Who is Riding the Bus?

Here’s a scenario. Sales are flat. The product development team is feuding with the marketing folks. Production is lagging and customer complaints are trending in the wrong direction. Sounds like a nightmare situation – right? It’s at a time like this that makes us wonder why we became entrepreneurs in the first place! As we try to sort out this mess, something becomes quickly apparent. We have the wrong people on the bus.

The whole problem wouldn’t even exist if we had selected the right people in the first place. But for most of us, we are where we are and must deal with an unwise hire here and a hopeful hire there. Rarely do we make the right hiring decisions from the get-go and find smooth sailing forevermore. Something I’ve grappled with for decades is when to change out the people on the bus – and sometimes the bus driver to boot! The mistake I’ve made over and over has been to give people too many chances and believe that if I just find the “right slot” for someone, that I can “save” him or her. In recent times I’ve come to realize that we’re not in the business of doing social work and it does no favor to someone who is miscast to continue to try and salvage them.

Most of us have a level of empathy that prevents us from being the type of person who simply says, “You’re fired!” But there’s undoubtedly a middle ground. We don’t have to have a hair trigger and instantly terminate someone who is beginning to struggle. And we also don’t need to continue to enable someone for months or even years who can’t get the job done.

As with much about entrepreneurship, there is a process that can make the decision to invite someone off the bus both humane and timely. We start with clear written roles and accountabilities. It’s imperative that our team members truly understand what is expected of them. Roles and accountabilities should be quite comprehensive, and they must be measurable. We also must make sure that our team members understand how to perform their roles and accountabilities and that they have the proper resources to succeed. If I tell a non-pilot that he is responsible for flying a passenger jet from New York to LA I can be very clear about this. But if he’s not trained to fly the plane, then it will either fail to get off the ground or if it does, well, what happens might not be pretty. I realize that this is a bit of an exaggeration, but it illustrates the point.

Hand-in-hand come key performance indicators. These are the metrics by which we determine if the roles and accountabilities are being sufficiently executed. Ongoing performance reviews are also an important element of ensuring that the right people are on the bus. Some companies do an annual performance review. This may be fine in a formal sense, but team members need a continual feedback loop. Then there will be no surprises when the annual review is performed. It’s also helpful (and often judicious) to offer a written assessment as part of the continual feedback process. It’s not so much to build the file as it is to make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding where improvement is needed.

Often when things are going poorly, it’s the result of a lack of roles and accountabilities; or a lack of training; or a lack of proper resources to get the job done; or a lack of measuring results; or a lack of providing team member feedback, or all of the above. When this happens and we must make a change in personnel, we dread having to take action. Why? Because we know deep inside that we probably didn’t do everything necessary to be completely fair with our team member.

Ensuring that we have the right people on the bus is a strong step toward building a successful culture and producing the results we desire. And following a well-designed process to invite people off the bus who aren’t the right fit will allow us to act objectively and at the right pace.

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.

Mom Was a Genius

There’s sure a lot of noise in the world these days. Unfortunately, much of the noise is angry. Social media eruptions occur continuously. People attack each other as human beings – maybe more so than they argue ideas with which they disagree. Twitter, Facebook, e-mails and text messages can be toxic and dripping with vitriol. And once a meme goes viral the crowd frenzy snowballs with everyone piling on. It’s no wonder that stress levels are high, and unhappiness has reached similar proportions. This is a dangerous environment for entrepreneurs (and everyone else for that matter).

I find it interesting that when those who yell the loudest find themselves in a room, one-on-one with someone who is their target, their demeanor changes. Suddenly there is a living and breathing individual – much like themselves – sitting across the table in a face-to-face setting. For some reason the bellicosity and histrionics melt away. One-on-one, civility emerges, and a rational conversation may occur. I call this the “talking tough behind the locked screen door” syndrome. Many people seem to be less inhibited when they aren’t having to personally interact with the individual with whom they disagree. They are easily triggered and react instantly and in an amplified manner. The one-dimensional aspect of communicating in a written format seems to be emboldening. Add the mob mentality to the equation and it quickly becomes a powder keg that could explode (and often does) without any notice.

As a youngster growing up my mother had a simple technique for dealing with anger. I’ll bet your mother used the same technique. When I got spun up about something and was ready to lash out, she would say, “Lee, count slowly to ten.” Most of the time it worked. By the time I reached ten, my frustration had defused somewhat, and I was becoming calmer and more rational. My mom was a genius back in the day! Either mothers today aren’t teaching the 10-Count Rule, or it’s been forgotten.

