Just Figure It Out

Recently my wife and I attended her high school class reunion. For her sake, I won’t say which one, but let’s just say that it’s been several decades since her high school days. The event was well planned and quite enjoyable. As we were eating dinner at the banquet, I learned that the restaurant originally scheduled to cater the food bailed out just two weeks earlier. I inquired as to how this possibly could have happened and it was explained that apparently a new manager had recently been hired and there may have been other staffing issues. The restaurant is well-known and long-established in the community and it’s shocking that it reneged on its commitment. Fortunately another restaurant was able to step up at the last minute and cater the class reunion.

I understand that things happen. Hiccups occur in the entrepreneurial world. However, it’s times like these where the real entrepreneurs shine. When we make commitments we do whatever it takes to honor them. Sometimes this requires a great deal of creativity. Sometimes we actually lose money. But no matter what, we always honor our commitments. In the case of the original caterer for my wife’s class reunion, I don’t know what prevented them from following through and providing the food for the event. I found it interesting that while the reunion was in full swing, this restaurant was open and serving dinner across the street from the reunion site.

Real entrepreneurs have a “we’ll figure it out” attitude. Our word is our bond and we’ll die trying to deliver what we promise. Since I don’t know the exact circumstances surrounding the failure of the caterer, let’s game out some scenarios. Perhaps the restaurant found itself with an unexpected labor shortage. The management may have felt that when understaffed, it could not deliver on the catering assignment. I happen to know that this restaurant has locations in other towns that aren’t too far away. One entrepreneurial approach might have been to pull staff from another town to make it possible to honor the catering commitment. I realize that this might have cost the restaurant an extra amount of money, but that shouldn’t enter the equation where a commitment is concerned.

A second scenario might have been one where the former manager made the commitment at a price that caused the restaurant to incur a loss. Maybe that’s why there’s a new manager! Regardless, if the commitment was made at the specified price, it should have been honored. A third scenario might have been one where there was a problem in the supply chain. I find this rather implausible because the cancellation occurred approximately two weeks before the event – more than enough time to resolve an issue with a supplier. However, should that have been the case the restaurant could easily have made other arrangements to procure the necessary ingredients even if it meant buying the items at the grocery store.

The point is that a real entrepreneur would just “figure it out.” Sometimes we do things with bubble gum and baling wire. At other times we deliver a result that is a work of art. The main thing is that the job gets done and the customer is thrilled. Welching on a commitment is simply unheard of to a real entrepreneur. In the case of the caterer, they are running a great risk as a result of their actions. I overheard some of my wife’s classmates who were so irritated that there was talk of boycotting the restaurant and writing negative reviews on social media. I’m sure the word will spread throughout the city and other high school classes will avoid using this restaurant for catering their reunions.

There is a caveat to all of this. It’s important to understand that “we’ll just figure it out” is a fine approach for entrepreneurs at the early stages of our ventures. Eventually we need to refine our systems and processes and create redundancy in every area of our operation. It’s not possible to reach a level of scale if “we’ll just figure it out” is our long-term strategy. While it may sound laughable that any entrepreneur would do this over the long haul, I can tell you from personal experience that I’ve seen many, many companies that are in this mode for years.

Real entrepreneurs always honor their commitments. And sometimes this requires them to “just figure it out” through unconventional means.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 108 – Entrepreneurial Insecurities.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Handshake Heard Around the World

Recently we offered a managerial position to a prospective team member. All of the background screening was complete and he accepted the offer. We even had a firm starting date and appreciated the fact that he felt that he needed to give a two week notice to his current employer. A few days before his starting date he let us know that he wouldn’t be coming to work with us after all. It seems that his employer had offered him $12,000 more annually and he was going to stay put. There is so much wrong with this that I don’t know exactly where to start. Of course this isn’t the first time this has happened. And I know that other businesses have encountered the same thing.

From the prospective team member’s standpoint I have a real problem with this individual making a commitment and then reneging. Oh, I’ve heard all sorts of rationalization. “This is just the way of the world today.” Or, “You can’t really blame someone for wanting to simply take care of his family.” And, “This is classic Millennial behavior.” To all of this I say . . . hogwash. Strong relationships are built on commitment. It’s this way in a marriage, in a friendship, in business and certainly between an employer and an employee. Yet, some people see a potential job shift as a way to force their current employer to give them a raise – never mind that they’ve led their prospective employer down the primrose path.

