|July 25, 2011
from the desk of Chuck Violand...
Good Monday morning, <<First Name>>—
Bullies have been with us in one form or another since early in recorded history. They’ve held positions in government, sports, the military, and sometimes even in our families. It should be no surprise we also see them frequently in business.
The purpose of the series I start today on bullies isn’t to explore the reasons one chooses to bully. Rather it’s to highlight some of the different forms bullies take in business (not always obvious), and to offer suggestions on how to handle them if they show up in your company.
I’ve asked Scott Tackett, one of our Business Development Advisors at VMA, to assist me with this series. Scott’s background includes degrees in Organizational Leadership and Human Resource Management, and he has extensive experience, both as a college professor and as a business executive, in the field of HR. I’m fortunate to be able to add Scott’s deep understanding of the subject of bullies to this series.
BULLIES, Part I
by Chuck Violand...
At some point in our lives most of us have encountered a bully. It may have been the classic schoolyard bully who seemed to find pleasure in picking on people he deemed weak. It could have been a sports bully who wasn’t content with simply winning, but felt the need to flaunt his superior ability. It may even have been a neighbor whose brash nature had a way of influencing the decisions you made with your home.
Bullies aren’t a product of the twentieth century. Stories of bullies are found throughout history. Henry VIII, Genghis Khan, and the infamous Idi Amin, who declared himself “His Excellency President for Life”, only to be run out of town eight years later, are all examples.
Bullies have enjoyed notoriety in print and on the silver screen. Remember Peppermint Patty from Peanuts and Bluto from Popeye? Other classic examples are Scut Farkas from “A Christmas Story”, Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons, and the poster boy for every bully who’s ever gotten his come-uppance: Biff Tannen from “Back to the Future.”
Unfortunately bullies aren’t limited to history, nor are they only fabrications in print and in movies. Bullies aren’t even limited to people. Circumstances and situations can also be bullies, leading you to veer from decisions you know are best in order to avoid confrontation. Too often these bullies are present in the workplace and can have a profound effect on the lives of the people in our companies. They can affect employee morale, employee safety, and even the caliber of work being produced.
Entrepreneurs are typically viewed as fearless innovators and risk takers. They are often people most comfortable when doing things at their own pace and when operating within their own areas of experience. As a result they can feel bullied by their fear of the unknown when stretched beyond their comfort zones. While they may be able to take charge of the playing field they’re familiar with, they can be stopped in their tracks by their fear of the unknown. When this happens an entrepreneur can be bullied into playing it too safe, avoiding even modest risk for fear of losing everything. As a result their company becomes stagnate. Sales level off or decline, the company culture becomes stale, and the good employees needed to grow the company leave.
Competitors can be bullies, too. Sometimes just the perception that they’re bigger or more successful can make us feel bullied. This perception creates a distance between big successful them and poor struggling us and it’s this separation that creates the bully. Any business, regardless of size, can close this gap by recognizing the things that make a company unique are the things that make a company good. Any company can, and should, have unique factors. By definition of the term unique, no other company can have your competitive advantage. The key is to focus on selling your unique factors rather than worrying about the other guys.
What about our customers? Can they be bullies? It may not be intentional, but any time one customer represents more than 20% of your annual revenue they pose a serious threat to your business. This becomes particularly evident when they start to bully their way around. You quickly realize it’s the customer who’s holding the trump cards, while you’re just trying to stay in the game. If the customer decides to take his business elsewhere, your company is going to bleed. This holds true whether that customer is a large commercial account, a government contract, or an insurance program. We can quickly be bullied into making decisions intended to appease the customer, rather than ones that are in the long-term best interest of our company.
If you feel the decisions being made in your business are driven by an outside force, rather than the long-term Vision and Mission of your company, take a moment to ask yourself if someone or something isn’t bullying you into a course of action you know isn’t best.
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