I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to unemployment and young people without sounding like an old doucher (insert old man voice here: “I remember when I was a youngster and times were tough, we did whatever it took to make a dollar.”) but I just read a post by Herb Engert that put me over the edge. In it, he addresses the frightening statistics of joblessness among young people today. The entrepreneurs in the 30 and under group he researched suggested five key imperatives for action: expand funding alternatives, increase mentoring and broader support, change the culture to tolerate failure, target and speed up incentives, and reduce red tape and excessive taxation. Though compelling, these suggestions from this particular group make me want to blow my top, and here’s why.
I’ve been working with Gen Y and Millenials for close to a decade, and I have been stunned by the decline in personal responsibility, drive, and motivation each year has brought to each new population of young people I work with. I’ve witnessed a 23+ year old have a public tantrum because his instructor “didn’t respect” him (actually, I’ve lost count of how many students have publicly decried being “disrespected” by an instructor because the instructor didn’t let them off the hook). I’ve had to take countless telephone calls from parents of 20somethings and 30somethings complaining that their child isn’t learning anything and then, when confronted with the fact that their child has a 67% attendance rate, giving excuse after excuse as to why we should allow their (adult) child off the hook (“She’s having a really bad year,” “She just got her 2nd D.U.I. and she’s really depressed,” “He has insomnia and can’t be at school by 9:00. Can’t you make an exception?”) I’ve been saddened by the W.I.F.M. sense of entitlement that is so pervasive among this population, their cutthroat, back-stabbing, reality-TV-esque interactions. The “Even though you may be smarter, stronger, or better than me, I’m going to make sure you lose, or at least look bad, so that I look better; even though I’m not going to do anything to be better, smarter, or stronger. I just don’t want you to win because if you win, we’re not on the same level.” I guess I shouldn’t be shocked. After all, this is the generation where everyone won a trophy, whether they played by the rules or not. Maybe all this nonsense started there.
When I was growing up (again, insert old man voice here), if you played on a team there were winners and there were losers. If you won, you celebrated. If you lost, you licked your wounds for a minute but then you went out and practiced that much harder. No one wanted to suck or be a loser. Fast forward twenty years and at little league and t-ball fields across the nation, kids learned that it didn’t matter if they won or lost, they would still win a trophy anyway. I’m pretty sure that’s when the coaches stopped being allowed to teach kids to win because parents didn’t like it when their kid cried because they sucked – I mean, lost. So, coaches stopped coaching (or, bullying, as some psychotic parents suggested) and started telling the kids that “everyone is a winner,” which we all know is horse shit and the parents all patted their kids’ heads and nodded their own heads in agreement. Or, maybe this phenomenon occurred when parents, guilty because they both had to work long hours at the office to maintain their American Dream – Toll Brothers McMansions, mid-size luxury sedans and SUVs, golf, Abercrombie & Fitch, riding lessons, Uggs, and The Northface for the kids – decided to let their kids off the hook for everything. “I don’t feel like cleaning my room,” “I don’t want to go to practice,” “Amy has the new Uggs. I can’t believe you won’t get them for me,” “What do you mean we can’t go to Great Wolf Lodge for a week? You suck!” Exhausted and over-worked, parents started picking their battles, discipline, dedication, drive, and ass-kicking competitiveness obvious losers, lifeless on enemy soil. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. We’ll make it work,” they replied. “I was going to get you those Uggs for Christmas, honey,” they quickly recovered. “I know your team lost today but you will always be a winner,” they lied. And their kids, smug with a win, nodded in agreement, their Facebook likes, Twitter and Instagram followers, an obvious confirmation of their awesomeness (right?). The fascinating thing about this? These same parents are (gasp) shocked that their adult kids are a.) still living at home or, b.) moving back home after unsuccessful jaunts in the real world due to their unrealistic expectations of how the real world should operate (“What do you mean I’m not getting promoted to vice president of the company after being here for six months?” “They treated me like shit. Like who the fuck are they to ask me to make copies for them?” “I could run that shit a thousand times better than they do.”).
