Confronting the Brutal Facts – Employees


In Jim Collin’s book “Good to Great” he discovered that one of the key drivers for great companies was the consistent ability to “Confront the brutal facts”.

“Great organizations lead with questions, not answers. If the organization openly confronts the brutal facts of each situation, the right decisions will often become self-evident..”

Basically it’s the ability to do a completely honest and thorough assessment of your current situation – be willing to hear and face the truth, no matter how painful and bleak it might seem.

One common area of brutal facts for many companies centers on employees and their costs.  To start with you need to make sure you’re following another one of Collins key tenets…having the right people on the bus…and in the right seats.

This process includes taking into consideration the employee’s strengths and weaknesses and matching them with the roles and responsibilities in your business. It also means having systems and training procedures to ensure they have every opportunity to perform at their highest level. You have to give them the tools to succeed.  Everyone wants to succeed and do a good job, but if you don’t have the right people in the right roles with the tools and support they  need, you are going to fail.

When’s the last time you really looked at how your employees fit in your business as it is today?  Do you have the right people in the right roles?

What about confronting brutal facts when the issue is employee numbers and costs?  What do you do when forces outside your control create an environment of change, change that will affect your current staffing needs?

Example – The US Postal Service

Although it has been developing for some time, the US Postal Service will remember the fall of 2011 as the time they were forced to deal with changes that are affecting them in a monumental way.  Caught in this transformation are over 500,000 US Postal employees who for the most part have all been doing their specific jobs perfectly well. However, the internet has changed how we communicate & conduct business…forever. Changes are needed to rescale a US Postal Service into an entity that has the potential to sustain itself, which will undoubtedly mean fewer employees. It has to be dealt with; it is a “brutal fact”.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with the US Postal Service, but what happens all too often in the small business world is a lack of confrontation.  Business owners do not want to accept that a significant change is taking place and so they keep doing what they do in hopes that it will get better on its own. First a few weeks pass, then a few months, and sometimes it turns into years. If they would just truly look at their market trend, at their data, their cost structure, confront the brutal facts, it would be clear a change needs to take place.

In my personal experience, the longer I waited to make an employee change the higher the number of people I negatively impacted. I realized as a business owner, it is imperative to make decisions that keep your business financially sound at all times. If you don’t, you are jeopardizing the livelihood of all the employees and not just the few that may no longer have a place in your organization.

For a small to medium sized business owner this can be a particularly sensitive matter because employees often feel like family. It is completely different than terminating employees for performance issues or when they simply don’t fit your culture. The “brutal facts” are often painful, but at the end of day a downsizing of the company may be the best solution for your company to once again experience momentum and growth (and ultimately add employees again).

Where do you stand on your cost structure?  Are you in the red or the black?  Do you need to consider cutting headcount to make sure you’re still healthy?

Have you confronted the Brutal Facts when it comes to your financials?  Has your world changed and you’re not willing to confront it?  We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please share your comments below.

Chris Steinlage  Kansas City Business Coach

Photo by bruckerrlb