What's the cause of thoughtlessness among employees? Bad hiring? Or bad management?

I'm the CEO of a small but extremely fast-growing startup, and here lately I've noticed something that troubles me: The majority of my employees are fairly thoughtless. I'm not saying they're stupid. I'm not saying they are lazy. Neither is true. If they have a clearly defined process, and they've been trained on how to handle it, they can execute with precision and excellence. They'll also do everything in their power to do a good job. But it's a start up. Almost none of our processes are defined. We are also growing so quickly that I don't have time to train everyone. What I really want is to give someone an objective or a problem, and they take all of the data and complexity and compose an elegant solution. I want them to think, problem solve, and be creative. But that's not happening. Pretty much every employee is coming to me with every problem and asking me to think through it and tell them what to do. I've tried asking questions and providing gentle guidance instead of telling them what to do, but they act like I'm punishing them. They sulk and tinker with the problem halfheartedly until I tell them what to do. Part of the problem is me, I think. I have trained them to let me think for them. Whenever they develop a solution, I also have a tendency to very calmly and nicely rip it apart and rebuild something better in front of them. But I also wonder if I'm hiring the wrong people. This is horribly politically incorrect, but sometimes they remind me of a bunch of kids with down syndrome working together to build a sandcastle. They are happy and motivated and hard-working, and they might even create something at least somewhat resembling a sandcastle, but at the end of the day, nobody is going to care when the waves wash it away. Instead, I feel like I need architects, people with such stunning insight and intelligence they can construct a sandcastle like the world has never seen. People will weep when the waves wash it away. But where do I find those people? And how do I convince them to work for me?


I read your story and I feel your pain, but I have bad news. The problem is not your people, the problem is you.
You have a responsibility that goes way beyond developing great products that wow customers; you have the responsibility of leading!

Leadership is one of those subjects that most people feel they have covered, I thought I had it covered too until I found myself in exactly the same shoes as you are wearing right now, and boy did it pinch. It took a while for me to realize I was the problem but three things clued me in:

1. I found out that I kept firing and hiring new people and it did not make a difference

2. I met a friend who was building a great company with what I would consider average people and he was really getting things done. The difference was that leading people came natural to him while building products came natural to me

3. I finally came to terms with the fact that I enjoyed being the solution point and the center of the product development universe. Clients loved me, me people stood in awe of me and I loved it and hated it at the same time

You need to get into a leadership coaching program. I'm sure you will find some very capable people on clarity but trust me, the sooner you start, the better.

Your organization will not change until you change, and there is no better way to say it. Like I said, I know your pain and you are not alone in this my friend.

Answered 10 years ago

Like many startups I've seen, little (if any) time or energy is devoted to first designing your culture. Yes, culture can be designed. As opposed to 'inherited by default' which is what has happened in your situation. Likely as a result of focusing too much on skills, and not enough on fit. But 'fit' means different things to different people, which is why identifying and defining fit is part of designing your culture upfront.

Unless you have a clear idea of who fits your company – and that includes understanding who they are, what motivates them, how they think, how they feel, and how they behave – you'll end up with individuals who may be skilled at what they do, but will always be just a 'group of employees', and never a true team.

Take the time to define your company mission, its vision, and the core values everyone must live by. These form the nucleus of your cultural DNA, and from there, create a more effective talent attraction and hiring process that includes specific activities that will help you to filter out those personality types that are currently driving you nuts.
For example, if people constantly come to you looking for solutions rather than solving their own problems, your interview process must include questions that will help you to identify self-starters. At the same time, your leadership style should adopt more of a coaching model – this will encourage your employees to think through and uncover answers on their own. It can be very empowering for them, and free up your time as well.

Happy to jump on a call with you to talk more specifics about this. It sounds like a situation that's best rectified asap.

Answered 10 years ago

I think you already answered your question. There are two forces at play here. One it seems their efforts are not being rewarded. One thing I learned form delegation is that nobody would ever be able to do a job as good as I can. I have learned to accept that. As long as what they produce result which work and match set expectations, there is no need to correct or rework. The second issue is their reliance on your guidance. That is a hole we sometimes dig for ourselves. One concrete way to resolve this is to go away for a few days: let them know you are leaving, set clear expectations and tell them to ask questions before you leave, then disappear. If you come back and something is not done, you probably need to look for replacement pretty soon. Hope this helps, let me know if I can offer additional assistance?

Answered 10 years ago

First and foremost, you are not alone. The fact that you took the time to write this means two things:

1) You're in tune with the situation
2) You care enough to resolve it (and hopefully be open minded enough to do so)

Having passion is great, and sharing that passion with your team is a powerful thing. However, oftentimes when an extremely passionate entrepreneur 'hires wrong' he or she will find that a few things happen:

A) If an employee isnt actively adding to the mix (to the expectations or perspective of the culture) then they begin to be perceived as 'in the way'
B) When something is in the way of passion, the outcome is 'construction' - but rather - 'destruction'

To resolve this issue, as the founder and CEO you are going to have to do a few tough things:

1) Fire the problem employees: If they don't 'get it now' then that means they dont understand your culture (or your "how" process - aka from your example: problem solve on your own and then pitch some solutions)... You have a window of opportunity to onboard a new employee into your culture successfully, and if you miss it, the most successful and responsible thing for the both of you is to admit that failure and move on.

2) Take the time to develop clear and concise actionable strategies, supplemented by a written guideline emphasizing your 'culture' or 'how process'.

It may seem like you "dont have the time" -- but lets not fool ourselves... what's more important than having a functioning company?

Taking the time to do it one time successfully yourself, empowers you to write the manual for others, which then you should walk through and train appropriately using the manual as a tool.

Stop giving your team a fish & begin teaching them from the start to fish for you.

Every employee 'wants' to come through for you when you first hire them... however, they are not sure what you expect or how you expect it & thus afraid, which prevents them from flourishing. Take the time to empower them with the answers and onboard them successfully from the beginning!

Simply put, these employees may be at fault now... but the core of the issue lies with the person who got them there.

Gut your mistakes, and start over successfully. Taking the responsibility it is highly recommended to strategize a successful 'strategic exit' for each of them -- if youd like to talk that through Id be more than happy to.

Answered 10 years ago

The hardest thing in business is hiring the right the people. You need to attract talent that can knock down walls for you. What type of equity are you willing to give up to get those people? It sounds like you have created a bottle neck where by every important decision is ultimately going through your office. Sometimes letting people fail a little bit will motivate them to do better. You have to make it okay for them to fail in order to grow. Making the same mistake over and over is grounds for termination however if they fail and learn they will feel empowered. Read the book Good to Great, it has exactly the type of insight you need.

Answered 10 years ago

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