The Most Important Success Factor in Your Business

09/09/2014 04:30 pm ET Updated Nov 09, 2014

There are No Great Companies, Without Great People

Last year, Alex was invited to be a speaker at a global entrepreneurial conference in Greece. There were more than 1,400 business owners and CEOs from around the world. The energy that this conference created was absolutely amazing.

Even with this diverse group composed of business professionals from every corner of the globe - the issues and challenges discussed were familiar. In fact, one of the questions that repeatedly came up was, "What is the one thing I should do to grow my business faster?" That is a critical question.

For me the answer is simple....

Know and grow your people.

I fully believe that people are the single most important success factor within any organization.

The People Problem

As entrepreneurs, we need to face facts-there is a massive people problem in business. The sooner we acknowledge and understand this issue, the faster we can use it to our advantage. After all, a level playing field is great in sports. However, in business, I want every advantage I can get, and so should you.

The Gallup Organization has been conducting international employee satisfaction surveys since about 1999. They have polled over 25 million employees in 189 countries. When it comes to knowing what is going on in the minds of a workforce, Gallup is not merely a good source; they are the source.

The results of their most recent poll are nothing short of alarming! If you are a business owner who doesn't know your people--you should get to know them, or you will soon be losing sleep over these findings.

Here's what Gallup found:
  • 63% of workers are 'not engaged', which means unhappy and pretty much checked out. They maintain the minimum workload necessary to keep their jobs.
  • 24% are 'actively disengaged' which means they are really unhappy, act out, undermine your company, and distract the people around them. Basically, they hate their jobs.
  • 13% are engaged. This means that they feel a sense of passion and connection to what they do, and to helping your company move forward.

I'm sure you would agree these results are dismal news for business owners.

As business owners, we pay salaries whether our team is leveraged, productive, and efficient or not. This means we're making the same investment in a person who is producing 'actively disengaged', results as we would get the results from someone who is fully and passionately engaged.

The Original Disruptive Technology

You have probably heard the term disruptive technology. If you haven't, it is the elusive goal of most of the tech companies in Northern California. They're looking for that new disruptive technology that will upend an industry, give them a strategic advantage, and launch them ahead of the competition. Review the numbers above- a full 87% of people who go to work every day do not want to be there! How disruptive is it? How far ahead of the competition would you be if you could reverse these percentages and get 87% of the people who work with you excited about their day?

I realize I'm not the first person to bring up the fact that our people are our most important asset. I have, however, spent the last 20 years studying exactly how to get the highest level of performance out of a team while maintaining the highest level of job satisfaction. Not convinced? In 2011, Inc. Magazine ranked the Charfen Institute as the 21st fastest-growing company in United States. We repeated on their list in 2012 and 2013. For perspective, from 2007 to 2011, we grew over 9,000%. Few companies ever achieve this type of growth, and even fewer survive it. In that same time we were voted one of the best places to work in Austin each year based on surveys that were sent to our team.

Focusing on your team isn't difficult, does not need to cost a lot of money or time, and can be rewarding in ways that you may not expect. The challenge is that the vast majority of entrepreneurs are just not wired to pay attention to their people. Even worse, many see the people on their team the same way they see the printer in the corner; just a tool to get work done.

We can do better than this.

Know your People, Know and Grow your Company.

People are the heart of any business. They devote their time and effort to the business and move the business forward. Most leaders put way more time into the software they use or the office space they have than they do into the people they work with.

I know that for many the question is - "What does this really mean?". I get it. There are not a lot of courses in school or business discussions that explain how to get to know your team better. Here is the good news; there are resources that you can use that will give you information about your team that are insightful and easy to understand.

We use the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory, the Gallup Strengths Finders Assessment, and the DISC Profile. Each gives us a different view of the person on our team. MBTI is for personality preferences and it reveals introvert versus extrovert. Strengths Finder lets us know where people have natural strengths. The DISC Profile gives us a tool to better communicate and understand ideal communication styles.

We have this information for each of our team members and it lets us accomplish a tremendous amount. Every one of our job descriptions includes the following statement; "and any additional requests necessary to move the organization forward". In other words, we will all carry boxes and clean out closets if needed!

We rarely ask anyone to carry boxes, although anyone in our company would if asked. We do, however, constantly request that team members step outside their job description to help get things done. Because I have the data above, I know I have a Business Coach on staff who is amazing with numbers and data. I have an operations person that is happy to make sales calls when needed. We know exactly which support rep a technical question should be routed to, and we know exactly which one should speak to the upset customers.

