Common business questions

Today, I want to give you a look into the most common business questions that are asked from the mindset of an entrepreneur in consulting and the arts, (music, design, film/photography.

I believe without the shadow of a doubt that everyone has an entrepreneurial mindset in some respect or another. Whether that mindset comes out or not depends on whether you pursue the opportunities that truly excite you most.

These business questions are submitted to me by an audience over my various social media channels and viewership, hopefully, they are helpful to those who are curious about my answers to these questions and the logic behind them!

Without further ado, let’s ask (and answer) some of these common management and business questions to give you a different perspective on how to tackle these issues!

Oh, and one more thing! If YOU want to submit a business question to be answered by myself in the next edition, please click the “contact me” link (not the “book an appointment” link).

When should a person be fired, or trained?

Should you fire them or train them?

Alright, first of all, big thank you to Samantha S. for asking the first of these business questions! Firing and hiring V.s. training and coaching have been hot topics in the management space for quite a while. I also assume that this person is moving from a position of competence to one of incompetence.

In the book The Peter Principle, Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull mention that people can only rise so far in an organization until they meet their “level of incompetence.” Put simply, they show exceptional skill and ability until they are in a position where they don’t, and they stay there or suffer one of a few consequences (“lateral arabesque,” etc.).

In terms of hiring or firing, the idea is that you fire the incompetent and hire the (hopefully) competent. Now, when it comes to coaching and training, the idea is that you make the incompetent person competent.

Let me tell you the same story that my father told me, regarding this conundrum:

Long ago there was a steel manufacturer named Bethlehem Steel Company. They jumped right into the steelmaking industry at the end of the industrial revolution (think the mid to late 1800s).

Well, although they were the “new kids on the block” in terms of steelmaking, and were crowded with competition, they somehow were able to produce more steel and at less relative cost than the competition. Obviously, their competitors were quite distraught at this.

When the executives of Bethlehem Steel were asked how, this is what they answered:

Bethlehem Steel: We hire farmers and pay them above competitive wages.

Competitors: How does that work?! Farmers and Steelworkers are entirely different!

Bethlehem Steel: Anybody can learn to make steel, but a strong work ethic is much rarer to stumble across. We hire farmers because we can teach them to make steel, yet also benefit from the work ethic that comes naturally with people who wake up early, work hard all day doing difficult and demanding things, and never take a day off. These people, due to their work ethic, produce twice as much steel. Yet they are happy because we pay them above the competition, they will never leave our organization.

In other words, Bethlehem Steel took advantage of a rift in production/labor costs due to the work ethic of their employees. Instead of a relative 1/1 ratio of workers to the amount of steel produced, they had 1 worker per 2 (relative to the competition) steels produced. They paid that worker 1.5 times the competition to ensure loyalty.

Therefore, they had twice the steel production, for less cost than it would take their competitors. The point is this: does your employee demonstrate a lack of character and work ethic or a lack of skill only?

Skills can be taught rather easily and quickly, a work ethic…not so much. If you have an employee that is normally gung-ho about their duties, it would be beneficial to teach them the skills they need to maintain a person with a beneficial work ethic in your team.

However, if their attitude presents issues in terms of work ethic and laziness, it likely wouldn’t be beneficial to train them. All it is is a difference in values v.s. skills. Fire and Hire if the values don’t line up, but train and coach when the skills don’t line up.

I hope I was able to answer your question, Samantha!

How should you deal with a micromanaging boss?

Thank you to Tim J. for submitting one of the business questions!

Micromanagement is consistently ranked for the top things that are sure to decrease employee satisfaction and productivity, the fact that it still exists in the same capacity after all these years is amazing, but not unexpected. Let me explain:

Micromanagement is a systemic issue. The reason one boss micromanages is likely because their boss micromanages them and so on and so forth. This is why they try to be so involved and want everything done their way, it’s because they are directly on the line by their own superiors.

Micromanaging bosses do a lot to ensure they have control over a situation, that’s all they want. And, unfortunately, this desperation for control comes across to the team as pushy, untrusting, and insecure. All of which are sure to dampen a team’s creativity and, ironically, autonomy as well.

To deal with a micromanaging boss, you first need to try and understand why the boss needs so much control. Most often, it’s because THEIR boss is a micromanager too. But the benefit of understanding this is great.

If I understood why my boss felt the need for control, I can begin to take action to appease their worries before they need to become involved. Unfortunately, as an employee, it’s difficult to tell your boss that they are micromanagers, this might result in negative or biased treatment if it isn’t handled correctly. The best thing to do is to prove your willingness to help through actions.

As I start to take action that relieves some of my boss’s worries (the very reasons they become micromanaging in the first place) then I will undoubtedly garner more trust and respect from them as a result, I’m not saying you do their work, but ensure that your work is done so well that they feel no need to “butt-in.”

This trust, and your competence, will send the message that you no longer need to be a blip on their radar. Trust me when I say that no boss chooses willingly to worry about more than they absolutely have to.

