The View from HR

View from HR: Why business problems are people problems

CorrespondentJune 28, 2014 

Business people naturally speak about economic challenges and opportunities as business problems. Because these issues involve finance, engineering, marketing, regulation, sales, production, distribution, information technology, delivery or customer service, those same lenses are used to solve the “problem.”

With all due respect, this is an inadequate and risky way to view business problems.

It is obvious that people are key to forward progress in business. I am suggesting another realization: that the personal behaviors of these same people will create success or failure. Think of any business threat or idea and imagine a solution that does NOT center on personal behaviors!

Take IT and the stereotype of the geek. Is IT a window where old keyboards are exchanged and new devices acquired? Does it run the company’s black boxes and offsite services shrouded in mystery? Does it well serve the business in seizing new markets and serving old ones?

Encourage conversation

People work better, smarter and harder with people they like, respect and understand. Especially in IT, a relationship that encourages open conversation around problems and opportunities is much more likely to create strong solutions and proactive behaviors.

Ernie Smith (writing for iStock) attended an IT conference where the importance of company dynamics and a pre-existing relationship to the solving of any business challenge was discussed. How can we expect important accomplishments and innovation where there is no foundation for the conversation? If IT is all about handling emergencies behind a wall, we will get what we expect.

Personal behaviors build that wall (and not just in IT). Personal behaviors can also create an opening in that wall. Personalities and relationships will make the solutions much better, or cause the best ideas to fail.

There surely are some “business” problems with external causes – commodity shortages and spikes, government licensing delays, lack of training and capacity for the work, a fire in the warehouse, and so on. Personal responses to those realities are critical. In the normal flow of business, personal behaviors are at the root of business issues.

Clarity, not confusion

Complexity, confusion, lack of awareness, distrust, ignorance of roles, growth beyond capacity, “left hand/right hand” problems, malevolence, no agreement on the “main thing”: all of these issues stem from poor communication caused by personalities, avoidance and habits. Business execution is about people and how they interact. To view business problems as something separate from people problems will frustrate the best laid plans.

Who owns the “personal behaviors” topic at your organization? Is it dumped on the incapable by the unwilling? Is it ignored until a critical conflict arises? Are managers and leaders rewarded for their roles creating clarity, exposing ignorance, confronting obstructionists, encouraging cross-pollination and serving as behavioral models?

Productive personal behaviors will boost your chances of success on the trail from idea to growth company.

Leaders who undervalue the role of personal behaviors along that trail may find themselves lost.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 N.C. employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit

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