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.

Another Form of Art

There’s something we all need to do from time-to-time, but many of us find it to be quite difficult. To become great leaders, entrepreneurs need to be able to perform this act in a genuine and authentic way. And yes, there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way. Before I give away the punchline, let me share an example that will illustrate the concept.

A company has a set of core values that includes Integrity. One of the individual actions prescribed in this core value is, “I speak directly with people to resolve issues as they arise.” This translates into the notion that rather than triangulate with other people about a problem we are having with someone, we go directly to that person to resolve the matter. Seems simple enough, right? Now, suppose a member of the team is in a meeting with senior leaders including the CEO and this team member makes a comment that makes other uncomfortable. Some might believe the comment to be slightly disrespectful to the CEO. After the meeting, the CEO and a couple of the senior leaders are debriefing and the CEO mentions that the comment that was made was probably inappropriate. The team member’s supervisor then goes to the team member and advises her that she should refrain from making similar comments in the future. The team member becomes upset that the CEO didn’t address this directly with her. What should the CEO do?

This situation actually occurred in our company and the CEO was me. It was brought to my attention by the supervisor that I may not have been keeping with our core value of Integrity because I triangulated with that supervisor rather than bringing the issue directly to the attention of the team member. What did I do? I picked up the phone and called the team member (who is based in another city). I told her that I had in fact mishandled the matter and should have come to her to discuss it. And I apologized for screwing up. In no way was this individual trying to deflect away any focus on her comment – she admitted that the remark was inappropriate and she apologized to me. But she was absolutely right in her observation that a fundamental core value had not been observed.

Earlier in my career I might have been defensive about the feedback I received. I might have been indignant that somehow I was wrong when it was another person who made the inappropriate comment to me in the first place. But I’ve learned a lot over the years and particularly how important it is to expunge false pride and an unhealthy ego to become a humble leader. Learning the Art of the Apology has been of great value to me.

Telling someone we’re sorry and admitting a mistake is important. But the way it’s done and what we say is equally critical. We’ve all heard this kind of an apology. “I want to apologize if what I did offended you.” This isn’t an admission that the perpetrator did anything wrong. He is simply apologizing if you are offended. The correct apology would have been, “I am sorry and want to apologize to you because what I did was wrong.” Another mistake is that of trying to rationalize the offense and then apologizing for it. In a way we’re still trying to defend what we did – although somewhat weakly. And it can come across in a condescending sort of way with the message that the aggrieved party is overly sensitive.

Smart entrepreneurs are able to admit their mistakes and move on. Not making the same mistakes over and over is also a factor here. When a team member sees the leader of the organization easily and genuinely apologizing for his or her toe stubs, it goes a long way toward making it easier for others to follow suit.

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 51 – Nice to Be With You.

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.

Enamored

Let me set the scene. You just hired a young new hotshot. This person has had a meteoric career to date and you spent months recruiting him. He went to Harvard for his undergraduate degree and Stanford for an MBA. Right out of the blocks he’s been hitting it out-of-the-park for you. His creativity and innovation is off the charts and he’s a real charmer. Everyone loves him and he’s generating one success after another. What a dream situation – right?

There’s no doubt that this is a dream situation. However, there’s also danger lurking. Why? Whenever we become enamored with someone we run the risk of being blind to their shortcomings . . . and we all have shortcomings. Further we also may not be looking critically for coaching opportunities which shortchanges our new team member. How is it that we smart entrepreneurs fall into this trap? Actually it’s very easy. Perhaps we had a less than satisfactory experience with someone our new hire has replaced. Or we may never have had talent like this in the organization before. It’s very refreshing to have a smart person in our midst that can seemingly do no wrong. We never want the honeymoon to end, nor do we want to throw cold water on our new team member, lest we demoralize him or her early in the game.

Over the course of my career I’ve seen plenty “golden haired boys and girls.” And after a while, the luster wears off a bit. Always. By no means does this indicate that we made a poor hiring decision. Walking in the front door for the first time, seldom is anyone really as good as they may seem – a fact for which we need to be reminded periodically. It’s all about setting expectations. On Day One we are well-served to establish an understanding with our new team member whereby we will be providing continuous feedback. This will include both praise as well as constructive coaching. And, we must have a mindset that no matter how wonderful this individual might be, there’s always room to help him or her become better.

Here’s how we might create a feedback process that works well for all parties. During the first 90-days we hold a short weekly meeting with our new teammate. We’ll structure it into four parts. First, we share our positive observations about what this individual has done well during the previous week. If something notable has been accomplished, we celebrate accordingly. Second, we share one or more areas where we’d like to see more progress. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re being critical but we shouldn’t hesitate to offer constructive criticism if warranted. Third, we provide information that may be pertinent for the coming week. Perhaps we want to lay out some new objectives, or maybe there’s some company information to be conveyed. Finally, we allow time for our team member to ask questions or offer any observations he or she might have. After 90-days these meetings may be less frequent. The bottom line is that our rising star is conditioned to receiving feedback and we’ve been able to build a strong relationship from the very beginning.

Maintaining an objective perspective on new team members – especially those who show great promise – will help turn good talent into franchise-quality players. And it helps us remember that we can always be better tomorrow than we were today.

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.

rocket

The Wheels of the Bus Go Round and Round

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 have to 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 Donald Trump . . . that is to simply say, “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.

school bus

A Glance Back

Question: I was recently told that I don’t listen very well. I think I do but I feel like I’m being defensive if I say so. How should I respond?

Answer: Take a glance over your shoulder. What do I mean? When we’re driving a car and we’re going to change lanes what do we do? We check in the mirror. But if that’s all we do we could still have an accident. Why? Because the mirrors don’t necessarily allow us to see in our blind spot. Instead, we look over our shoulder to visually make certain we aren’t going to collide with another car.

This is a great life metaphor. When we look in the mirror we don’t always see what others see. To “glance back” is to accept feedback from others, and sometimes it may be something we don’t want to hear about ourselves. Then we have to make a choice. We can be defensive and reject what we are being told. Or we can swallow our pride (often false pride) and take a long and introspective look. Perhaps there’s some truth to the ugly rumor that we have a characteristic or trait that needs to be modified.

If we want to succeed as entrepreneurs we must be willing to become vulnerable and pay attention to how others feel about us. Earlier in my career I was a bit tone deaf when it came to being sensitive to other’s feelings. Apparently I had a tendency to run roughshod over people. I was told this several times and could not see my blind spot. In reality I was in denial about what I was being told. Ultimately I began to change my behavior after it adversely impacted my relationships and caused hard feelings. To stay on the straight and narrow I give my colleagues permission to “hit me on the head with a two-by-four” if ever again I fall into the same behavior.

It’s a rare individual who has no blind spots. We should accept the fact that we have them. But what we do to learn about them is a test of our character. When we pay attention to how others are responding to us we’ll be able to sense whether or not the reaction is positive or negative.

Actively glancing over our shoulder and checking with others to learn of our foibles will help us strengthen our relationships. In so doing we avoid allowing our blind spots to become destructive.

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.

blindspot