The Mob

Entrepreneurs should do everything possible to avoid the Mob. If you are thinking the Mafia or La Cosa Nostra, that’s not what this is about. Our society is currently experiencing a phenomenon that I call the Mob Mentality. And there’s nothing good in it for us. If you are wondering, there are examples abound. The #MeToo movement certainly raises legitimate concerns about sexual harassment, but there are many people who are being convicted by the Mob without any opportunity to offer a defense. The same is happening with Mob convictions for racism, homophobia and a score of other real or perceived slights. And more recently, the Mob has become focused on guns and is convicting companies that might have some association with the National Rifle Association.

I don’t get into political discussions in this blog. This is about entrepreneurship and what we can do to become better entrepreneurs. But it’s hard to avoid becoming ensnared by the Mob when its fevered pitch ratchets out of control and overwhelms us with political correctness and hyperbole. I listened to a podcast recently about start-ups and angel investing. The host, who makes his political proclivities known every chance he gets, asked a founder he was interviewing, whether he would accept funding from a certain well-known venture capitalist that has political leanings that are out of favor with the Silicon Valley crowd. And the host and his guest pondered this question and it became apparent that there is actually a Mob Mentality that would prevent some founders from accepting funding from this VC. Incredible!

Successful entrepreneurships are built on diversity of thought and culture. The Mob advocates monolithic thought. Rather than engaging in civil discourse, the Mob will attempt to intimidate an entrepreneur through boycotts, adverse posts on social media and via other means. This is dangerous territory for us to be in. Facts be damned, the Mob is always in search of an enemy to destroy. If we are anywhere close by, we run the risk of being swept up in the hysteria of the moment.

So, how are we supposed to avoid the Mob? If we don’t have well-thought Core Values and a healthy, positive Culture, the Mob may be waiting for us right around the corner. Why is this important? Because focusing on Core Values and Culture will help our organization and its team members, move down the right path. Entrepreneurial endeavors that are drifting along without an intentional culture are more prone to make the kind of mistakes on which the Mob will pounce. Why? Because the guideposts provided by Core Values are missing. One of the five Core Values for our firm is that of Team Member Fulfillment. We work hard to evaluate decisions that we make as a company and as individual team members, and align them with the concept of a positive workplace experience. In so doing, it’s clear to everyone that there’s no place in Team Member Fulfillment for sexual harassment. Obviously someone who feels harassed or threatened, can’t be feeling fulfilled. Does this guarantee that it won’t happen – of course not. But we believe we’ve decreased the chances as a result of our cultural development.

Another way to avoid the Mob is to decline to participate. The Mob Mentality is mostly fueled by emotion. Entrepreneurs who choose to enter this arena are playing with fire. Remember as kids when we wanted to do something and used the emotional (and fact-less) argument, “everybody is doing it?” I certainly did, but fortunately my parents weren’t buying. There were several things that had I been allowed to participate, would have turned out badly for me. Just keep in mind that if you decide to jump on the Mob bandwagon, your team members and your customers may be watching. And the consequences could be detrimental to your business.

Finally, avoiding the Mob requires active leadership. Not only must we model our Core Values, but we should take the opportunity to lead our team away from or around the crowd. We should not make decisions simply to please or placate the Mob. Instead, we do the right thing for our enterprise and the team members that support it. In this day and age we can’t hide from our leadership responsibilities or the Mob will fill the void. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a number of business leaders that think they are protecting their companies from the Mob by siding with it. In most cases, this has simply caused more controversy and chaos. Strong, active leaders will chart a proper and measured course that avoids being trampled by the herd.

The Mob Mentality in our society is a dangerous thing. Entrepreneurs can avoid the Mob by adopting well-defined Core Values, creating a strong, positive Culture, declining to participate in Mob initiatives and demonstrating positive, active leadership.

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 89 – Up and to the Right.

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.

Marauders

There have been some interesting developments in recent times on the subject of capitalism. An angry anti-capitalism movement is in full bloom in the U.S. and around the world. The classic definition of capitalism from Merriam-Webster is, “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.” And what do the anti-capitalists want? They are pursuing a moneyless society or some other economic system such as socialism or communism. How have we arrived at this point?

