Businesses Don't Develop, People Do

BUSINESSES DON’T DEVELOP, PEOPLE DO: How Ignoring Your Employees’ Personal Ambitions Will Stifle Growth

We live in a chaotic world. To be fair, the world has always been at least a little chaotic. But now more than ever, we are inundated with information proving just how chaotic the world really is. We see notifications on our phones when we wake. We hear stories on the radio during our morning commute. We even have many of the worst and most egregious symptoms of this chaos pipelined directly into our inbox. By all accounts, it is easy to believe the world is spinning out of control.

Within that noise the only thing more pervasive than advice on how to grow in life is advice on how to grow your business.  The internet and every other medium is saturated with how-to’s, books, blogs and instructional videos peddling paths to professional success and personal fulfillment. Step into the leadership or personal development aisle of any bookstore and you will find shelf after shelf filled with books about fantastic leaders and wildly successful people. Without a doubt, anyone who is ambitious or has a dream they yearn to achieve should study those who have achieved. No argument there. But Google “Top 10 Things All Great Achievers Have in Common” and peruse through the top 10 links. You will quickly discover that the answers are as wide and varied as the people referenced.

Some answers might surprise you or even make you laugh. Forgive me if I doubt that drinking 32 ounces of water during breakfast or stretching before my morning shower will have any affect on the probability of my success or happiness. Waking up early and avoiding alcohol sound like the habits of successful people, but Winston Churchill was known to stay in bed until 11AM and start his lunch with a Whiskey and soda.

Of course we all want a clear path to success and happiness, and we are willing to pay for someone to show it to us.  It is our demand for a quick and easy path that drives the ubiquity of all that content.  But despite the prevalence of all that information, success and true happiness often remain elusive.

Every person must grow and develop to achieve their dreams and desires. And every business must grow and develop in order to achieve its goals.  The reason we often fail at both of these quests is the belief that they are mutually exclusive. Sometime between the industrial revolution and today, we all accepted the idea that to work toward one meant we must sacrifice in the other.  This simply is not true.

What is a business? Can you touch a business? Can you wrap it up and ship a business around the world? Of course not. A business is nothing more than a group of people with a shared idea working toward a common goal.  A business cannot exist independent of people.  The product or service may vary, but the people are the business. To imply that growing a business requires a different set of rules or follows a different path than growing as a person is to imply that the business can exist independent of its people. It cannot.

Sure, both businesses and people grow and develop. But while people can grow without developing a business, businesses cannot grow without developing people. Of course, sometimes people reach the limits of their potential or refuse to develop. In order for the business to continue growth, someone who has more potential or is more willing to develop must replace those people.

“But I only need someone to follow the systems I have put in place!” you say. Of course systems are important. But as the business grows so must the systems and routines that brought the business from Point A to Point B. With all due respect to Collins, those systems and routines are only as effective as the people executing them. Without development, those people and those systems will eventually stifle growth of the business and prevent you from reaching Point C.

Unfortunately, as a young manager I was told that I should not get to know my employees. I was taught the perils of talking about anything other than the business or being too ‘personal’. Hopefully this mentality will cease to exist soon. Professional? Yes. Personal? Absolutely! What could be more important than for a leader to know and understand what inspires her team members? Nothing will drive an employee more than understanding the connection between his dreams and the goals of the business. And nothing will inspire loyalty like a leader who knows and understands the importance of supporting and nurturing an employee’s journey…wherever that may lead.

As leaders, it is incumbent on us to recognize a fundamental truth.  Our employees might share our vision for the business, but the vision they have for themselves probably leads elsewhere. In all likelihood, your business is a stepping stone on the way to happiness and fulfillment for that person. And that’s ok. As you help them grow as a person to achieve their dreams they help you grow the business to achieve your goals.  Of course we all must earn an income. But remember, employees don’t need your business to develop for them to achieve their dreams.  But you need for them to develop for your business to achieve its goals. Anyone peddling a class, course or video that implies there are different paths to personal growth and professional success must think that you can wrap up a business and ship it around the world. Success in business and happiness in life are both journeys down the same path. To consider them mutually exclusive will doom your business to stagnation or failure altogether.

2 thoughts on “BUSINESSES DON’T DEVELOP, PEOPLE DO: How Ignoring Your Employees’ Personal Ambitions Will Stifle Growth”

  1. This was on point Tra, thank you for posting it on your blog! “A business cannot exist independent of people. The product or service may vary, but the people are the business. “ The people are absolutely the key to any successful organization which is why investing in them is so important.
    I look forward to reading your other posts!

    1. Thanks, Kasie! Im passionate about it. Too often entrepreneurs see their team members as disposable assets that can easily be replaced. That’s true if you don’t mind the failure that inevitably follows.

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