September 9, 2015

Change creates possibilities

By Jacki Hart CLP

Prosperity Partners program manager


Would somebody please just wave a wand and make things better at work?

Starting up a business is hard work. Running a business is hard work. Tweaking a business on the fly is even harder work.

If you talk to industry employees long enough, sooner or later they admit that they have some unspoken (or secretively spoken) criticism of their employer and how things get done at work. If you're reading this, and you're one of them, my suggestion is to write your suggestion down, or ask your boss to make a few minutes to privately chat about something on your mind.

Complaining to oneself about something being bad or wrong is a useless waste of energy. It has no end, and no purposeful intent, other than dragging down the possibility of having a collaborative team. If there's waste somewhere, whether related to people resources or material resources, for Pete's sake pipe up! Think about it. If every employee in every business shares an observation from personal experience, just think of how much less tension, waste and conflict there would be, which in turn would help create more profit. Then, perhaps, more funds would be available for wages and benefits.

On the other hand, I can think of only a handful of business owners I've met who aren't entirely convinced they know the best way to do everything. They have created a culture which strikes fear in the hearts of most well-intentioned employees, who in turn would never consider sharing their opinion.

The gap can be crippling

Time and time again, I converse with business owners who desperately want someone to come in and fix their business-related headaches and problems. I have found that in a half-day or less, I can usually determine the top five sustainable improvements to reduce company-wide stress, improved company-wide attitudes and retention. Time and again, most of those five things revolve around communication, behaviour and problem-solving. What I also know, is that there are no magic wands. Change only starts when the pain becomes too uncomfortable.

It usually takes years to build a system, try it out and find that you goofed. The bad news is that unless behaviours change, new systems usually won't stick. Start by asking everyone on the team name a benefit of change. The first thing they will say is they WANT things to be different and better. They're just too afraid or unsure of how to go about starting a conversation to change things.

Many of the problems are the result of a stressed-out, multi-tasking, over-burdened boss who is running flat-out, trying to keep all of the balls in the air and still show a profit at the end of the year. He is the same person who lacks experience in how to effectively manage people, communication, and problem solving. It feels impossible to step back and take a breath when things are coming at you from all directions and at the speed of lighting.

It's way easier to see the forest for the trees, when you are standing on the outside looking in. It's even easier to commiserate with each other about what's being done wrong by the boss, than it is to take some action, and offer genuine input and ideas. Ideas spark change. Change creates new possibilities. 

Most green trade business owners, especially those with fewer than 10 employees, are exhausted at this time of year. Pressure is coming from all angles: logistics, cash flow, technical competence, changing project scope, (that's what I call it when a customer asks, "While you're here, would you also do ......."), capacity to perform the work booked to expectation, job costs, quality and family. This is when you should all step back as a team. Try the suggestions below.

Employees, answer the following:

If I were the boss here, I would stop doing __________________ immediately.

Instead, I would start doing ________________.

The result of making this change would be _________________.

The benefit to the employees in making this change would be ___________________.

The benefit to the company would be ______________________.

Here are some or all of the steps I think would help in making this change, ______.

Don't limit your answers to the space in this column! Take as much space as you need to explain in your own words what should change, why, and how.

Employers answer these questions:

Without looking at my employees' answers, here are the things I think they might identify as needing to change (list one for every employee): _____________________________________

Here's why I haven't changed them (list a reason for every item): ________________________________

If I had some ideas and buy-in from staff, I would really like to change the following: _________________.

Share the list

The employer must share the list with the employees. By doing so, staff members now know what the boss wishes to do differently, but just isn't there yet. Staff can then start to think of ideas on how to make these changes possible.

The employees each present their lists, in confidence, to the employer. By doing so, they aren't worried about others judging their idea, and their idea is finally in the hands of the only person who can initiate change to act upon the suggestion. It's a step closer to making the problem go away.

I have seen this simple exercise create new levels of mutual respect and engagement in many companies. You have nothing to lose, no matter what your role in the company. The only risk is of being honest and well-intentioned to make work a better place for everyone. It's a pretty safe bet, in my opinion.

Good luck!

Make the time to come in from the frantic pace of your business, and get a handle on your journey to prosperity. Go to to learn more.

Jacki Hart may be contacted at