As an entrepreneur here’s something I’ve learned. I don’t enter into any discussion on social media that could become contentious. There’s nothing whatsoever to be gained and I’m not going to change anyone’s mind utilizing this format. I also have learned not to engage via e-mail in subject matter that could result in conflict. Think about it. We receive an e-mail – perhaps from an external source – that we may perceive as accusatory. Our immediate impulse may be to fire off a response that is defensive and lobs a few grenades in the other direction as well. We are indignant that someone attacked us in an e-mail, and we are going to fight back and “win” the argument with our prose. But does this really work? Are we changing minds or are we simply contributing to the entrenchment of each other’s positions?

The minute I smell conflict in a written communication, I typically short-circuit it with a face-to-face conversation (most preferable); a video call (next most preferable) or a phone call (least preferable). I like to be physically present for the ensuing conversation so that I can “read” the other person and show authentic empathy. I’m not interested in fighting but seek resolution. I’m not interested in escalation but seek common ground. We still may disagree, but we can do so respectfully and avoid hard feelings.

Even in face-to-face situations there may still be times when tempers flare and personal accusations boil over. This is a perfect time for Mom’s 10-Count Rule. I prefer to let the other person finish their rant and then become still and quiet for a moment (counting to at least 10 in my head). I may say something like, “I hear your frustration and think I understand where we disagree.” But I’m not about to engage in emotional dialogue and will likely ignore the personal attacks. I will speak in a quiet and deliberate voice and review the facts of the situation. Ultimately, we may agree to disagree, but at least I have avoided belittling the other person and making them feel even worse. Some may think that this is manipulation. I think it’s simply the concept of “it takes two to tango,” and I’m not going to be one of the two.

The 10-Count Rule isn’t about knocking the other person out of the argument. Instead it’s about maintaining our composure and self-control to dial back confrontation in order to reach an acceptable resolution for all parties.

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 Entrepreneurial 2×4

Building a successful business requires human interaction at many levels. We’ve all seen the stereotypical entrepreneur who is moving fast and speaks in a short-clipped manner. He (or she) is the picture of efficiency and wastes little time in getting down to brass tacks. Sometimes this entrepreneur can be seen as brash and even a little bit arrogant. He (or she) often wears this description as a badge of honor. This might be a typical conversation with a member of the team. “Matthew, this is not your best work. It’s sloppy and totally misses the mark. You can and must do better. I’m very disappointed in you.” The entrepreneur might see this as brutal honesty. But is it productive?

Carol Burnett talks about her storied career in show business. She reminisces, “Back in the day, the men – Jackie Gleason, Sid Caesar and Milton Berle – if they said: ‘Hey guys, this sketch sucks. Get with it! What’s the matter with you?” they were fine because they were guys. But if a woman did it, she would be labeled a bitch. So I tap-danced around it a lot.” Burnett went on to say, “If a sketch wasn’t working, I’d call the writers down to rehearsal and I’d say, ‘can you help us out here? I’m not saying this right. Maybe you could come up with a different line that would make it easier for me to get a laugh.’”

In his book, The Culture Code, author Daniel Coyle introduces a concept that makes a lot of sense for entrepreneurs to adopt. He contrasts Brutal Honesty with Warm Candor. Warm candor is the notion that we can still make our point – very clearly – without causing another person to feel small and unworthy. Feedback can be delivered without tearing down that person in a de-motivating manner.

How do we move toward a more “Carol Burnett-style” of offering warm candor and not be namby-pamby about the message we want to deliver? I believe it starts with our everyday personality. Are we generally positive and upbeat? Are we always looking for the good in every situation? Do we acknowledge others and give them pats-on-the-back when they are deserved? Or are we generally assaholics who are negative about everything and complain incessantly? Are we such perfectionists that nothing is ever right . . . and our team members know it?

If we embrace the positive personality previously described, candid conversations with members of our team can be very constructive. I rarely ever tell someone I’m “disappointed” in him or her. If I do use the term, it’s that I’m disappointed about something – but not in that person. There are other key words and phrases that are unnecessary. Attacking someone personally may seem like brutal honesty, but it’s just mean-spirited and serves no purpose. I’m not looking for a confrontation. I simply want to provide feedback that is factual and will help my team member do better next time. I try to communicate with empathy. If after multiple attempts to coach the individual on how to step-up and there is still no progress, then I have no problem starting the transition process for this team member to exit the organization. But there’s no reason that I can’t show a level of respect at all times that allows the team member to maintain his or her dignity.