If this doesn’t work for some reason, then another tactic you can take is to uncover the ‘why” behind your actions or responsibilities. This will ensure that you know the reasoning behind your boss’s demands and can perform well even when the boss isn’t present, which further enhances trust.

Let me give a basic example: My job is to flip a switch. That’s it. In fact, I don’t even know WHY I flip the switch (to turn on the lights in the store). All I know is that I go to work every day and flip a switch.

Now, what will happen if I go to work one day, flip the switch, and the lights don’t turn on? The boss will inevitably get upset at me for not “doing my job” when, in fact, I don’t even understand the WHY in the first place.

This is a result of me knowing only the HOW of my job and not the WHY. If I asked my boss WHY they wanted so much control over the “switch-flipping” perhaps I could gain a better understanding of my purpose in the company or in the team.

If I came to work with an understanding of the WHY, then I can work on changing lightbulbs and whatnot if the switch no longer works. Either way, the lights come on, and this garners trust and autonomy.

All your boss wants is for you to do what’s necessary to complete the “WHY,” they just happen to occasionally only explain the “HOW” and this causes micromanagement.

Give a brief overview of the consulting process? Let’s say we can’t afford a consultant, how can we do this ourselves?

Thank you Sara M. For submitting one of the business questions!

Alright, the funny thing is, executives are actually consultants in their own right. Executives, in a way, are supposed to be full-time consultants in their organization to fix issues, optimize performance, and minimize costs wherever they can. They do all this while keeping a business intact and functioning well.

However, there is a specific way that consultants attack problems given their thought process. It’s not hard to grasp, but it will certainly help you organize and apply solutions to the information you have around you!

I’m assuming we are going to avoid talking about certain consulting processes like finding clients and dealing with proposals (considering you are within the organization yourself). Either way, let’s jump into the 3 largest points of good consulting so that you can do it within your own organization!

Business Consulting Tip: Uncover the TRUE issue.

As a consultant, you need to be sure that the problems you are faced with are actual problems as opposed to SYMPTOMS of a LARGER problem. It is much more efficient and lasting to solve the issue as opposed to symptoms. Solving the issue itself will ensure the symptoms are also put to rest.

Therefore, the first step to thinking like a consultant is to explore the issue in terms of the broader picture. Is your issue industry-wide? Company-wide? or does it exist in only a specific department of your business?

What are the internal and external factors that are applying pressure on the organization to change? How does this affect the situation?

There are so many questions to ask before you can really dive into the true root of an issue. Ultimately, it depends on the nature of the problem you face and whether it is a result of internally-influenced factors or external non-influence-able factors.

Either way, the first step is to ensure you know what the true issue is.

Business Consulting Tip: Create an “Issue Tree”.

Issue Tree, problem tree, whatever you like to call it, you must make one in order to divide the issue into actionable steps. This is the next necessary step to becoming aware of what you can change to better reduce the issue at hand.

After all, it’s useless to focus on things you can’t change or affect in some way.

When you create an issue tree, you are essentially taking the root issue that you’ve discovered and dividing it into components that are relative to your organization.

For example, continuously ask “what makes up this issue” as you create this tree. Consider the graphic below:

Issue tree for profit.

The root issue here must have been a decrease in profits. You can then divide these profits into their logical components to get a better idea of what those profits are made of relative to your organization.

This will ultimately allow you to visualize all pieces of the puzzle and ensure that you begin your search wisely. Which things that make up your profits have changed dramatically that could decrease the overall profit your organization makes?

Business Consulting Tip: Use the Pareto Principle.

The Pareto Principle has been told every which way and in every business environment. if you haven’t heard of it, it states that roughly 80% of any effect is a result of 20% of causes.

Put simply, 80% of your problem can be resolved by fixing just 20% of the issues. This is why it’s so important to focus on the largest and most prominent factors in your issue tree. Once you have found those things, you can take the next step.

There are essentially two ways you can fix the issues that are occurring, but the order in which you do these things will make a big difference. In fact, fixing issues like this follow the same steps as risk-management.

The two basic steps of risk management are 1) damage control first to limit the effect that the issue has on your organization and avoid a longer period of risk than necessary and 2) optimize your solutions to resolve the issue in the most effective ways first.

Put simply, limit the effect of the issue, then resolve by optimizing a solution. This is how you can best resolve issues by using the Pareto principles to weed out the main factors of the issues you face in your organization.

I hope this helps, Sara!


I hope you enjoyed this first installment of Common Business Questions Answered by An Entrepreneur! For a chance to get YOUR question answered, please contact me to submit your question!

Thanks for reading!
Work With Austin

-Austin Denison is a management consultant and coach from Southern California and founder/CEO of Denison Success Systems LLC. He is the author of The Essential Change Management Guidebook: Master The Art of Organizational Change as well as The Potential Dichotomy: The Philosophy of a Fulfilling Life.

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