Years ago, a mentor and colleague shared this story. He was visiting a client who was extremely upset. This client said, “Mike, these nincompoops are driving me crazy.”

My colleague, who was quite direct, quietly asked, “Who hired them?”

One of the biggest fallacies for small business owners, executive and managers is that employees are lazy. They blame their unproductive workforce on the individual employee instead of realizing they as leaders are greater part of the problem.

The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, longtime president of Notre Dame, said, “You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet” when describing the essence of leadership. How this translates is your employees cannot follow an uncertain trumpet. This uncertainty may and usually does translate into poor productivity or what Gallup has identified as “just engaged” or “actively disengaged” employees.

Only one-third of the workforce is actively engaged, according to Gallup. What this means is nearly 70 percent of your payroll is not generating a positive return on investment.

When speaking with small business owners regarding sustainable business growth, many ascribe their lackluster sales to their salespeople. Their conversations reveal in all of the instances their unproductive workforce can be traced back to their own executive leadership behaviors.

Here are some of the common factors held by those blowing an uncertain trumpet:

* No vision – The vision for the company has never been created and shared with the employees.

* No agreed to positive core values – The “do as I say, not as I do” is still quite common.

* No annual mission – An unproductive workforce needs specific goals and then requires understanding how those goals translate to their daily behaviors.

* No strategic plan – President Dwight Eisenhower said “Plans are worthless; planning is everything.” The power of a strategic plan lies within the overall planning process not the written plan that is subject to change.

* No written policies or procedures – From hiring policies to job descriptions to performance reviews, all of these require documentation and ongoing updating.

* No alignment between people, processes and strategies to build loyal internal customers.

* No clarity about the leader’s own talents and his or her role as the enterprise matures.

* No communication – Employees are not mind readers. They need clear and specific communication every day.

* No assessments of the workforce talent – Most people do not know what they do well. What happens is energy is devoted to unproductive talents that fail to generate the desired business results.

* No assessment of the organization’s culture – The culture of each enterprise reflects the sum total of all emotions, experiences and expectations held by the workforce. A negative culture supported by ineffective leadership is one of the main reasons for an unproductive workforce.

With the organization’s culture, leadership may hold the quick fix mentality because they have failed to engage in the necessary assessments required for crystal clear clarity. This quick fix mentality also contributes to an unproductive workforce.

Finally, it is good to remember people buy from people they know and trust. When leadership fails to consistently demonstrate their knowledge and trust, the loyalty and consequently the productivity of their employees is continually reduced. Employees no longer buy (think trust) their employers. This fact continues to be reaffirmed by the numerous research studies on trust within the workplace.

If you are an small business owner or executive facing inconsistent business results, the maybe now is the time not to blame an unproductive workforce, lazy salespeople or if your “nincompoops.” Possibly, as Pogo said many years ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The “us” is your leadership not your employees.


Leanne Hoagland-Smith is an author, speaker and executive coach. Her weekly column explores issues that impact the bottom line of firms with fewer than 100 employees.