“But We Tied Our Shoes!”

Blog Written by Ester Pike, MSc.Occ.Psy., GMBPsS, Founder and CEO of Fledge Solutions Inc.

When Your Business Gets In Its Own Way

One of the most challenging hurdles leaders face when working with me on their businesses is realizing that the root causes of the difficulties they’ve been experiencing are often self-imposed. This realization can be particularly tough for leaders who have invested significant time, effort, and expertise in nurturing and growing their business to its current state. Despite their good intentions, it can feel akin to attempting to tie shoelaces only to discover they’ve inadvertently tangled them together. Acknowledging that the pain of stumbling was self-inflicted can sting more than the fall itself; however, this recognition is a crucial, albeit uncomfortable, step toward identifying and implementing effective solutions for growth.

How Can I Be the Problem?

Businesses enlist the expertise of an Occupational Psychology consultant for various purposes. Whether it is to help navigate organizational change, enhance leadership capabilities, craft tailored recruitment strategies, or boost overall staff satisfaction and engagement, these are all great reasons to call someone like me. Now, most of my clients possess a firm grasp of their operational landscape. Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats—they’ve been in the business long enough to be aware of the nuances of their situation and have a firm understanding of what makes it tick. But despite any well-meaning intentions, vast access to resources, or their potential for growth, they sometimes overlook the role they themselves play as impediments to their business’s progress and success. Here are just a handful of the most common ways I’ve witnessed this dynamic with clients:

Frustrated Employee

Poor Leadership

Of all the possible reasons to be given, critiques of poor leadership can sting the most because it feels personal. The most common feedback heard in companies where poor leadership is identified includes a lack of alignment with staff, resistance to feedback, unclear vision, and a failure to cultivate a collaborative and innovative culture. These comments can feel hurtful if the leader isn’t ready to hear them and are often met with either an immediate explanation of how these issues are out of their control or a prompt rebuttal stating why it is actually all the staff’s fault. Effective leadership is something that has become somewhat of a corporate buzzword. Although reading “Top 10 things all powerful leaders do” articles can be alluring and easy to apply fixes, the authors of these have written those suggestions without knowing anything about you or the people that you are responsible for. This is exactly why well-intentioned leaders can often feel lost in the slew of information on how they should be leading on a daily basis. The problem with most of these guidelines is they are not specific to you. They are an oversimplification of what are truly complex leadership dynamics and lack consideration of individual context. Without a clear understanding of your own unique individual leadership personality and how to leverage your strengths while mitigating your areas of development, it will be difficult to navigate the individual differences of the team you are leading. Relying on generic and superficial solutions isn’t going to cut it with your frustrated team if you’re unable to take an objective look at your own leadership performance.

Cultural Issues

Corporate culture does not just exist; it is something that is continually shaped, whether consciously or not. Many businesses go through some form of strategic planning process, spending 1-2 days in a retreat creating a Mission, Vision, and Values statement only to stick the report in the bottom of a drawer and never look at it again until the next planning cycle. A culture is critical to the functioning of any organization, and in the absence of a clearly defined or appropriately applied culture, your staff will fill the gap by inadvertently making one themselves. The problem with that is the resulting culture that gets created will be a mismatched combination of whatever the most common or loudest traits of your team are and may not necessarily match what your business has claimed to stand for, especially if your recruitment didn’t include any focus on ensuring the staff you hire are aligned with your stated cultural vision and values. This combination often results in the festering feelings of distrust, lack of collaboration, or resistance to new ideas, all of which hinder growth by demoralizing employees and stifling creativity and innovation. Creating regular operational practices that stem directly from your strategic visioning exercises and involving your team in a structured process of culture building is important to ensuring a healthy culture is maintained.

Short-term Thinking

Businesses that have been grown from the ground up can have some hiccups when transitioning from a small to medium enterprise and some major bumps when growing from medium to large. This can be down to any number of reasons, but one I have commonly seen is due to the increased need to focus on long-term growth strategies and no longer on the daily survival of the business. When taking into consideration the natural growth of most business owners, it can be somewhat of a daunting transition from thinking short-term endurance to long-term investment. Yet, the more growth that is experienced, the less space there is to prioritize immediate financial gains over strategic investments and sustainable practices. Cutting corners on quality control measures, cost reductions that undermine product reliability and customer satisfaction in the long run, neglecting crucial investments in research and staff development all these hinder innovation and stifle future competitiveness. Placing such a strong emphasis on short-term financial metrics may lead to decisions that prioritize quarterly earnings over building enduring customer relationships, brand loyalty, and reputation as an employer of choice. While short-term gains may offer temporary boosts to the bottom line, they often come at the expense of long-term viability and success.

