When there is a problem with quality, timeliness, or efficiency in a small business environment, it is often thought of as a people problem. I believe this is due to the fact that many small businesses have one person per role. There aren’t enough data points for an owner or leader to know the system is broken. Therefore, many entrepreneurs spend countless hours and lots of money trying to fix or replace a person when the issue may actually be the process.

W. Edwards Deming once said “Money and time spent for training will be ineffective unless inhibitors to good work are removed.” Meaning, improve your processes before you attempt to improve your people.

Often the reason a potential new business client reaches out to us is because they aren’t getting the financial results they want and believe it is a people problem. We hear things like, “I have to review the accounts like a hawk, things are always miscategorized”, or “I don’t know what he does all day, it isn’t that big of a job”, or “I’ve asked for XYZ reporting over & over again, and I never get what I need. I’m going to have to make a change.”

In each of these three instances, an initial review would conclude it’s a people problem. The first employee doesn’t have enough attention to detail, the second has some serious time management deficiencies, and the third just doesn’t have the chops. But, is that really it? I find that most of the time the easiest answer isn’t the true answer.

When you look at the systems as a whole, these people may not have the appropriate supports. The bookkeeper who has miscategorized transactions may not have a reliable budget to work from to help them in their work. The employee struggling to keep up with their workload may not have the systems in place to discern what needs to be addressed as it comes and what can be done on a standard schedule. The person responsible for your reporting may be finding it difficult to use the tools available as they are inadequate or obsolete.

Lee Iacocca once said, “I hire brighter people than me and then I get out of their way.” I would take it a step further, hire brighter people than you and get all obstacles out of their way. It is the job of the business owners and leaders to be vigilant in their advocacy for ever evolving processes and systems that support their team. True leadership is about setting a strong vision, asking others to come along on the journey and making it as smooth of a ride as possible. So next time you have a people problem, stop for a moment and ask yourself, “Is it my people or my process?”