Building strong and positive relationships with our co-workers and colleagues allows us to effectively use the “entrepreneurial two-by-four” of warm candor when warranted. Purity of intention is critical. We all know entrepreneurs who prefer to act like “bosses” and want to be seen as big shots. Their deployment of brutal honesty is not so much about team member growth as it is demonstrating their dominance. These so-called leaders do not understand the value of connection and creating an environment of safety. Their team members live in fear of being singled out and ridiculed. True leaders go the extra mile to create a nurturing culture that sees mistakes not as failure, but as unfinished experiments in the laboratory of life.

Honesty and candor are vital ingredients to the success of an entrepreneurial endeavor. Delivering them in an empathetic and constructive manner will seal the deal.

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 98 – A Rabbit and a Hat.

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.

Apologies to Rodney

Successful entrepreneurs display many different leadership traits. But there’s at least one aspect of leadership that an entrepreneur cannot just automatically possess – instead it must be earned. Of course I’m talking about Respect. Many believe that respect should be granted simply due to a station in life or perhaps a position that is held. Certainly there may be some truth to this but true respect is not something that is simply bestowed. Yes, the Queen of England, the President of the United States and other heads of state command respect. But it’s for the office and not necessarily the individual.

Rodney Dangerfield made a living as a comedian with his trademark phrase, “I don’t get no respect.” With apologies to Rodney, respect is no laughing matter. It should be viewed with the utmost of seriousness because it can be a life or death factor for businesses and organizations of all sizes. When CEOs misbehave not only is the individual disgraced but the company he or she represents is shamed as well. On September 28, 2015, the EPA announced an order to recall Volkswagen cars built from 2009 – 2015 due to software that was programmed to cheat on emissions testing. Two days later the company admitted to this malfeasance and on September 23 the CEO resigned. As of this writing, Volkswagen faces enormous financial penalties and long-lasting reputational damage that would bankrupt smaller firms. Rebuilding the respect of the public for the VW brand will be a long and arduous process. And who knows if the former CEO will ever again be truly respected.

Earning respect doesn’t just happen. There is an intentional process that is required and it consists of multiple facets. From my perspective it all starts with integrity. Do we always do the right thing even if it’s seemingly detrimental to our best interests? And do we always do the right thing even when no one is watching? Integrity cannot be turned on and off on a whim. Either it’s there or it’s not. Our team members, customers, suppliers – everyone is watching. If we keep our moral compass centered we will have taken a giant step toward the pinnacle of respect.

Hand-in-hand with integrity is authenticity. It’s impossible to be authentic and genuine without integrity. Are we comfortable enough in our own skin to be ourselves? We’ve all seen others who are struggling with inner demons and insecurities. They “put on airs” and engage in bragging and blowhard behavior. It’s pretty hard to respect someone who is living in disguise and can’t deal productively with his or her personal issues.

Entrepreneurs who have empathy and genuinely care about others are more likely to earn respect than an insensitive tyrant. Think about this. An individual is completely honest; does everything in an above board and straight forward manner; is totally authentic – but he’s also a flaming asshole. How much respect do you suppose those people with whom he interacts have for him? Treating people poorly is a fast way to lose the respect of others. The leader who is courteous and thoughtful is earning respect. The leader who shows a real interest in others and their welfare is earning respect. The leader who subordinates his needs or desires to the wishes of another, is earning respect. When a leader enjoys success but publicly gives the credit to members of his team, he is earning respect.

Consistency is the final ingredient in this recipe for respect. We can’t be hit or miss with our integrity, authenticity or in the way we treat people. Inconsistency sows seeds of doubt about our real motives. In a worst case scenario others see us as being manipulative and conniving. Clearly when we stay true to our principles we have no problem remaining consistent.

Earning respect takes time and once achieved the quest to maintain it should be sacred. Earning and keeping respect is best accomplished through integrity, authenticity, empathy and consistency.

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 37 – Master’s Degree.

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.

rodney-dangerfield

Just Do It

Nike’s corporate tag line is “Just Do It.” And that could be the tag line for many companies of all sizes. Leaders at all levels send the message of “Just Do It” to their “charges.” This notion boils down to a command and control style of management. And I probably don’t need to point out how poorly this approach works with today’s Millennial workforce. We Boomers grew up in this environment and may have a tendency to continue its practice. Perhaps it’s time for something different.

