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?”