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.

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Great Idea!

Entrepreneurs are brimming over with new ideas. Some are novel, some are revolutionary and some well, let’s just say there’s a lot of room for improvement. Regardless, we often find ourselves enthralled and passionate about our ideas. It’s our nature to share these ideas with others to attain validation and receive encouragement. And because most people are nice, we seldom hear rejection – especially from friends and family. Further, we may interpret tepid enthusiasm as an endorsement and plunge ahead to develop our ideas in the absence of a solid reality check.

How do we find out if our ideas are worthy? We start by treating our ideas as if they are a product or service – and they very well may be. Does our idea solve a problem? In the world of venture capital that funds ideas, a different question is asked. Is the idea a “vitamin pill” or a “painkiller?” People take vitamins because they desire better health. They take painkillers because they hurt. Which has the higher probability of being purchased on a consistent and ongoing basis? You got it – the painkiller. Consumers can put off purchases that make their lives better, but they won’t do so when they hurt. So, is your idea a “painkiller” that solves a real problem? If so, you may have a winner. But just because your idea might be a “vitamin pill” doesn’t mean it won’t work. However your case for someone to “purchase” may need to be more compelling.

Next, who is going to use your idea? In other words, who is your customer? Remember that we’re looking at our ideas as though they are products or services. To successfully implement an idea we must understand who our customer is as well as their various characteristics, traits and tendencies. For example, let’s say that we have an idea to launch a new process within our company. Who are the members of our team that will be utilizing this process? Could there be a “generation gap” with the way we plan to deploy our process? If we’re Baby Boomers, and Millennials will be using the process, we need to make certain that Millennials can relate to it.

In keeping with our ideas-are-products-or-services theme, we need to test our idea with our potential customers. Bouncing an idea off a spouse or friend isn’t the same as having an in-depth discussion with those who are going to use our idea. Before we completely perfect an idea, it’s best to work with a small focus group of eventual customers. We lay out our thesis and describe the problem we are attempting to solve. We explain the “vitamin pill” or “painkiller” notion of our idea. Then we share our solution and solicit feedback – just like we would do if we truly were launch a product or service in the marketplace. The responses we receive will be invaluable in refining our idea to be that much more appealing and useful to our “customers.”

Once we’ve completed these three steps we can evaluate whether or not our ideas are worthy of pursuit. In some cases we’ll get a thumbs-up signal, and in others we’ll either need a complete idea overhaul or throw it on the scrap heap. While sometimes challenging, being completely objective is the byword.

Evaluating ideas as a product or service reduces the chance for us to emotionally chase a fantasy. It allows us to allocate our time and energy pursuing viable opportunities that we envision.

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.

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Misplaced

Think about how much loyalty is a part of your life. How loyal are you to others? And how loyal are they to you? Do you have loyal customers; loyal partners; loyal employees, loyal friends and loyal family members? Loyalty is a strong and positive quality. It’s a key element in building and maintaining relationships. So everything must be peaches and cream, right? Ah, but there’s a bit of a dark side to loyalty.

You probably have heard the term, “loyal to a fault.” This is when we may be too loyal to someone else and that loyalty clouds our judgment and may even be damaging to our business. Whether or not we’re being too loyal can be a tough call. It requires us to be very objective about a particular person and their performance. This can be exceptionally difficult for anyone and nearly impossible for someone who places a very high value on the loyalty trait.

Here’s a scenario that may be familiar. Perhaps it’s even happened in your own organization. A high-level executive has been with a firm for 30-years and reports to the founder and CEO. This executive is part of the CEO’s inner circle and his advice and counsel is often sought by the CEO. Unfortunately this executive is also a flaming jerk. He’s very nice and thoughtful to other senior level executives, but when it comes to those who don’t have as prominent a position in the organization, he can be unreasonably demanding and thoughtless. Because of his tenure with the CEO, his behavior is tolerated. The employees of the firm have learned to steer clear of him and know that he is “protected” by the CEO. Complaints were lodged about him in years past but it’s well-known by everyone working for this company that he will always get away with whatever he wants.

If asked about this high-level executive, the CEO would undoubtedly say, “I know that he can sometimes be a bit abrasive, but overall he’s done a great job for this company.” The CEO might also say something like this, “He and I were fraternity brothers and he’s always had my back.” Sound like something you might have heard before? In this situation, many of the employees of this company have lost respect for the CEO because he won’t fix the problem. If this was a family business, it could very well be that the CEO and high-level executive are related – brothers perhaps. The bottom line is that the organization cannot function effectively because the CEO has misplaced loyalty to a problem individual.

As entrepreneurs we must learn how to maintain our objectivity, especially when it comes to employees and team members who are key to us. We have to be able to separate our feelings of loyalty from what is best for our organization. Loyalty can easily become a blind spot for us unless we have a method to deal with it. In a larger organization this can be done through a human resources department. The HR director must be given permission by the CEO to lay the facts on the table about each and every employee. In a smaller firm, it may be helpful to hire a consultant who can facilitate the performance of a 360-degree review of senior executives or even all members of the firm. In both cases, the HR director or the consultant should provide an honest perspective to the CEO that one of his or her reports needs to be coached, disciplined or even dismissed.

Loyalty is generally a good thing. But when there’s loyalty to a fault, we need to be willing to listen to someone tell us when we have a problem. And then we must deal with it accordingly.

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.

Loyalty