Resistance to Change/Failure to Adapt

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Stability of processes and procedures is something that is a major strength for any business that can achieve it. I am never one to suggest unnecessary changes and updates purely for the sake of change. But you also shouldn’t wait for something to break in your business before deciding to do something about it. Doing that is the corporate equivalent of hearing a funny noise coming from your car engine and deciding the appropriate solution is to turn the radio volume up. It still runs, after all! Many organizations end up with entrenched processes and procedures (as well as people) that can provide some steadfast resistance to change. “This is the way we’ve always done it” can severely hamper adaptability and agility, resulting in an inability to respond effectively to emerging challenges or seize new opportunities for growth and innovation. But holding this against people is neither helpful nor fair. In the contemporary digital landscape, change is taking place at such a high rate that many are tired of needing to constantly evolve just to keep up. Yet the stakes of resisting change are higher than ever before. Companies that cling to outdated practices and technologies risk being left behind in an increasingly competitive market environment. The psychology of change is a complex one, and there are many factors to take into consideration that it is no wonder that Change and Development is often a separate specialty in and of itself. The key is, Change doesn’t have to be a drag.

Inefficient Resource Allocation

I have often seen this present itself as a misalignment between the amount of time, money, talent, or other resources that those who are doing the work believe are required versus the amount that those who run the business believe should be used. Although it is important to keep a tight rein on spending and ensure accountability practices with all staff are in place, underinvesting in talent development, overinvesting in low-return projects, or failing to allocate sufficient resources to research and development will only lead to a frustrated workforce and an inevitable revolving door of employees, leading to reputational damage as an employer. At its core, this issue is a matter of ineffective or unclear prioritization. What you spend the most time and money on growing or developing will be considered the most important thing in your business, and your staff is often paying more attention to those cues than you think. If you want anything to grow, you must invest resources into it. Implementing transparency in resource allocation decisions and a healthy balance of priorities ensures everyone is on the same page regarding what can be expected in terms of both input and output.

Co-workers Learning and Working Together Effectively

Now What Do I Do?

The good news in all of this? It is all fixable. The shoelaces aren’t permanently tied together forever, and there is no shame in asking for some help after a fall. We can address all these challenges through any combination of strategic planning sessions, effective leadership training, and a commitment to fostering a culture of continuous improvement and adaptation. But there is one key precursor to these interventions that is critical to being able to maintain the results. There is a wonderful little word called “Self-awareness” that you will often hear me preach about in most situations, and that is because it is the first and foremost primary key step for progress, growth, and success, hands down, full stop. Self-awareness is coming to the realization that you, as an individual, as a leader, and as a business collective, are always going to be a work-in-progress. The path to success is never complete. There is no such thing as being “done” in leadership. Once you adopt that mentality, it is easier to let go of the “yucky” feelings associated with feedback and review and see it for the opportunity for growth these moments of challenge truly provide. If you suspect that somewhere within your business operations, you might be inadvertently tying your shoes together, I encourage you to reach out. Let’s embark on a collaborative journey to examine and untangle the knots that are hindering your progress. By addressing these challenges head-on, we can pave the way for sustainable growth and long-term success, not only for your business but also for the individuals within your organization. Your proactive approach to identifying and resolving obstacles will undoubtedly foster a culture of resilience and innovation, positioning your company for continued prosperity in an ever-evolving market landscape.

Learn More from Ester Pike at the Candian Digital Marketing Summit

This article was written by Ester Pike, Founder and CEO of Fledge Solutions Inc.. Ester is also a distinguished speaker at our Candian Digital Marketing Summit (CDMS). If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to extend your learning with Ester Pike at the CDM Summit on May 23rd at Kelowna’s University of British Columbia. Ester will join us for a compelling fireside chat where she will discuss “The Psychology of Sustainability in Business.” Here, we will dive deeper into how sustainable practices can be psychologically integrated into business strategies for long-term success. Buy your tickets now.