I know that many entrepreneurs agree in principle with a more collaborative style of leadership. Yet, the language that is used may belie this agreement. Examine the following statement that rolls up many of the words used into a massive contradiction with collaboration. Mr. Smith is a senior executive with the ABC Company and he’s describing a recent business win for his company.

My employees really came through with this project. I have a hundred people working under me and every one of them did their jobs like they were supposed to. I set their goals and they achieved them. I’ve been focused on this opportunity for a long time. I love winning this way!”

At first blush Mr. Smith seems to be giving credit for the win to others. But the way he says it indicates that he isn’t yet a convert to a more enlightened style of leadership. Note the highlighted words. It’s pretty clear that he’s in charge here and other people have done his bidding.

Entrepreneurs can change this narrative. When we are comfortable in our own skin we are easily able to eliminate the unhealthy aspects of our ego from our interactions with others. It’s often the case that having to take the credit for an accomplishment or reinforcing the fact that we were “at the top of the food chain” is a result of our own lack of confidence or some other insecurity. With our new level of comfort we are able to relax, smile and become totally humble.

Here’s another version of the previous statement. Mr. Doe is a senior executive with XYZ, Inc. and is celebrating a recent success.

“The XYZ team is amazing! They worked together to establish the goal and drew upon our Core Values to develop a winning strategy. We are so appreciative of each and every one of the hundred team members who worked tirelessly on this project for more than a year. Their commitment, dedication and creativity are the reasons for our success.”

Sounds a little different doesn’t it? There’s not a single mention of the words “I,” “me” or “my.” The word “employee” has been replaced with “team member.” Mr. Doe simply delivers the message without allowing his ego to enter the picture. It’s clear that Mr. Doe’s team members work “with” him – not “under” him. I’ve written before about how we need to be intentional about modifying our vernacular away from “I,” “me,” and “my,” and changing to “we,” “us,” and “our.”

Collaborative leadership is not decision making by committee – as a leader we still make the ultimate critical decisions. Collaborative leadership is about seeking out team members and listening to their thoughts and ideas. It is valuing others as human beings and the contribution they make to the enterprise. It is about having empathy and creating a culture of respect. And it is about using the words we say as a reflection of all of these factors.

When we think about what we write and say we can ask ourselves this simple question – “Do my words focus the spotlight on me or on others?” Doing so helps us move away from the old command and control approach of the past.

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 – https://anentrepreneurswords.com/audio-podcast-17-sleepless-in-seattle/.

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.

george-patton

Liars

Here’s a set-up question. What do you think of companies that aren’t honest with their customers? The answers range from, “That’s terrible” to “It happens every day.” Unfortunately both answers are correct. What’s particularly irritating is when those companies beat their chests about how much they care about their customers. There’s a disconnect between words and actions which is pretty disturbing and serves as an excellent lesson for entrepreneurs.

Allow me to tell you a personal story. Each summer we look forward to spending a couple of weeks at a beautiful destination spot in the mountains with enormous trees, blue skies and a fabulous lake. We fly into a nearby airport, collect our bags and head to the car rental counter where we’ve previously made a reservation. After checking in we venture to the car pick-up area – and every single year, bar none, our vehicle is never ready. We’ve waited anywhere from 20 minutes to as long as 45 minutes. The attendants smile and promise that “They are just cleaning up the car as we speak – it will only be a few more minutes.” Fifteen or twenty minutes later they smile again and disappear to go “check” and see where things stand. Sometimes we go through the same drill with two or three more attendants – they seem to work in a tag team sort of manner. Finally, someone tells us that “They’re bringing around the car right now.” Any reasonable person would conclude that would mean the car would arrive in two or three minutes. But it never happens. Eventually we may get the car we ordered. More often than not, we end up with a different vehicle – sometimes better and sometimes worse. Adjustments are made to the price and we’re finally on our way.                                                                                                                                                                                Here’s what’s so bothersome about this experience. We are never told the truth. The attendants are friendly enough. They explain that they’ve been slammed with returns and pickups. But the string-a-long routine is always the same. Yes, I know. I should probably use a different car rental company – though I’ve encountered similar issues elsewhere with other firms. With this particular car rental company, on their website they make a big deal about how they focus on the customer. Part of their mission statement extolls their desire “To exceed our customers’ expectations for service, quality and value.” Elsewhere we’re told that, “Take care of your customers and employees first, and the profits will follow.”