Let’s look at the other side of the equation. By offering more money not to leave, the current employer is effectively saying to its employee, “We’ve been underpaying you all along and we knew it.” How does this reflect on the commitment of the employer? How is it that on one day an employee is worth what he has been paid all along, and the next day he’s suddenly worth $12,000 a year more? Why would the employee want to continue working for a company that does this?

One of our company’s five core values is Commitment. It’s definition – “We hold ourselves accountable and deliver on our promises.” Our rationale – “When we are fully committed, we are reliable and work diligently. Our commitment fosters dedication and loyalty.” We also wrap this core value with individual and organizational actions. From an individual perspective, “I take responsibility for my roles and accountabilities and strive to surpass expectations. I do what I say; I follow through and take ownership for my actions. I contribute constructive input for our company when requested or when needed.” From an organizational perspective, “Our leaders follow through and honor their commitments. Our leaders strive to make decisions keeping in mind the company, team members, customers and stakeholders. Our leaders are dedicated to supporting their team members so they can fulfill their commitments.”

In 1975, I interviewed for several jobs as I was about to graduate from college. I agreed to work for my current company and was immediately contacted by another prospective employer and offered a position that would have paid more. The thought never crossed my mind to even consider the offer because I had already made a commitment to my current firm. That was the way of the world in 1975. Sadly, as a society we’ve lost the meaning of the word Commitment.

For entrepreneurs trying to build a business, probably the most valuable resource we have is people. Without people, it’s virtually impossible to build an organization that provides a product or service to our customers. To attract and retain people we must demonstrate commitment in many forms. Our team members need to see that we are committed to making certain they are paid as promised. They need to know that we as leaders are committed to their well-being; to their growth and development, and to the long-term sustainability of our organizations. Perhaps by modeling commitment on our end, we can attract team members who will value this and become dedicated and loyal over the long haul.

I recommend that every entrepreneur adopt Commitment as a core value. By delivering on it each day, maybe it’s possible that the tide will turn and we can return to the day when our word is our bond.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 102 – Sabotage?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Art of Self-Discipline

I have my parents to thank for my level of discipline. I think perhaps I’m naturally wired for discipline, but there’s no doubt that the conscripted nature of their approach was very influential. As a young boy, every morning for nine years, I would get up and practice the piano at 5:30 AM on weekdays. I practiced the clarinet every weekday as well. I (dutifully) mowed the lawn, shoveled the snow, cleaned up the dog poop in the backyard, did my homework and practiced basketball. There was no choice. It was either get with the program or I’m sure there would have been even more horrific chores for me to do around the house. So I complied – I didn’t want to find out what the consequences would have been otherwise. So, today, whether it’s diet, exercise, investments or daily routines, I’m blessed with more than enough discipline. But I’m well aware that I may not be normal in this respect.

Discipline is a critical ingredient to an entrepreneur’s recipe for success. Without it we lose the “stick-to-itness” that is needed to follow through on a project or focus on a long-term strategy. The beneficial implementation of various systems and processes is dependent upon a level of discipline. It’s obvious to every adult that adopting a disciplined approach to multiple facets of our lives is essential.

So what do we do if we are less inclined in the discipline department? First, we decide where to pick our battles. I’m a neat freak – my wife, not so much. My shoes are organized in cubbies in my closet and every time I take off a pair they go directly into the cubby in which they belong. My wife’s shoes may be on the floor in front of the love seat where she sits in our den. In fact there may be more than one pair there. She has cubbies in her closet too, but they are packed full and she has dozens of pairs strewn about haphazardly on the closet floor. Naturally this used to bug me being the ultra-disciplined obsessive compulsive individual that I am. But I’ve learned that it’s not that big of a deal. And I’ve actually taken a page from her playbook and decided that there are some things on which I can lighten up in my daily routine. The point is that we don’t have to be disciplined about everything. Thus, we give ourselves permission to be less so with the things that don’t really matter.

