It is incredibly ironic to consider that a convicted criminal gave me a lesson on the importance of trust within a business. He also gave me a lesson on being too trusting when purchasing a business. It doesn’t matter how you dice it, he taught me a lot about when to and when not to trust people.
The obvious first lesson I received on trust was to do more due diligence on the vendor. Delve as deep as you can on their history including looking for a criminal record. If you can, talk to customers and suppliers. Check out their friends if you can! This might all seem over the top, but then just consider what happened to me! This was a painful but simple lesson to learn. There was however a much bigger lesson on trust to be learnt.
A business based on threats doesn’t work!
Our not so trustworthy criminal had built a business based on threats, intimidation and distrust. I got to see first-hand that, that approach doesn’t work too well. He didn’t want individuals to learn too much for fear that they would go out and set up in competition. As the story goes at least one person did. Apparently, our criminal vendor paid them a visit and got them to give him a share of their business to avoid further repercussions!
One of my employees recounted to me a time where his former boss pulled up to him in a Humvee with a suitably big and sinister looking companion and threatened to physically harm him if he got out of line. Another, told of him following them home late one evening and just sitting outside in his vehicle. Some recalled being scared to leave the business for fear of making him angry. Apparently, their criminal boss got so angry once, that he was going to go around and burn someone’s house down, only being physically stopped by others from doing so.
In my experience with the vendor, on one occasion, he sent around a suitably big and tattooed gang member to have a word with me. The gang member met his match in an employee wonder woman who remains with me to this day, who sent him on his way.
Scaring people was how the old owner ran his business. He wasn’t physically scary, quite the contrary. An ectomorph with a fat belly and next to no muscle was not imposing. Having watched too many gangster movies he used mind games both through words and his associations. He wanted people to think he was highly connected in one of the local gangs.
I came across the extreme, but nonetheless there are business owners who to varying degrees use threats and intimidation to control employees.
Nothing Positive comes from a Negative!
I always like to say that nothing positive comes from a negative, unless you learn to turn a negative into a positive. To manage staff by threats and intimidation will never bring the best result; you may achieve certain goals, but it’s not sustainable and it will never be optimum long term. There are plenty of sports teams that will testify to this fact.
Ironically by approaching people in a distrustful manner it is less likely that they will behave honestly and in fact in some instances you may persuade otherwise honest people to become dishonest. Who feels inclined to be loyal to a boss that treats them with suspicion? Some may conclude that if the boss suspects them of something they might as well do it and see if they can avoid being caught!
With the former owner not wanting the staff to learn too much, it meant that they were less stimulated, less motivated to remain and less likely to fulfil their potential. As I heard, it didn’t stop some from doing what he feared that they would do anyway!
In having no trust in the staff, the culture was terrible, highly dysfunctional. The problem for me was that only with time could I appreciate how bad it was and given how ingrained it was, I couldn’t just come in and trust everyone and make it alright. Had I bought the business with abundant funds, the best option would have been to fire most of the staff and start again. It would have been a much cleaner way to resolve the situation.
Difficulties recruiting in a distrustful environment!
When trying to recruit in my situation you run the risk of people being put off working for you when they get to see and interact with the team and even if they decide to stick it out, its nigh on impossible to try and get them to be the way you want them to be when no one else is!
Not being able to make drastic staffing changes, meant having to work with what I had and to trust them until proven otherwise. As I found out, even when I found dishonesty, I had to be strategic as it was like dealing with a wolf pack. Their loyalty was with the pack leader (sales manager) not me. Play my cards wrong and most of them could have walked out when we were in a precarious position.
Ultimately the pack leader went and the business scaled back drastically. The benefit of this was that we were ultimately able to get rid of all the bad staff, before starting the journey of recovery and recruitment. This enabled us to avoid the issue mentioned earlier of recruiting quality new people only for them to get corrupted by existing staff.
You must trust your team or change them!
If you approach your staff from a positive standpoint, that of trust, you are not guaranteed it will be reciprocated, but the chances are much higher. It’s not a case of just trusting staff and letting them run free. Safeguards need to be in place, but they need to be done in a way that is not overbearing or creates the feeling of distrust. Depending on the nature of the business just how easy that might be.
In light of Covid, many business owners are having their trust tested. What exactly are the staff doing at home? Are they really productive or are they wasting a lot of time? If you are spending a lot of time worried about what your staff are doing, then either you need different staff, or you need to change your attitude. Without trust you don’t have a foundation for a good business!