We have this tendency to make things too complex in business. I spent many years of my career doing just that – trying to cover all the cases and contingencies.

But at its core, business is very simple. You sell something that people value, and they give you money because you’re solving a problem or serving a need. And you do it efficiently enough so the business can continue.

But “the devil is in the details”, right? Absolutely.

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When we want employees to learn something, we send them to a class.

It’s not the worst thing to do, but that’s not the way adults learn new things. It’s a paradigm that’s copied from the system we developed in the 1800s to teach millions of children to become factory workers.

Do YOU have your best growth by sitting in a class? Probably not.

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This has been a heady time for Small Fish. And I appreciate the honor, really.

But if the major incentive to recognize people is merely to make them feel good, there’s not going to be much lasting impact. We’ve seen that with round-robin “employee of the month” programs where folks get a reward for … something?

We need to have recognition that’s more focused than that.

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Curiosity is one of the main tools for being a coach. At least for me.

When I have nothing to learn, I’m really acting in the role of an advisor or consultant. As soon as I understand the client’s situation, I can have an opinion about how to move forward.

That’s not a good thing, because what I’m really saying is how I would move forward if I was in that situation. Which may be absolutely the wrong thing for my client!

The solution?

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You see the signs over town of companies desperate for new employees. But this isn’t because there are no good workers.

File:Now Hiring.png - Wikimedia Commons

But you might want to notice which businesses are doing just fine with their workforces. They’re retaining great people and attracting new ones at a comfortable rate. You just don’t hear about them because they’re getting back to delivering great value for customers.

What’s the difference?

The answer comes through thinking about employees like you think about individual customers. You often ask questions like:

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The other day I was having a conversation with some of my coach friends, and the concept came up about having a “disputable goal.” I confess that I’d never heard the phrase before, so of course I found it fascinating.

The idea is that when you have a goal, it should be possible to disagree with it. But why is this useful?

Imagine that you’re building an organization, and you really care that the people get along with each other well. So your goal is to “handle conflicts professionally.” Sounds good, right? Who could possibly think this is a bad thing?

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All organizations have goals, no matter what the size. Sometimes they’re clear, sometimes not.

But when the organization gets large, the employees rarely find the goals to be motivating. Instead, they often revert to the lowest common denominator: What do I have to do to keep my job?

This drives leaders nuts.

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It’s a great idea to ask for feedback from your employees. It’s part of letting them know you care, and want to improve.

So you gather up your courage and ask people for feedback, both one-on-one and as a group.

But here’s the hard part: showing them that you’re taking action. Why is that crucial?

Because it tells them about your honesty and integrity.

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I was recently honored with the title of Golden Fish! Actually, it is a big deal – for me – even though you’ve never heard of it.

It’s something that we’ve been doing this year in Small Fish Business Coaching to recognize contribution and achievement. The best part is that it’s a recognition of my peers in the company, people I work closely with and deeply respect.

The emotional impact is the most important part. Which got me thinking …

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I started out my career as a software engineer. Software doesn’t tend to be quite as elegant as other forms of machinery, but I totally get the concept that things are beautiful when they run efficiently and reliably.

That’s why I’ve found it amusing that my emphasis has shifted almost entirely to the “people side” of business. People are messy, unpredictably, and endlessly challenging.

I guess it’s because I’m a problem-solver at heart, and people offer an infinite array of problems to work on. Yet, we envision our businesses as that “well-oiled machine,” running like a top.

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