On the flip side, there are some things I admire about this generation (shocking, right?). I love the fact that they are more open to creating their own careers and that they have no fear when it comes to doing just that. I admire their confidence when it comes to self-promotion. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people tout their awesomeness, whether true or not, and the fact that they can build a business off of the spin they generate about themselves is amazing. My generation had to have proof in their pudding before they spouted off about how excellent they were but, as a result, have built long-term success is their careers and the businesses they developed. For example, alongside my husband, I helped grow our business to several million dollars a year in business from the ground up. We had no choice of funding alternatives – we went to a family friend who loaned us money to use as collateral to get more money from the bank. We had no mentors or support – the company we franchised with was brand new to the franchising game so, we in essence, grew up along with them. We would NEVER expect culture to change to accept our failure – failure wasn’t an option, period. We had no government incentives – we had achievement and success and pride as incentives. And, taxation? It is what it is and we made sure our profit margin fit within our tax structure. So, with that said, the five key initiatives I would suggest to young entrepreneurs are this:
1. Stop whining about what you need and wondering who is going to hand it to you. We don’t need to expand funding alternatives so that you can start your business. Like most people that have built successful businesses before you, get up off your ass and go make it happen.
2. Stop expecting other people to create what you need. It’s hilarious to me that with allllllll the thousands of “friends and followers” you guys all have via social media, you’re crying that you need us to create business networking groups for you guys to more readily share information. Instead of telling your thousands of friends and followers what you drank last night at happy hour, or what you’re eating for lunch today, why don’t you ask them if they can recommend a mentor? Or, if you want to build a support network for your entrepreneurial aspirations, why don’t you use your social media skills to build one? Or, should we create an association to do that for you, too? I just read something in a John Maxwell book that said something like, “If you want a glass of milk, you don’t go out and sit in a field expecting the cow to walk up to you and put its nipples in your hands.” Sage advice, obviously paraphrased, but sage advice, nonetheless.
3. STOP ACCEPTING FAILURE AS AN OPTION AND STOP EXPECTING US TO ACCEPT YOUR FAILURE AS AN OPTION FOR YOUR FAILURE. It is nauseating to go back and reread the three bullet points: government needs to promote entrepreneurs as crucial job creators (no they don’t if you do what you say you’re going to do), society needs to be more tolerant of failure and recognize entrepreneurs as innovators (“Even if you lost today, you’ll always be a winner to me, sweetheart.” Is that what you need? Then you’re not cut out to be an entrepreneur.), schools and universities must help students make the right career choices (oh, that’s right, we need to parent you because your parents were so busy telling you how awesome you are and how you’ll be successful at anything as long as you believe you’re successful, that they forgot to tell you that if you want to be successful you have to work your fucking ass off.)
4. Stop looking to the government to create solutions to your inability to make shit happen. Sure, it would be great if there was a program that could help everyone become an entrepreneur but if you look at programs the government creates to help everyone, there are rarely any self-made success stories. Quite the opposite.
5. Taxation is what it is. If you think the government is going to lower taxes, or make special concessions because you want to start a business and it needs to be easier, then you’re not cut out to be an entrepreneur. Big businesses that have received special tax loopholes became so successful WITHOUT those loopholes that they can now hire people to go to Washington and create new loopholes for them. Soooooo, in other words, go get super successful and then you, too, can get special tax treatment.
In closing, I’m sure I’m going to receive tons of flack for this post (“You don’t know what it’s like to be young,” “You’re negative,” “You suck,” “You’re a dream killer,” “You’re already successful. Fuck you,” “You don’t understand what these kids are going through,” “Blah, blah, blah”) but I’m reminded of a quote when I think of this, as I, like Herb, do often. It’s from my husband’s grandfather who used to say: “Shit in one hand and wish in the other. See which one fills up faster.” Herb was right when he said that this is a generation that can be great, but it has to start with young folks not wishing but taking action; however, shitting in their hand isn’t necessarily an action I would suggest.
The story is as old as time.