Next, we identify those areas where we definitely need to be more disciplined. This applies to both our personal and professional lives. This starts with envisioning what it looks like when we get there. In other words, we paint the grand picture of success for whatever endeavor we are pursuing. Let’s take an easy example – weight loss. We see in our mind’s eye what we look like when we are 25 pounds lighter. We visualize a new wardrobe, how much easier it is to climb stairs, how wonderful the compliments are from our friends and overall how much healthier and vibrant we are. This visualization exercise needs to be performed daily until we have the desire to fulfill it. This process is necessary to build commitment. Without commitment discipline may be fleeting – look at gym attendance in February (or even half way through January).

Once we visualize our outcome and become fully committed, we next determine the steps that must be taken to achieve our outcome. Perhaps we want to become more disciplined about being aware of current affairs in our industry. Just jumping in and starting to read more trade publications, doesn’t ensure that we’ll have the discipline to continue this on a long-term basis. Instead we decide which information channels will be most productive. We determine a specific time of day we want to set aside for this initiative, and we also pick the environment most conducive to making this happen. In my case, it would be the easy chair in my den at home between the hours of 7:00 and 8:00 PM. I may read a couple of print and numerous online publications that are proven to have the content I’m seeking. There are some endeavors requiring discipline that need to be broken into bite-sized pieces or require a build-up of some sort. I walk about 10 to 12 miles each day but I didn’t start out that way. My initial Fitbit goal was 10,000 steps. Then it became 20,000 and now it’s 30,000.

Developing self-discipline is a process that starts with identifying what actually requires such discipline, followed by a visualization of the outcome we desire which builds to a commitment to follow-through. Then we map out the steps we’ll be taking – but always, always we keep visualizing our end goal.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 86 – Alligator Food

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Bears in Trash Bins

Here are several scenarios. Tell me what’s missing. A manufacturing operation is experiencing an alarming increase in the number of product rejections. A child chronically fails to turn in his homework assignments. Monthly financial reports for a company seem to always be delivered at least two weeks late and sometimes more. Customer service ratings for a particular business are abysmally low. Bears are constantly getting into trash bins in a neighborhood and making an incredible mess.

So what is it? What’s missing? It’s a concept that can sometimes be elusive in entrepreneurial environments and often in our personal lives as well. It’s called . . . accountability. Accountability has four basic components – understanding, commitment, responsibility and consequences.

A failure to understand what is expected can obviously lead to an overall failure in whatever operation is being performed. The manufacturing rejects could very well have been caused by a machine operator not understanding a critical step in his or her process. It’s pretty hard to hold this person accountable if there was a lack of training to ensure a full understanding of the process.

Without commitment full accountability is impossible. The child must not only understand how important it is to submit his homework but he must also be committed to the notion as well. If he refuses to commit to turn in his work, then he will refrain doing so. While it’s true we can hold him accountable for his actions, it’s unlikely that we’ll achieve the desired result.

The path to accountability involves a willingness to take responsibility. “It’s mine (or ours) to do” becomes the mantra. In unhealthy organizations there may be a great deal of finger pointing. “It’s the fault of Marketing.” “No, Sales screwed up!” No one seems willing to step up and claim whatever “it” is. Taking responsibility is a sign of integrity and sacrifice, especially if things go wrong.

Finally there are consequences. We may think of consequences in a negative sense but of course consequences can also be positive. The accountant who finally figures out how to deliver the financial reports on time may benefit from positive consequences in the form of a bonus. On the other hand, the customer service department that gets consistently poor ratings might suffer the consequences of being terminated. It’s important to note that for negative consequences to be administered fairly, the individual(s) in question must have a clear understanding of what they are supposed to do. One of the most common mistakes that is made in the accountability process is firing someone for their failures that are really the result of their not clearly understanding how to perform their role.

So let’s put it all together in a positive scenario. Mike and Susan are a two-person team employed by Newco, a tech start-up. For the first week after they are hired they undergo intensive training that provides them with the knowledge and understanding they need to undertake the functions assigned to them. The second week they work with “buddies” that scrutinize their work and ensure the finished product meets quality standards.

At the beginning of the third week the company founder sits down with Mike and Susan and asks them a number of questions about the work they are doing. He inquires as to whether or not they are clear on what they are supposed to do and how to do it. When they answer affirmatively, the founder asks if they are fully committed to do their part as a team in delivering a flawless product to the customer. Mike and Susan now have understanding and commitment.

