

The vast majority of business owners have a pretty balanced view on what they’re trying to achieve. Yes they want growth. Yes they want to improve business performance and profitability. But they also want other aspects, as well: happy, productive employees, a positive local reputation, employees being emotionally invested in the business, and so on.

Sometimes, this can mean business owners compromise and make concessions on the business performance because they don’t want to push their people too hard. We all want to be liked, after all. But, at the same time as being liked, by their team, a business owner might be frustrated that they aren’t improving performance.

Improving performance without losing that balance

The overwhelming evidence is, you can improve business performance without sacrificing your business’s culture – happy employees and high performance aren’t mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite. It can be a tricky balance to strike, particularly if you are starting from a position where you need to make changes to achieve that ideal balance.

If you had to make a decision on which to put first, your team or the business performance, which would you choose? Of course it’s a false choice – the two are inextricably linked. So in the pursuit of high performance would you ‘bend the rules’, ‘push the boundaries’, adopt ‘unethical’ practices or operate in the ‘grey area’ because nothing in business and life is ‘black and white’?

Your answers will tell you a lot about your own sense of people and performance balance as well as your own compass on who is ‘judging’ or applying the rules.

If you want to improve business performance, but have concerns about the impact it might have on your team, talk to Henchards. We’ll work with you to improve business performance in a balanced, sustainable way – delivering success whilst enhancing your business’s unique culture and brand.

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Outspoken Projects

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