You… before the business… before the systems

“That’s exactly the question you have to face: Do you want to change how you are so that you can change your business? Do you really even buy into the notion that in order for your business to change, you have to change first? It’s an honest question. It’s the right for you to think about.” (my emphasis)

E-Myth Mastery, Michael E Gerber

This quote seems hopelessly abstract – some would say daft; but it is incumbent on any manager, leader or entrepreneur (however you view those ‘labels’) to consider how much of the business success that you aspire to could be brought about by people development, as opposed to systems development?

It is the most hackneyed expression in the book – your people are your biggest asset – but how many people work off of that to truly develop their business (can you say you aspire to be World class?).

I have for a long time been in the camp that says employees first – more first than the client. My rationale is simple: if your delight, empower and help your people, they, in turn, will repay that in spades when it comes to delighting your clients; and the profits will flow.

However, too few businesses ever understand, let alone consider this as priority #1 for changing or developing their business. They sweat the business development details … and sweat them some more, but rarely, if ever, do they consider how they could unleash the power from within.

I know what you are thinking.

“OK Summerhayes, how do we do that…?”


Step 1

Listen to your people.

Please don’t think that means listening for the normal, insipid cues like “business is fine” or “we are (so) great.”

No, you need to get much, much closer to your people.

Find out what is really going on in their lives. Find out what’s missing that, perhaps, just maybe, a new role or opportunity could fulfill.

And please don’t think you are leaving yourself exposed to a slew of ambitious people becoming even more disenfranchised when you, once again, thwart their attempts to get on. What you are looking to do is to tap into their passion, desire and motivation that, as yet, the company hasn’t realised.

Step 2


Yes, you have to act. If you are serious about listening then at some stage you have to act.

If you have read Jim Collins’s book Good to Great you will know that he coined the phrase, ‘getting the right people on the right seats on the bus’. This raises a number of issues:

a) do you have the right people?

b) do you have enough seats?

c) can you develop your people to fill the seats or do you need to move people internally, let them go or recruit?

d) but perhaps, most fundamentally, do you have the wherewithal to make things happen.

As likely, what you will end up with is a lot of misinformation – people love to vent their spleen (Step 1) – but you have to sort the naysayers from the genuine doers, and then decide if you want to reshape the business.

There is no point me telling you (or anyone else for that matter) that you need to be brave. This type of programme is not for the faint hearted, and for many business owners presents too many risks to ever get close to lift off.

But, if you are serious about changing the business, and tapping that vast pool of potential which could avoid a slow but inevitable decline, what other choice do you?

Step 3

Be prepared to invest in the long term development of your people.

It doesn’t mean wasting money on expensive training programmes – very often training is best delivered from within – but you have to be honest as to what you expect from any learning programme. And it’s not just about plucking a magic number out of the hat and saying we want a return on investment of x%, but rather what sort of business do you aspire to be?

The World’s best?

If you are not sure where to start, then take something like listening. In my book it is of strategic importance. It goes to the heart of the excellent enterprise and cuts across so many areas of the business. But it starts with your people. Ask them what it means to listen – to others, to your clients and to the market. Design your own programme if you must, but this is just one example of many where a core skill, imbued in everyone, could change the business more quickly than the usual exhortation of ‘we do need to get better’.

Step 4

Look at yourself.

The whole idea of personal change doesn’t just apply to the lower echelons of the business. It means every person has to ask the same question: Do I have to change before the business can change? The truly great leaders recognise this and whilst they are hardly likely to take a step forward and admit their foibles and failings, nevertheless the truly great leaders go to work on their lives in the same way that a professional athlete seeks to get better every single day.


I recognise that the people issue is the most vexing issue for any leader, and when you take account of the complexity of the legal landscape, you may not feel inclined to rock the boat but (I know I keep saying but…) I believe that if you get the people thing right, you have more chance of weathering and surviving this recession than any amount of business development activity.

Working with me

I am available for speaking, consulting and one on one coaching. Please feel free to email me at or contact me on 075888 15384.

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