There has always been a certain element of society that voices opposition to capitalism. Lately the voices seem to have grown louder and perhaps greater in number. I believe that this may be due in part to some bad behavior on the part of a few marauding capitalists. What is a “marauding capitalist?” Here are some examples. The financial services company, Wells Fargo, fraudulently created more than two million phony bank accounts which generated fees for the bank and helped push sales figures for thousands of employees (along with their bonuses). Then there was the scandal involving the EpiPen. The cost to Mylan, the pharmaceutical company producing the EpiPen is $30, and yet the consumer was being charged $600. And finally, there’s the case of Martin Shkreli, formerly CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who jacked up the price of the HIV drug Daraprim from $13.50 per tablet to over $700.

Some of these actions were illegal. In all cases they were immoral. When this sort of behavior is perpetrated it gives capitalism a bad reputation. It’s not hard to see how the term “marauding capitalists” came about. Society generally disapproves of those who scheme and those who take unfair advantage of others. Is it any surprise that resentment has built to the point that the anti-capitalists are coming out of the woodwork?

What can we do to inoculate ourselves from becoming a “marauding capitalist?” It all starts with a foundation of Core Values. For a good part of my career I heard about companies with Core Values, but in most cases they were “lip serviced.” They were only for window dressing and no one paid any attention to them. Several years ago we decided to become serious about developing our culture and did so by developing meaningful Core Values. Since then we’ve focused on them relentlessly and celebrated the way they are lived by members of our team. Our Core Values include Commitment, Integrity, Customer Fulfillment, Team Member Fulfillment and Community Impact. By maintaining focus on delivering on our Core Values, we have avoided the kind of actions that might be regarded as unacceptable or offensive.

With well-thought Core Values and a commitment to living them every day, we entrepreneurs don’t have to worry about doing things that are immoral or illegal. But we’re not done yet. The “living them every day” part is critical and the most difficult. This is where Culture comes into play. Every organization has a Culture – intentional or unintentional. When the Culture is positive and aligned with the Core Values, it reduces the likelihood for moving off the straight and narrow. If someone on the team proposes an initiative that is contradictory to the Core Values, someone else will call this into accountability. A healthy Culture can become a self-policing mechanism that stops “marauding capitalism” in its tracks. Most importantly, the top leaders of an organization must embrace the Core Values and model them every single day. This sends the message that the company has not simply adopted Core Values to be politically correct.

There are plenty of companies that are doing it right. Panera Bread, Atmos Energy, Kohl’s, Western Union, Marathon Petroleum, Quest Diagnostics, Union Pacific and Sempra Energy, are just a few that are admired for their trustworthiness. Unfortunately it only takes a few bad actors to poison the well for capitalism overall.

We can all do our part to prevent marauding capitalism from becoming mainstream, for it invites more government regulation and gives a platform to those who want to destroy capitalism outright. When our operating principles are congruent with our Core Values we will be successful in this effort.

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 66 – The Bermuda Triangulation Effect.

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.

Wanna Change the World?

Here’s an obvious statement – entrepreneurs want to build successful businesses. But there’s something more that drives many of us. In some cases this objective is just as important as building the business itself. It’s a notion that invokes strong emotions and can be a driving force. Yes, many entrepreneurs want to make a difference in the world. They want to help change lives in a positive way. This is especially true of the millennial generation but also strikes a multi-generational chord for many.

While making a difference sounds great, how do we go about creating a company that does good work? A strong set of core values and a vision that embraces changing the world are critical factors. But to truly move forward to effectively and sustainably implement this concept we must start . . . with ourselves. Making a difference must become a mindset and a lifestyle. Think about it this way. If we want to lose weight permanently we don’t go on a diet, we change our lifestyle. It works the same way when we want to make a difference – we must change our lifestyle.

There is a simple yet powerful method that will help us move in the direction we desire. It revolves around a daily journal that we keep in which we record each attempt we make to do something that positively impacts one or more people. Here’s something else to think about. Making a difference doesn’t have to involve massive sweeping changes in the world. It starts with a lot of little steps that eventually have a cumulative effect. One of the mistakes that lead to frustration for entrepreneurs is believing that they can be the catalyst for major transformations overnight. Sure, every once in a while this can happen. But shooting for the stars without enough fuel is certainly going to end up in a fizzling disappointment.

What sort of baby steps should we be taking to develop a difference-making lifestyle and mindset? Look at all of the opportunities we have to make a positive impact on the lives of others every single day. In the restaurant where we are having breakfast or lunch, we can compliment our waitperson on providing excellent service. We can hold the door open so that another person can enter or exit. Perhaps we even anonymously pay for someone else’s meal in that restaurant from time-to-time. Maybe we handwrite a thank-you note to someone who has done something nice for us. Or we call a person with best wishes for their birthday. Do we always remember to acknowledge others with a smile and a warm greeting when we see them? Are our “please” and “thank you” manners always on display?

