Business Bullies – Part 1

competing-successfully-against-big-cleaning-companiesAt some point in our lives most of us have encountered a bully. It may have been the classic schoolyard bully who found pleasure in picking on people he or she saw as weaker. It could have been a “sports bully” who flaunted his or her superior physical ability. Or it may even have been a neighbor whose brash nature had to put down the decisions you made with your home.

Bullies aren’t a product of the twentieth century. In fact, bullies are found throughout history. Henry VIII, Genghis Khan, and the infamous Idi Amin (Who declared himself “His Excellency President for Life” only to be run out of town eight years later!) are all examples.

Bullies have enjoyed notoriety in print and on the silver screen. Remember “Peppermint Patty” from Peanuts and Bluto from Popeye? Other classic examples are Scut Farkas from “A Christmas Story”, Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons, and the poster boy for every bully who’s ever gotten his come-uppance: Biff Tannen from “Back to the Future.”

Unfortunately bullies aren’t limited to history nor are they only fabrications in print and in movies. Bullies aren’t even limited to people. Circumstances and situations can also be bullies as in leading you to veer from decisions you know are best in order to avoid confrontation. Too often these bullies are present in the workplace and can have a profound effect on the lives of the people in our companies. They can affect employee morale, employee safety, and even the caliber of work being produced.

Entrepreneurs are typically viewed as fearless innovators and risk takers. They are often people most comfortable when doing things at their own pace and when operating within their own areas of experience. As a result they can easily feel bullied by their fear of the unknown when stretched beyond their comfort zones. While they may be able to take charge of the playing field they’re familiar with, they can be stopped in their tracks by their fear of the unknown.

When this “Entrepreneurial Paralysis” happens you can be bullied into playing it too safe, avoiding even modest risk for fear of losing everything. As a result your company (and your growth) stagnates. Sales level off or decline, the company culture becomes stale and good employees needed to grow the company leave.

Competitors can be bullies, too. Sometimes just the perception that they’re bigger or more successful can make us feel bullied. This perception can create a distance between “Big Successful Them” and “Poor Struggling Me” and this separation is what creates the bully scenario. But it doesn’t have to be this way…

Any business (regardless of size) can close this “bully gap” by recognizing the things that make a company unique are what make a company good. Any company can, and should, have unique factors. By definition of the term unique, no other company can have your competitive advantage. The key is to focus on selling your unique factors rather than worrying about the other (bigger) guys.

What about your customers? Can they be bullies? It may not be intentional, but any time one customer represents more than 20% of your annual revenue they pose a serious threat to your business. This becomes particularly evident when they start to bully their way around. You quickly realize it’s the customer who’s holding the trump cards while you’re just trying to stay in the game! If the customer decides to take his business elsewhere, your company is going to bleed and maybe die! This holds true whether that customer is a large commercial account, a government contract, or an insurance program. We can quickly be bullied into making decisions intended to appease the customer, rather than ones that are in the long-term best interest of our company.

If you feel the decisions being made in your business are driven by an outside force, rather than the long-term Vision and Mission of your company, take a moment to ask yourself if someone or something isn’t bullying you into a course of action you know isn’t the best for you. Let’s talk more on this soon…

Chuck Violand (more about Chuck)
SFS Instructor
CEO Violand Management Associates

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