Employee Problems: In a Partnership

by Business Coach Chuck



There’s a good chance that you were told prior to entering into your business partnership that it was like a marriage.  There is also a good chance that when people told you that, you did not believe them.  Now that you have been in a partnership for a while, not only do you believe them, but also you are probably beginning to understand that it is more like a marriage than marriage itself.  All of those complexities are for another article.

Here, we are going to get a handle on partnerships and the problem employee.

My work with owner-operated business borrows heavily from the work that is done with families.  There are obvious reasons for this. Owner-operated businesses often impact and are enmeshed with the family and vice versa.  When there are partners that simply means that the business is enmeshed with more families.  Beyond that, however, there are more subtle differences.  The owners are not  employees.  I’m not talking technicalities here of whether the company is incorporated and the owners are, for tax purposes,  employees.  I’m talking ownership and the impact that has on the dynamic with employees.  

Employees of an owner-operated company are much more subject to any trait, thought, emotion, mood, desire, or belief of the owners than they would be to a manager in a publicly owned company.  This can be a good thing.  The enthusiasm of the owners can be invigorating.  The sense of purpose can be inspiring.  However, as long as the owner has broken no law, there is no higher authority to go to if one disagrees or is in conflict with the owner.  This means that employees in an owner-operated business are very focused on the owner.

The power context of an owner-operated business is very much like that of a family, where authority comes, or should come, from the parents.  It is very important that the employees see consistency and stability coming from the owners.  Partners, like spouses, will disagree.  Open conflict, however, breeds insecurity low morale.  This in turn can often trigger what can be most easily understood as childish behavior on the part of certain employees.  Just like a child in a home where there is parental discord, one will play one off of the other.  This happens in offices all the time.  It happens with greater impact in owner-operated businesses, because the owner cannot be replaced.

Another thing that often happens in an owner-operated business is that the owner will hire a manager and then come in and take over, in front of the other employees.  As an owner, if you ever wish to be able to take a vacation with the peace of mind that things are being taken care of, this is NOT the way to do it.  However, it only compounds the problem if the other partner comes out and tries to undo what the other partner is doing.  Chaos will reign.  

Problems that result from conflict of authority are many.  It will bring out the worst in your worst employees.  It will stifle the good of your best employees and drive them away.    

What needs to happen is that the partners need to have regular communication and come to agreement as to how things are to get done.  Once this is done, the same things need to happen between the partners and managers.  Doing this in a way that supports and empowers your employees while making personal responsibilities clear, accomplishes many things.  It goes a long way to making an emotionally safe place for employees to thrive and a place where unproductive personality manipulation will find it very difficult to take root.  

How do you know if you have an employee problem or a problem in the way you are managing?  One way to tell is that if you seem to get employee problems that feel the same, over and over again, from different employees, chances are it is dynamic.  This means that before placing blame it is important to get to the root cause and do something different.  As owners, the dynamic starts here, and that is where the solution needs to begin or the problem is just going to keep showing up.