In our organization we have thrown the normal rules out the window. Rather than put people into boxes called 'job descriptions', we actively play to people's strengths and get them involved where they can make an impact. Often, I have shared this secret with other business owners, and they always seem to have the fear that if someone is asked to do something outside of their job description that there will be complaining, challenges, and that maybe we will push them into the 'actively disengaged' category described above! These are all valid concerns, however, we don't experience any of these issues.

We don't just arbitrarily ask anyone here to do anything; instead we analyze and understand who is naturally confident and competent at a certain task , and we ask them to step up. This way we put people in a position to succeed, and since they are working in their strengths, they also have fun! During my consulting career I watched more people run away from responsibility than step up and take it. I am always excited to watch our team when there is the offer to join a initiative or project, rarely is someone who is included challenged by it. On the contrary, most of the time those who are not included become frustrated!

Allow people to play to their strengths, and you will be shocked at the productivity and efficiency that is created within your organization.

Empower your Team as Creators

I often tell our event audiences that what separates human beings from every other animal is that we are creators. We are the only species that creates. We imagine something, then make it happen. I believe that creating is a necessary outlet for people to be happy and satisfied. Our natural tendency to create runs contrary to the management style of most entrepreneurs. It sounds like a cliché, however, many do believe, 'if it is going to get done right then I am going to have to do it myself.' I have been there, and I have felt exactly the same way. It usually starts with a bad day; I find something wrong somewhere that leads to me seeing another error or issue somewhere within my team. At that point, now that I am actively looking for errors, I can find dozens of things that are wrong!

You have probably experienced this type of a spiral before if you have led any size of a team at all. However, there is a big difference between thinking everything is broken and you are the only person who could possibly affect a solution, and the reality of the situation. Entrepreneurs usually cringe when I tell them that- the fact is we are not great - or even good at everything. We should not be doing most things. In fact, we should be focused on the highest and best result that we individually can get for our companies. The only way we can do this is if we involve our team. This is where our team and our clients use the incredible power of co-creation. Co-creation is simple, incredibly effective, and will let you see the hidden talents of the people you work with every day.

The co-creation process is simple:
  • As the leader you set the destination and the goal.
  • Create the boundaries within which your team should operate. (What is involved in the project? What is the budget?)
  • Then involve your team and their input as you develop a plan to achieve the goal and reach your destination.
  • Be intentional, let them know that you want them empowered as co-creator's and that you value their input.

We have trained thousands of entrepreneurs in this process. For the majority, the power of co-creation has driven new levels of organizational success. We know from the research and the feedback we have gotten from our clients and team that people will support you when you ask them to, but they will passionately support that which they were allowed to co-create. We have found that once you involve team members in the creation process, things get easier. You as a leader will be allowed to stay within your strengths and make a higher contribution, and your team will be happy. I know that for many people in leadership a 'happy team' may not necessarily be the highest goal, we are generally focused on profitability, quarterly and annual goals, and the long list of objectives that need to be accomplished. I have worked with teams of people that are incredibly happy like the one we have today. As a consultant, I experienced teams of people that were not happy. In 100% of cases, happy teams dramatically outperformed teams of people who were not.

Focus on your team's satisfaction and happiness, and you will quickly see your results and profits improve.

Invest and Decrease your Salary Overhead

If you are paying someone a salary simply to occupy a position in your company--that just doesn't make sense. If they can do more in that position and give you a higher level of output, your return on investment increases significantly. In other words, help your people become smarter, they will deliver more value, and you will get more for what you are paying! It never fails when we start to talk to entrepreneurs about training their teams and making them more effective, the question always comes up, 'what if I train my people, they get smarter, and then they go work somewhere else?' I fully understand the fear, and we've even had it happen to us. We have invested in a team member, and then they left the company, but this was the exception rather than the rule in our company culture.

In order to grow my business and to be able to play to my strengths, I prefer to focus on the incredible team we have today. We have spent thousands of dollars per person on learning events, training, team building, and more, and we will continue to invest in our people.

The secret to really getting to know your team is that you may end up like us, enjoying the people you work with, feeling vested in their success, having the passionate support of co-creators, and experiencing the type of success every entrepreneur sets out to achieve.

Alex & Cadey Charfen are the Co-Founders of the Charfen Institute.