One day a customer complained that two of the units she had purchased were defective. Upon further investigation Mike realized that he had missed a step in the production process. He wrote a note to the customer offering his apology and made sure the founder knew that the error was totally his and not Susan’s fault. Thus, he took responsibility.

Over the course of a year, Mike and Susan performed in exemplary fashion. They were accountable to each other, to their company and to their customers. As a result they were both promoted to supervisory positions and received generous raises. All in all the consequences were positive.

When we have understanding, commitment, responsibility and consequences we have full accountability. And that’s how we keep the bears out of the trash bins.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 35 – Tick Tock.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

bear_in_trash

Urgent Care

Allow me to set the scene. We are about to embark upon a major project that could make or break our company. There are a wide range of complexities involving this project and it will require a supreme effort from our entire team to successfully bring it all together. But there’s just one problem. Invariably someone on the team is not as responsive as necessary or doesn’t seem to possess the same sense of urgency as does everyone else. As a result the ball gets dropped and we fail. Alternatively, others on the team step in to pick up the slack which creates resentment and hard feelings. How do we effectively deal with this rogue team member that is at the center of all this?

There are a number of steps that can be taken to stack the deck in our favor when it comes to ensuring responsiveness and urgency. Step one is to develop clear written roles and accountabilities for each member of the team. Considerable thought should be given to this process so that a high level of precision in role definition can be attained. Being as comprehensive as possible in describing a role will produce clarity. Vague and generic verbiage muddles the picture and may lead to confusion later on. As team members we have overall roles and accountabilities. For major projects it’s a good idea to dive even deeper into a separate set of intentions for each of us relative to the specific matter at hand.

Step two involves gaining a commitment from each team member. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to hold a team meeting to reaffirm the vision for the project. For example, suppose we are developing a proposal to win a major piece of business. We assemble the team that will be creating and implementing the proposal and paint the picture of what it looks like when we win (vision). In the meeting we review team member roles and accountabilities and ask each person to make a verbal (and maybe even written) commitment to do their part in this endeavor. It’s critical that this commitment be made among those on the team and not just to the enterprise.

The third step is for the team leader(s) to make an assessment of the capabilities of each team member. The roles and accountabilities have already been established for each position that will participate in the project. Will the individuals who fill those positions be able to perform the tasks assigned to them? And do they have the tools and resources that are needed to prosecute their roles effectively? If it’s determined that a team member isn’t equipped for his or her role – i.e. skills, training or experience – then that person becomes the weak link in the chain. A decision must be made at the outset whether or not to replace that team member with someone else, or be prepared to provide greater than normal support for that individual.

Finally, team members should be encouraged to set their own deadlines so long as they are compatible with the overall project timeline. When a deadline is imposed by others, there’s always the opportunity for someone to claim it to be unrealistic. Accountability is first to one’s self and then to the team. Self-imposed deadlines are congruent with this approach to accountability. As team leaders it’s equally important for us to be aware of all deadlines and check with team members well in advance of them. Then if there’s a chance that a deadline will be missed we can muster additional resources or take other steps to make sure that the train still runs on time.

Instilling responsiveness and a sense of urgency within a team is a process. When we clearly define roles and accountabilities, obtain commitment, assess capabilities and resources, and work with team-member established deadlines, the process should put us in a position to win the prize we are seeking.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

An early motorized version of a LICH ambulance.

An early motorized version of a LICH ambulance.

Perfect Alignment

There are numerous obstacles that we encounter along the trail of life. Many are of our own making and some are not. What can we do to smooth out the path and avoid the monsters that jump out of the bushes to bite us? One answer involves a concept that I’ve only recently begun to understand at a deeper level and come to embrace. The concept is that of core values.

In the past I probably would have quit reading by this point and moved on to something that seemed more tangible to me at the time. After all “core values” sounds a bit esoteric and maybe even a bit “psycho-babblish” – not something a macho entrepreneur would be interested in. But after studying and witnessing the effects of core values, I’ve become a believer.

More than a year ago our collection of companies made a conscious decision to change our culture. A Core Values Team was formed and the group did amazing work. They spent countless hours brainstorming and debating the basic values they thought we should epitomize. The result was five core values including Integrity, Commitment, Team Member Fulfillment, Customer Fulfillment and Community Impact. A second team was formed called Building Internal Communities, and worked in tandem with the Core Values Team to roll out the core values to team members across all the companies with locations scattered across the country. Tremendous effort has been undertaken to keep the core values at the forefront and live them accordingly. And it seems to be working in an impressive fashion.