The little every day habits we develop to brighten the day of another individual are foundational toward taking bigger steps. Suppose one of our team members is apparently in distress. We can lend a sympathetic ear. Volunteering is a terrific way to make a positive difference in the lives we touch and can run the gamut of activities. Helping at a homeless shelter, mentoring other entrepreneurs, reading to sick kids in a children’s hospital and providing assistance to scouting organizations are examples of such bigger steps.

To keep ourselves on track, we utilize the Daily Difference Journal to record what we have done each day toward our lifestyle change. While it may seem trite to make an entry like, “told Olivia that her smile brightened the day,” the act of keeping such a tally reinforces the intentionality of our desire to do good things for our world. Repeating this process day-in and day-out helps set the pattern that we desire. Initially it pushes us to remember to look for opportunities to say and do things that create a positive experience for others. Eventually it becomes second nature and we don’t have to remember anything. We simply live each day looking for ways to make others happy and live better lives.

Making a difference in the world is a terrific benefit of being an entrepreneur. A Daily Difference Journal puts us on the path to accomplishing this with gusto!

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 55 – F-.

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 Three-Legged Stool

We entrepreneurs have no shortage of books and other resource materials at our disposal to understand how to win in today’s environment. We’re barraged with a multitude of tips, tactics, strategies and a host of other concepts. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone insists theirs is the right way. Ask any coach or consultant and undoubtedly each will have their own secret sauce. I have no issue with any of this and believe that this diversity of ideas is healthy for entrepreneurship as a whole. Fortunately no one individual has it all figured out . . . so we continue to seek. As one of the “seekers” I might as well add my thoughts to the mix.

My approach involves a three-legged stool, and it’s a very simple calculus. The first leg is that of Culture. For most of my career I wasn’t very focused on Culture and we certainly didn’t do much to promote it. Our Culture just kind of happened in a laissez-faire manner. Oh sure, we had a company picnic every now and then as well as a Christmas party; and from time-to-time we would undertake a community service project. But for the most part it was nose-to-the-grindstone – chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out. However, I’ve learned a lot over the past few years and I’m now drinking the Culture Kool-Aid – lots of it. Why? Because I’ve found that Core Values matter. Not just to the company but to each member of our team. And we really live our Core Values every single day. As a result, we now have a team of people who have a common alignment and purpose. We are able to connect with millennials and Boomers alike and productivity has markedly increased. While Culture is more than just Core Values, they serve as the foundation for a Culture.

The second leg of the stool is Product. With the strengthening of our Culture we’ve become more creative and innovative with respect to the products and services we provide. The positive environment that has emerged in our companies has enabled us to shine a spotlight on our Product set. We’re constantly making tweaks every chance we get to differentiate from our competition that which we offer. “How is it different?” has become our mantra. We’ve become much more targeted with our marketing and sales effort in a manner that complements our Product refinement. A clear focus on Product has been the impetus for a much more strategic approach to decisions that we make as opposed to the small-ball tactics that we used to deploy.

Finally, the third leg of the stool is Customer. Many companies pay lip service to their customers. Everyone recognizes that without customers we don’t stay in business very long. But to succeed entrepreneurs must go far beyond basic customer service. We must do the deep dive into understanding what makes the Customer tick. It’s more than just needs and wants . . . it’s also a more comprehensive understanding of buying patterns and lifestyles. It’s about anticipating what the Customer will value. Thus, the value proposition becomes the Holy Grail. How does the customer experience attain complete and total satisfaction?

Maybe I’ve oversimplified this, but everything else seems incidental beyond Culture, Product and Customer. Without a strong Culture how can we possibly create a great Product and take care of the Customer? Without a great Product, our Culture begins to crack as team members become demoralized and the Customer eventually suffers. And yes, without the Customer, there’s no point in a Culture or a Product.

Culture, Product and Customer. A three-legged stool that looks simple, but is strong enough to support a long winning streak for us as entrepreneurs.

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.

3LeggedStool1

Shooting Star

Imagine a warm summer night, a meadow away from the city lights and a cloudless, moonless sky. A blanket is spread on the ground and you stretch out on your back and gaze at the heavens above. Trillions of pin dots twinkle back at you. Suddenly, as luck would have it, a streak of light crosses right in front of your eyes – a brief moment of intense action in an otherwise passive setting. Yes, a meteor is truly a sight to behold and provides a metaphorical warning to us as entrepreneurs.

