Leadership

From the editor: Making up is hard to do

Written by Ian Portsmouth

Do you have any employees you just know you need to fire?

That big question was recently asked of the leaders of some of Canada’s brightest young businesses at GrowthCamp, the conference for this year’s PROFIT HOT 50 companies. It was posed by guest speaker Cameron Herold, who helped 1-800-GOT-JUNK? grow its annual system-wide sales from $2 million to $100 million during his seven-year tenure as the firm’s chief operating officer; today, he runs BackPocket COO, coaching growth-minded entrepreneurs. For about half the chief executives in the audience, the answer was “Yes” — although a reluctant one, given how sheepishly some CEOs raised their hands in response. After all, letting people go is an uncomfortable task — especially when you’re breaking the surprise news that your now ex-employee is an underperformer or a bad fit for your business.

But it’s not so tough when the tables are turned. So, here’s another big question: do you have any employees who are getting ready to fire you?

As this period of economic shock and awe comes to an end, the workforce is full of unhappy people. They’ve been expected to do a lot more with a lot less and, at countless companies, to pick up the slack created by layoffs. Undoubtedly, some managers have communicated such expectations as a threat — if you don’t do it, we’ll find someone else who will. Other managers have made the mistake of saying nothing at all — leaving employees to assume they’ll be next on the chopping block unless they put in a superhuman effort. Both are ham-fisted approaches to employee retention and motivation, but they’re effective when employees have no choice but to take their lumps.

But the clock is ticking down to payback time. As the economy grows, more jobs will be created and, before long, we’ll witness the resurrection of the labour shortage that died so suddenly last fall. All those employees who’ve been hanging on for dear life will have opportunities to work elsewhere. Bad bosses will have a lot of making up to do.

Do you think you’re a good boss? Then you still have your work cut out for you. Even before the recession, Canadians were losing confidence in the prospect of better times ahead; the downturn has only increased their doubt and anxiety. They want more certainty in their lives, of which their career is a huge part.

The challenges for post-recession leaders, then, will be to: create a positive vision of the future; communicate it simply and forcefully; show employees their role in actualizing the vision; give them the tools they need to succeed; and set a positive example. This isn’t motivational leadership; it’s inspirational leadership. The crucial difference: in the first, you move people toward your goals; in the second, you move people toward a goal they’ve adopted as theirs.

Tomorrow’s leaders will have to be authentic, too, operating with transparency and the humility to say, “I don’t know” and “I made a mistake” when, inevitably, assumptions are proven wrong and things don’t work out as planned. Sure, you’ll be revealing that you’re not perfect — but your people knew that anyway. What’s important is that you’ll be building trust — a key driver of employee engagement and, by extension, high performance.

Therein lies a tip for any people who, in reading this column, have realized what crappy bosses they’ve been. Go to your team, tell them you screwed up and say you’re sorry. Maybe making up isn’t so hard to do.

Speaking of high performance, this issue features the new and improved ranking of Canada’s Top Women Entrepreneurs, the PROFIT W100.

Applicants used to be measured solely on the basis of the total annual revenue of their companies; now, they’re ranked on a composite of revenue, revenue growth and profitability. We formulated this change with input from many W100 alumni, but it was still a difficult switch to make.

There’s beauty in simplicity, and annual revenue is more straightforward than any line you’ll find on an income statement. But we also wanted to recognize more recent performance (growth rate) and sustainability (profitability). As a result, you’ll find many unfamiliar faces on the list, including our new No. 1. You’ll find her and the rest of this year’s W100 coverage here.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com