Here’s where it gets interesting. We determined early on that we wanted to make certain that everyone on the team was in perfect alignment with the core values; AND everyone with whom we work outside the organization is also aligned with these beliefs as well. It has become obvious over the past several months that some of our team members don’t completely buy into the core values and they have left (or in some cases, were asked to leave). But what’s even more fascinating is the fact that we can see very clearly that certain vendor and client relationships aren’t necessarily aligned either. In the past we’ve butted heads with these relationships or felt like we weren’t on the same page with them. Through understanding our core values we now have a means of assessing our external relationships to see how well we are in alignment.

The upshot of this process is that we are severing some of the ties that we have with external parties. Harkening back to my opening salvo – why live with the obstacles that stand in our way? This doesn’t mean that the external parties with whom we have been struggling are bad or dishonest. It simply means that we may not share the same values which can cause friction and anxiety. This can be eliminated by building relationships with those external parties where we are in perfect alignment. Gone are the hard feelings and the unrealistic expectations. No longer do we waste time hashing and re-hashing unpleasant interactions with other parties.

Establishing a strong set of core values helps team members become aligned. But of equal importance, working with external parties that share the same values helps make our lives richer and happier.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

flock of migrating canada geese birds

Yin and Yang

Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work – Peter Drucker (management consultant, author and educator).

Good intentions aren’t enough. People have good intentions when they set a goal to do something, but then they miss a deadline or other milestone – Harvey Mackay (businessman, author and syndicated columnist).

Good intentions never change anything. They only become a deeper and deeper rut – Joyce Meyer (author and speaker).

I have low tolerance for people who complain about things but never do anything to change them. This led me to conclude that the single largest pool of untapped natural resources in the world is human good intentions that are never translated into action – Cindy Gallop (advertising consultant).

Each and every one of us has intentions; and most likely they are good intentions. But there must be another component to “intention” for there to be success. This component is a counterweight of sorts. It’s the yang to the yin. Without commitment good intentions never come to fruition. We’ve talked before about execution and how specifically we act. But before we can take action we must install the middle step of commitment. If we have good intentions and try to take action without commitment, we’re likely to fail.

Commitment embodies obligation, responsibility and dedication. Let’s suppose that I set an intention to exercise every day for at least thirty minutes. So far so good. Then I plunge into exercise activities the next morning and the morning after that. Wow – now we’re cooking! But wait, the third morning I struggle to get out of bed and decide to skip the exercise routine; besides, I have an early breakfast meeting that would probably have shortened the amount of time I could spend on the treadmill anyway. Then the next morning I have another excuse and so on. What was missing here? Why didn’t I follow-through on my good intentions? Very simply, I lacked commitment.

Understanding how to link intentions and sustainable action through commitment may seem elusive. There are two foundational elements to commitment. The first is what I call an “A ha” moment. This is when something in our mind clicks – where all the pieces fall into place – and our intentions make perfect sense. I’m not really going to commit to an ongoing exercise program until there’s a meaningful reason for me to do so. Of course I know that I want to be healthier, but that’s not enough. Why do I want to be healthier? My “A ha” moment came when I realized that my oldest grandson needed me to be in his life for the long haul. At that point, being healthier had a much more important purpose to which I was willing to commit. Often it’s easier to make a commitment when someone else needs us to be committed.

The second foundational element to commitment is that of accountability. Sure, we can be accountable to ourselves, but unless we have tremendous self-discipline this isn’t always easy. If we feel an obligation to others for some reason, then we can be accountable to them for that which we commit. In my case the reason I’m committed to an exercise program is to be alive and supportive of my oldest grandson. And thus I’m accountable to him for this commitment. If for some reason I don’t feel in the mood to exercise, I see his innocent young face in my mind’s eye and it isn’t hard to kick into gear and follow-through with the necessary actions.

Intention and commitment are necessary before we can take action. Making a commitment to another person and being accountable to that person helps to ensure that we follow-through and translate our intentions and commitment into action.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

yinyang