The romanticism of a shooting star quickly gives way to the realization that we have just witnessed a piece of interplanetary debris burning up in the earth’s atmosphere. The operative words here are “burning up.” In entrepreneurial parlance, we’re talking about “burning out.” We all know what burnout is, so I don’t need to describe its symptoms. In fact, we’ve all probably experienced burnout in some form over the course of our careers. More important are two central questions. How do we prevent burnout in the first place? And how do we get out of burnout if it already holds us captive?

Preventing burnout in the first place is actually easier than figuring out how to get out of it once we’re in it. Consider this example. Jeff is focused on his software training business in laser-like fashion. He eats, sleeps and breathes software training and hasn’t had a vacation in six years. The business is growing in a very profitable fashion, but Jeff worries every day that if he takes his eye off the ball, his competition could easily overtake him and he’d begin losing money. He justifies his herculean efforts as the right way to provide for his family (but he’s missed eight of his son’s last ten soccer games). By contrast, Amy has a competing software training business. She is passionate about her company which is growing like Jeff’s and is also profitable. Amy has learned through time management techniques and following a carefully thought plan, how to be incredibly productive while she’s at work. She serves on a non-profit board, exercises and meditates every day, volunteers at a local homeless shelter, plays tennis and takes a ten-day vacation every six months. It’s pretty obvious which entrepreneur is a prime candidate for burnout. Because she has embraced a life balance, Amy is more creative and innovative. When Jeff finally hits the wall Amy will blow on by him because she has learned how to build a strong team to which she can delegate.

Extracting ourselves from the clutches of burnout is a real challenge. The first step is to go back to the basics and determine if our vision and mission are the same now as they were when we were filled with passion at the outset of our endeavor. Do they need to be tweaked? What made us passionate about what we started doing in the first place? Are our core values intact? Reconnecting with our passion is critical and can only happen when we become grounded in our vision, mission and values. Without this re-set we cannot know for certain if the passion is truly alive.

Next, we need to make the choice to move toward a more balanced approach to life. Nothing prevents us from adopting Amy’s M.O. Experts say that it takes three weeks to form a habit. Every day we must become intentional about identifying and implementing the different elements that will compose our newly balanced life. Getting out of ourselves and doing good things for others is one of the best ways to break out of the burnout cycle.

Finding a balance in life is the best preventive medicine for warding off burnout . . . and for getting out of it. While shooting stars are spectacular to watch there’s no need to be one.

Shooting stars

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

At the Core

The other day a consultant-friend of mine took me through an exercise that I had performed a number of years ago but had since forgotten. The subject was personal core values and the exercise was a simple method to identify them. I will confess that introspection is not one of my strong suits. I tend to blow and go and not spend a lot of time reflecting upon what I’ve done or why I’ve done it. In the past I’ve considered this a waste of precious time – my philosophy has been that life is too short and every second should be spent moving forward.

What my friend helped me understand is that people in my organization want to know what I stand for. I have always thought my actions speak louder than my words, but sometimes the words help add clarity and context. Whether we really think about it or not, we all have a set of core values. Here’s the exercise in a nutshell.

Write down on a piece of paper the name of ten people you admire most. They can be living or dead and may even be fictional characters. My list included parents, presidents, scientists and a couple of everyday people. Next, make a list of reasons why you admire those people on your list. Perhaps a particular person is extremely loving. Another is very passionate. Still another might be wise and insightful. The people on your list could have two, three or even four characteristics that resonate with you. Write them all on your list.

Ultimately you are looking for repetitive patterns of characteristics among the collection of people whom you admire. Out of ten names, you might find that seven of them share a similar trait that is important to you.  Four might have still another characteristic and so on. You are looking for three to five traits or characteristics with which you identify. Obviously the people we admire serve as a mirror for our own core values. My exercise revealed core values of integrity, optimism/positivity, perseverance, creativity/innovation and calmness. The calmness value threw me for a moment because most people who know me probably think I’m anything but calm. But I realized that the calmness I value may be less of demeanor and more of mind and spirit. In order to juggle a million balls at once, my mind must remain calm to create a sense of order that leads to accomplishment.

If you haven’t spent time recently thinking about your own core values, try this simple yet powerful exercise. Not only is it a lot of fun but it will be revealing for you. And once you clearly understand your core values you can strive to live them on a daily basis.

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.

applecores