Is Stress Killing Your Organization’s Performance?

By Larry Girouard

I remember meeting with the president of a $20M company a few years back, and he said, “ … I wish I could come into work one hour later each day …”.  His daily start time was 7am! He had built a very successful business, and yet he felt the need to come in at 7am in the morning because he had too much work on his plate.

The easy answer, and solution, to his wish would be to hire a $15-$20/hour person to do some of the work that really did not need his expertise. He could then focus on the $150/hour work that addresses the more strategic and tactical issues that face his business. Better said, he was one hire away from solving his problem. While that is the quick solution, the more important question focuses on the culture of the company that has resulted in him not being able to, or having the will to, delegate this $15-$20/hour work to someone else within the company.

If the president and management team are under stress to get all the day’s work complete, you can bet that this stress will trickle, or free fall, down to the rank and file.  How can it not?

Company stress starts at the top, and can be immobilizing for an organization, big or small.There are several things a business owner and the management team can do to reduce stress, but they have to be willing to make a few changes. Driving change is the Achilles’ heel for most small companies because management is change averse. We have always done it that way pervades the company culture. Change up, down and across the organization chart is resisted, and this resistance almost always starts at the top.

Below is a list of 5 suggestions for you to consider for reducing company stress, but like most lists, they only have value if an organization is committed to change. Many more suggestions could be added to this list, but I view these as near the top of the importance scale.

  1. Declutter Your Environment …. A cluttered work space seems to be a “rite of passage” for most small business owners.  Perhaps it is because of their entrepreneurial nature, but most of the small businesses I have toured often look like they have been snapped out of the TV show Hoarding.  The statement “everything has a place, and everything should be in its space” is the mantra for the organized work space. There are many articles on organizing a workspace. Most rightly focus on the central idea that the important stuff you use every day to do your job needs to be at arm’s length for quick access. Those items used a little less frequently are placed in the general work space area, and the items that are rarely, if ever, used are located in a place far far away. You will find that by following this approach you will remove at least 60% of the items in your space. Now you have room to organize the rest of the items for quick access. Here is a quick test.  Open up the top drawer of your desk, take a good look at the organization of its contents, and then use the above approach strictly for the items you see. You will be amazed how much “stuff” you will eliminate.
  2. Set Clear Goals for Management and all Employees … While this item needs more than a few lines, setting corporate goals that all employees are aware of helps to take away everyone’s more internal focus and concentrate on these external goals. This will help to better align activities.  While you may not have a strategic plan, you do have a vision regarding where you want to go. This is a great place to start.
  3. Focus on Helping Other People … like setting company goals, if you help other people this takes the focus off of you. Also, as an owner or manager, your success is largely dependent on the success of your reports. While you certainly have some goals that are mutually exclusive from the people that report to you, most require the activities of employees to realize the goals of your position.
  4. Take Action … if business owners, and their management teams, take a few minutes to step away from the day to day “crisis du jour” and look at the business more holistically, it is easy to begin to identify things that can be improved. Rather than just talk about them, take some action on one or two big issues and start to make improvements. By proactively acting to improve the current state you will regain control of the business and begin to see the power of change.  It is most important that the results of any change be quantified.  This will validate the change process and encourage more. Getting your employees involved with their input during the change process is a critical ingredient in making any change sustainable.
  5. Share Your Profits … if you look at your business from the standpoint of who adds most of the value to the service or product that your customers are buying, there is only one answer >>> your employees. Management in most companies is really overhead. Employees want to know where the “ship of state” is going, and what their role is in getting there. When the goal is reached they want to share in the success.

Change itself will initially add stress to your organization, but this type of stress is constructive. If taken seriously by the business owner and management team, the return on this investment in time, emotion and money will be off the charts. Every journey starts with the first step. It’s your move.

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