This situation is emblematic of a pervasive problem in the business and entrepreneurial world today. Sometimes we’re so afraid of disappointing a customer that we’d rather try to give them hope while we juggle difficult circumstances. We say things that aren’t quite true and eventually we’re in worse shape than if we would have just been totally honest. Lying doesn’t usually end well. I learned this as a kid and have watched others suffer the consequences as an adult. What should the car rental company have done? For starters, they have a very sophisticated IT operation and could easily have collected data from every hour of every day at every location. Then they would know from my stated pick-up time that there usually is a 30-minute wait and set my expectation accordingly. But we all know that sometimes things unexpectedly go wrong. Training their employees to have empathy in such situations and be totally honest would go a long way.

In a circumstance like this, here’s what I would rather have someone say to me. “We had 50 cars returned within a 30-minute timeframe. Normally we never have more than 20 cars returned in such a short period of time. We’re running at least 45 minutes behind. I’m going to give you a 15% discount for the delay and recommend that you come back at 3:30. In the meantime, here are some drink coupons for the bar inside the airport terminal. Please accept our most sincere apologies.” This statement is pro-active and wrapped with empathy, honesty and realistic expectations. The customer may not be pleased, but at least the company can’t be criticized for not doing everything possible to atone for a bad situation.

We need to ask ourselves whether or not we set honest and realistic expectations for our customers. When we do, we’ll have a much greater chance of solidifying customer loyalty – even when things don’t go as planned.

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 8 – The E Factor.

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.

Pinnochio

Toe-Stepping

We live in a hypersensitive society today. It seems as though every time we turn around someone is being offended by something. It may be words, actions, facial expressions or even the way someone looks. The whole notion of being offended stems from a belief that we are somehow victims. Victims of what, I’m not really sure. But our culture is at a point where it promotes victimhood and all that goes with it. This is a very dangerous place for entrepreneurs to be.

Many of us Baby Boomers raised our children in an environment where everybody wins and there were no losers. I remember sporting events in which our daughters participated and each child received a ribbon or a small trophy. Obviously in the real world there are winners and losers yet somehow, losing has become linked with victimization. I’m not saying that this is the sole reason for the hypersensitivity we are experiencing but it may be a contributing factor.

Entrepreneurs are in a tough spot. On the one hand we want to be sufficiently sensitive to saying or doing things that others could perceive as a slight. And yet we are in a rough and tumble business world that takes no prisoners. Unfortunately it’s not enough to simply treat others as we would like to be treated. I’ve grown pretty thick skin over the years and as others will attest, it’s pretty hard to offend me. A few years ago I took a computerized test that measured resilience among a number of traits and tendencies. My score was 97 out of 100 which I’m told indicates that I have very strong self-acceptance. My point in sharing is to demonstrate that I may be somewhat oblivious to attempts by others to offend me. So what to do?

First, we need to measure our intent when we are interacting with others. Do we say certain things to another person because we want to make them feel inferior? Do we take certain actions because we want to “send a message” to a specific individual that we expect could result in hurt feelings? A compassionate leader will communicate honestly and openly while doing so with sufficient empathy. His or her ego will be totally eliminated from the interaction. If our intent is pure and we’ve separated from our ego then it is unlikely that we will offend someone.

Second, it’s important to understand what behavior is unacceptable. This is especially challenging from a generational perspective. A young female colleague of mine was at a luncheon recently. She shared that she sat next to an older man (Boomer generation) who was nice but commented as they were leaving that he was pleased to have been able to sit next to such an attractive young woman. My colleague was not offended but related that she thought the comment was unnecessary and inappropriate. What was intended as a compliment by an older man was interpreted as mild condescension by a younger woman. While I doubt that it was his intent to be condescending, it was clear that he has not learned that you just don’t say things like this.

I’m not advocating for political correctness. We’ve gone completely overboard with PC and it’s causing huge problems in our country. But I do think that we need to pay closer attention to how we might be perceived by others. And let’s do our own gut check. Do we find ourselves being offended with any frequency? If so, we might benefit from exploring what we see when we look in the mirror. Do we have a positive or negative self-image? Are we preoccupied with conflict or feelings of inferiority? If so, we may be prone to being easily offended.

As entrepreneurs we must develop thick skin through a strongly positive self-image. At the same time, we need to measure our intent when interacting with others as well as understand what is unacceptable to society. Doing so will minimize the likelihood that we will offend others.

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.

toe stepping