People problems

Mar 19, 2023

As a business owner, people problems will probably be at the top of your “problems/opportunities” list.

It’s a cliche, but the fact is what really “keeps you awake at night” as a business owner is likely to be your people problems. You would think it would be about how to sell more of whatever you are selling, or get the cash you need to meet payroll, or something else. I won’t say those kinds of crises don’t come up – they most certainly can and do! But people problems will probably be at the top of your “problems/opportunities” list.

When I say “people problems,” I am referring to a wide range of issues. That includes everything from how you can change the compensation plan for your commissioned sales people to one that would better motivate them, to how you can promote one person but not another who will think they should be promoted too, to how you can get two people – both of them good people who are essential to your business – to get along.

None of these things are easy. No amount of formal education can prepare you for what you will encounter. There usually isn’t a best approach to this stuff. Every situation is unique. That said, I do think some simple ideas can help you prepare better for these issues and help you deal with them:

  1. Pick your partners well. Yes, partner problems happen often in our industry. They say most marriages break down over money issues. Well, think how much more likely that is if there is no love involved! My experience is that some people should never have gotten married as business partners. The best partners are people with completely different, non-overlapping strengths who have similar value systems. Follow your gut and make sure you protect yourself with the right legal form of organization and documentation of everything. It will make dealing with problems a lot easier.
  2. Hire the right people in the first place. Character, intelligence, and work ethic should rule. You can’t train people for those things. You may be able to train them to use certain software, or how to write better, but it will be very difficult to change someone’s basic personality. So don’t forget that when hiring.
  3. Don’t do anything too quickly – but don’t be too slow to react, either. We used to like to say HR problems will resolve themselves if left alone long enough, but the truth is, you may not like the resolution! So deal with these issues expeditiously. The longer you wait, the more collateral damage in the form of morale problems in the firm are likely to occur.
  4. Investigate, investigate, investigate. Always remember there are two sides to every story. All you need are some friends who are getting divorced to know that is true! The truth of where things break down in a relationship is usually somewhere between what each of the people involved in the situation will tell you. So do your due diligence when working to solve any of these people problems.
  5. Control your emotions. Nothing good will come from you losing your temper. In fact, a lot of bad can come from that. So learn to count to 10 when someone says or does something bad or annoying. And stay calm! This, too, shall pass!
  6. Realize this is an important part of your job! You are a leader. You are a manager. So you have to do your job. Realize these people problems are like an infection. It can spread. So deal with what you have to deal with!

People problems keeping you awake at night? Resolve to deal with them. And if that fails, one Tylenol PM usually works pretty well for me! 

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.