• Christa Dhimo, Impono LLC

The Small Business Hub: Keeping it Personable Without Making it Personal

Small businesses can be a LOT of fun, especially when they have a superior and highly competent team all focused on the same vision, mission and client type with the same style. Small business types tend to also like the smaller feel, the more personal approach, and an inherent culture that has to care about each other: by proximity and business size, your team is in fact your business.

But how do you grow and sustain a small business, with that small-business feel, without making it too personal? How do you correct, guide, coach, discuss and potentially resolve performance issues if an existing (or even founding) team member or one of your original hires isn't performing as needed, in a make-it-personal culture?

We all know that leadership sets the tone for any organization-- what a leader cares about is what the organization focuses on. Here are two brief considerations for how to set a tone that addresses performance while keeping a tight-knit culture healthy and strong: strive for a personable culture that doesn't make it personal.

The Personable Culture Doesn't Need to Make it Personal

At Impono we encourage all teams to be personable. This means the team is friendly to each other, cooperative and collaborative, and debates issues and solves problems in a respectful manner. It's an environment where talent is hired not just for their expertise, but because of their ability to get along with others while exhibiting individual beliefs and virtues that align with an organization's values.

The Personable Culture is one where disagreements can be aired without worry and a resolution to a problem is something everyone can live with-- not everyone might like it, but they understand the reasoning behind it and do not feel compromised when having to implement it.

In a Personable Culture, big decisions aren't made exclusively from an authoritarian leader who leads by an organizational chart coupled with authority and consequence, but from an authoritative leader who leads by mission coupled with collaboration and alignment (see this great post by Alexander Sergeev on Hygger: Authoritative vs Authoritarian: What Kind of Leader Are You?).

In the Personable Culture, it is possible to address performance and be personal without making it personal. Performance discussions focus on observable action and behavior-- good and bad, constructive and destructive-- and aims to correct in a manner that creates opportunities for everyone. This promotes and keeps individuals and team focused on common considerations, common wins, individual praise when appropriate and in a manner that motivates, and constructive corrections that maintains morale. In this way, you are able to be personable without making it personal, and in a small-business environment, this is often the best way to go (and we would argue the same in any size of organization and environment).

The Make-It-Personal Culture Often Isn't Very Personable

We believe "making it personal" is an excellent choice when asking your team to rally around the concepts of your business so that they can truly appreciate and embody what your business is about. When employees feel personally invested in the mission of a business, especially a small business where everyone is so close to successes, failures, wins and losses, their engagement is also personal, and so will their motivations for best performance.

However, when "making it personal" is the intended culture, it can have the opposite effect, reducing any individualism to only a small portion of your success, or worse: silently looking down on or passively out-lawing any contrarian views that might build morale and strengthen your success.

Small businesses cannot grow and sustain growth (or at the least mitigate risk and maintain a status quo) if you have a make-it-personal culture. In this culture you are essentially asking or forcing your employee to put everything on the line for the success of the business, and that is not a fair ask nor will it bring about the success you think you will achieve. All a make-it-personal culture does is put individuals in a position where they are expected to align to a culture that they may not personally believe in all the time, 100%.

A make-it-personal culture might also create norms around a certain personality type vs values that promote expected and presumably inclusive behaviors.

Your rallying call should be personal, but that doesn't mean everyone will have the same personality. The make-it-personal culture often requires this, or some level of it, in order for individuals to feel they can "fit in." Imagine what happens to performance, though, if an employee behaves and thinks and operates in a manner where he or she feels they can fit in vs in a manner that will truly enhance and advance the performance of your team and business? Now scale that down to small businesses that need all employees engaged and ready to perform... (right, "making it personal" has limits pretty fast).

BOTTOM LINE: Keep it Personable Without Making it Personal

A personable culture is highly compatible with ambition and the drive to be successful, and consequently drives more success and higher performance. Small businesses cannot afford to lose their employees because of cultural items that can be corrected and re-aligned, removing a make-it-personal culture and replacing it with one of collaboration and cooperation.

If you lead a small business or if you are a small subsidiary that's part of a larger organization, we urge you to consider the value of personable vs making-it-personal cultures. It is never too late to evaluate this, and it is never to early to set the right tone.

We know that launching a new or transforming an existing organization isn't simple, but it can be easier with the right advisors and doers. If you have additional questions about this topic or how it can impact your business, contact us. Let's see what we can do for you.

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