You’ve always dreamed of starting a business. You and a friend decide to strike out on your own. You form a partnership and, boom, you’re on your way to making your dreams come true. The partnership starts out (like most do) crazy fun. During the early days there’s a heady excitement that makes long hours, no money, and little to show for all the work you’re putting in, a “We’re-gonna-look-back-on-this-one-day-and-laugh,” experience. The stress level is high, your partner’s and your patience is worn thin, but you both suck it up and keep plowing forward. Moodiness, elation, depression – it’s par for the course, right?
Fast forward a decade and all the start-up giddiness is gone. The frenetic day-to-day roller coaster craziness? It’s been replaced with steady, business-as-usual work days. And, your business partner’s mood swings, negative attitude, and manipulative survival-of-the-fittest mentality exhibited during the start-up days? They’re all still there.
Your business is established now! Your partner’s still acting like he’s too stressed, too exhausted, too overworked? I thought times were good? You both enjoy a flexible, relaxed schedule and (finally) cushy paychecks are de rigueur. So, why is your partner still miserable? Why is he still acting like the sky is falling? Is something going on that you don’t know about? Concerned, you start digging into your company financials; who knows – maybe your partner is feeling the year-end pinch? That’s when you realize the impact your partner’s decade old eat-or-be-eaten mentality has had on the organization as a whole and now, not only are you wondering what kind of weirdo you’re shacked up with, you’re actually beginning to question the survivability of your partnership.
But wait – slow down here – everyone has a bad day, right? I mean, it’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs to have a series of bad days, right? Starting a company is tough! And, for Pete’s sake, we’ve all snapped at a colleague at one time or another, or sulked behind our monitor for a day (or two), ignoring our office mates, mumbling about how much we hate our fucking job. Is that a reason to suddenly want to part ways? In most cases, probably not, but according to studies, If the bad days your partner is having have turned into years? Then it may be time to determine if the negative behaviors that you and your staff have brushed off as, “You better stay away from him,” “He’s in a bad mood today,” Ugh. His team lost last night,” are actually negative behaviors at all, or if your partner’s bad days are merely his dysfunctional management style in disguise.
Dictionary.com defines dysfunction as not performing normally, having a malfunctioning part or element, and behaving or acting outside social norms, and defines management as the person or persons controlling and directing the affairs of a business. So, then, it would probably be safe to say that the definition of dysfunctional management could be the malfunctioning person or persons controlling and directing the affairs of a business while not performing normally and/or behaving or acting outside social norms. I’m pretty sure we’ve all reported to a dysfunctional manager at some point in our careers – the sales manager who always got a bit too tipsy at happy hour sales meetings and then spent hours spilling the beans to her subordinates about her affair with the company’s VP and how it ended badly – or, the department manager who blatantly favored the guys on his team over the women and would take them to strip clubs and golf outings for meetings while leaving female subordinates at the office with a casual, “We’ll download tomorrow,” as he left the office. Dysfunctional managers are everywhere but (surprisingly) some people wouldn’t recognize one if that dysfunctional manager was their business partner. Huh? I sit right next to the guy, you may be saying. Ever hear the expression, “Can’t see the forest through the trees?” It’s based on the ancient expression, “Can’t see the psycho partner through the door.” Now you know why.
So, to determine if you have a dysfunctional business partner, take a minute to read the bullet points I gathered from Med Yones’ amazing article, and then answer the questions I added to each of the bullet points. The comprehensive article, written for the International Institute of Management’s Executive Journal, outlines with laser accuracy the characteristics of a dysfunctional workplace (which, by default, highlights the characteristics of a dysfunctional manager).
• Dictatorial Leadership: Management that does not allow disagreements out of insecurity or arrogance [How does your partner lead?]
• No 360 Degrees Feedback: There is limited or no leadership performance feedback [Does your partner allow subordinates to give him or her feedback?]
• Personal Agendas: Recruitment, selections and promotions are based on internal political agenda [Who is your partner promoting, and why?]
• Political Compensation: [raises], bonuses and perks are not fairly linked to performance [What criteria is your partner using to determine raises?]
• Unequal Workload Distribution: You’ll find some departments are underutilized while other departments are overloaded [Does your partner favor one department over another? Why?]
• Fragmented Organization Efforts: Interdepartmental competition and turf wars between rival [departments] lead to the emergence of silos, which results in communication gaps. [Does your partner create or allow turf wars? Do you find departments unwilling to work with one another?]
• Too Much Talk: Plans are heavy on talk but light on action. In a political corporate culture, image management becomes far more important than actions [Or, A.T.N.A. Does your partner talk out his or her ass but never delivers?]
• Ineffective Meetings: Argumentative and heated cross-divisions meetings with discussion and language focusing on point scoring and buck-passing rather than sharing responsibility and collaborating to solve the problem [Observe your partner in meetings – body language, posture, eye contact, tone of voice. Observe if staff members object or disagree with the partner or do they yes him or her to death for fear of backlash?]
• Lack of Collaboration: Every person for himself/herself. Low sense of unity or camaraderie on the team. The key criterion for decision-making is What is in it for me? [Does your partner encourage a W.I.F.M. culture? How has it negatively impacted your business?]
• Low Productivity: Management wastes more time and energy on internal attack and defense strategies instead of executing the work, innovating and overcoming challenges. Critical projects fall behind on deadlines, budgets and performance targets (e.g. sales, market share, quality and other operational targets) [What controls do you have in place to ensure your partner’s dysfunctional management style isn’t, or hasn’t, negatively impacted your business? Would you know if they were?]
• Constant Crisis Mode: Management team spends most of their time on fire fighting instead of proactive planning for next-generation products and services [Dysfunctional managers love to “put out fires.” In fact, you may even hear your partner using that expression all the time as in, “I’ve ben putting out fires all day.” Sound familiar?]
• Morale Deterioration: Muted level of commitment and enthusiasm by other teams. Even successful results cannot be shared and celebrated due to animosity and internal negative competition [You may have noticed the decline in morale and could have, possibly, shared your concern with your partner whose reply may have been, “Fuck ‘em,” followed by laughter to put you at ease.]
• Backstabbing: Backbiting among the [staff] becomes common and public [Perhaps your partner engages in the same behavior WITH the staff.]
• Highly Stressful Workplace: There is a high rate of absenteeism and a high employee turnover rate [Or, even worse, your employees quit but don’t leave, their work a clear indicator of their mental “I-already-quit” status.]
Still not sure if your partner is dysfunctional? Consider the greater impact your dysfunctional business partner may be having on your business. In an article written for MIT Sloan Management Review, authors Cialdini, Petrova, and Goldstein, revealed some of the additional, not so obvious, side effects of dysfunctional management that contribute to “ruinous fiscal outcomes.” They included reputation degradation [people don’t want to buy from a company that sucks], lower job satisfaction [people don’t want to work for a company that sucks], and fewer candidates in the employment pool [because people don’t want to work for a company that sucks]. Yikes. Starting to see why determining whether or not the years long depression your business partner has been in is, in fact, just depression and not dysfunctional management is critically important to the overall health of your business and, possibly, the survivability of your business? Yones’ research revealed that employees in an environment where they feel disrespected, taken advantage of, or abused, will oftentimes resort to passive aggressive behaviors like intentional sabotage, excessive absenteeism, or purposely produced substandard results in their work. “But I give them pep talks all the time,” you may be saying. I hate to disappoint you (your partner probably does that to you enough) but your positive attitude can’t make up for your partner’s shitty attitude. Yones’ study also revealed that employees view positive company initiatives with skepticism [and, oftentimes, intentionally undermine them] because buy-in no longer exists for them. Add to that the studies that have revealed that in environments where dysfunctional management is the norm, employee theft and shrinkage are exceedingly high.
The long and short of it? Having a dysfunctional business partner can not only be an aggravating energy suck (hello), it can cost your company a lot of money and, quite possibly, annihilate the dream you started the partnership with. So, is there hope for people with a dysfunctional business partner? Can dysfunctional partners be fixed? Next time, we’ll explore partnerships what happens when a dysfunctional partner is confronted and why you shouldn’t expect a healthy, normal response from an unhealthy, abnormal person.
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