The Accountable Entrepreneur

Here’s a term you’ll hear a lot in the entrepreneurial world – accountability. In our organization every team member has written Roles and Accountabilities. There is a lot of talk in the business world about holding people accountable. So, exactly what does all this mean?

There are some leaders who are confused and think that accountability is a binary choice. They boil it down to believing that either someone keeps their job, or they don’t. In other words, if someone doesn’t perform in satisfactory fashion the only option is to fire him/her. Otherwise, there’s no way to hold that person accountable. Fortunately, this is a misconception – there are many different aspects to accountability.

In some cases, performance issues may be the result of a team member not fully understanding what is expected of him or her. The solution is simple. That person obviously needs further clarification of his/her role. This can be accomplished by making certain that the position description is comprehensive enough followed by a meeting to clarify the expectations and gain an acknowledgement by the team member as to his/her understanding.

Perhaps a team member is struggling to perform in a satisfactory manner because he or she isn’t adequately trained or properly equipped. The leader must make this determination fairly and then prescribe the antidote. In this situation it’s important to understand exactly which elements of the position the team member need re-training. After the re-training takes place, it might be wise for the team member to take a test of some sort to make certain that the training has been effective. Part of the analysis needs to be ensuring that the team member has the proper tools and/or resources to do the job. It’s unfair to hold someone accountable if the company hasn’t done its part in this regard.

I remember in my earlier days as a property manager, encountering difficulties getting a certain maintenance person to perform. He should have been able to close out many more job tickets than he was. I made sure that he understood his role, was properly trained and had the right equipment. After doing so, I began to suspect that he didn’t have good organizational skills. Rather than hand him multiple job tickets, I began doling them out one at a time. When he finished one, he would come back to me for another. This worked quite well, and I was gradually able to help him learn how to prioritize. This type of accountability was a combination of additional training and closer supervision.

We’ve all experienced situations where a particular team member continues to miss the mark in terms of meeting expectations. Role clarification, re-training and closer supervision didn’t do the trick. Naturally this can be incredibly frustrating, and our initial instinct may be to terminate this team member. But there are other steps in the accountability process to consider. One is more frequent performance reviews. The team member meets with his/her supervisor at the end of each week and is apprised of the progress (or lack thereof) made for the week. The conversations may become sterner over the course of time if there’s no evidence that the team member is trying to improve.

Suppose this team member isn’t making progress and doesn’t appear to care. Eventually more severe consequences must be taken. This could include a demerit type of action involving a write-up for the team member’s file. A second write-up might result in a probationary status for the team member. At the end of the probationary period – two weeks, 30-days, etc. – the team member could be terminated if the issue hasn’t been resolved.

Other techniques for holding team members accountable might include re-assignment, suspension, demotion, or a reduction in compensation. In the case where a person just isn’t cutting it, a re-assignment to a different role might be a relief and save a valuable member of the team. I’ve seen cases where the individual is really trying but just isn’t meant for the job. A re-assignment needs to be mutually agreeable – if not, a termination would be a better avenue.

We had a situation where a senior member of our firm was abusive to the administrative staff. She was repeatedly counseled and advised that this behavior was unacceptable. We then threatened to suspend her for two weeks for the next infraction. After another incident of abuse, we followed through on the suspension. I was sure she would quit but she didn’t. When she returned there was never another instance of her abusing the staff.

Accountability takes many forms. The most important thing for an organization is to identify the different methods for accountability and have a process for their use.   

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 the other major eBook formats.

The 100,000-Foot Entrepreneur

Here’s the typical day for an entrepreneur I know. He arrives at the office and boots up his laptop. The first step is to check e-mail. There are a number to delete and a few that are read but left in the In-Box. Several responses are prepared and sent and one or two responses are started but saved and remain unsent. Then it’s time to check out the news at one of several news websites. This may be followed by a stop on Facebook and perhaps a scroll through a number of tweets on Twitter. Then, someone pops into his office for a conversation that lasts ten minutes or so. He then dives into a perplexing HR situation that seems to have taken a life of its own. Then there may be some time spent reviewing the previous month’s financial statement; a quick trip to the restroom; time in the hallway chatting with several members of his team; fielding a phone call and returning others, and preparing remarks that he is going to make at a lunch meeting. Before he knows it, half the morning is gone.

I’ll bet this sort of morning sounds familiar. I’ve had many just like it myself. But did you notice what’s missing? What high-yielding opportunity was identified by our entrepreneur for his urgent and immediate focus? I completely understand that we have a business to run on a day-to-day basis, and what was previously described accomplished just that. However, perhaps a closer look is needed to see how this entrepreneur could operate differently – and more effectively.

I used the term “high-yielding opportunity,” but exactly what does that mean? Here’s what I’ve learned over the years. I spent way too much time in the past with “busy” work. Sure, it needed to be done, but was I the best person to do it? Or maybe I should handle it, but it deserved to be less of a priority. While it may seem obvious, as entrepreneurs we should regularly ask the question, “What’s the best use of our time?” After all, the time we have is finite and we’ll never get it back when we squander it. So, our organization is best served when we start our day tackling the really big initiatives – initiatives that may generate significant revenues or profits; initiatives that are highly strategic in nature; initiatives that will have a major positive impact for our team or our customers, and initiatives for which we are best suited to prosecute.

Here’s another way to look at this question. At what altitude are you flying? Are you cruising along at 500-feet and down in the weeds all the time? Maybe you’re at 10,000-feet or even 30,000-feet. But wouldn’t it be amazing to stay at 100,000-feet most of the time? For me, 100,000-feet means identifying and working with large-dollar investors that will help fund our apartment acquisition program. It means collaborating with our acquisitions and development teams to refine their respective strategies that are creating the scale we wish to achieve. It means maintaining a constant awareness of the macroeconomic aspects of our industry and determining how our strategies are designed to exploit opportunities in the marketplace. It also means offering innovative ideas to our management team that will move the needle to better serve our customers. And it means developing a holistic view of our culture and spotting potential problem areas that can be addressed before they turn into raging fires.

Each entrepreneur needs to decide what flying at 100,000-feet means for him or her. A great place to start is with the organization’s vision. I like to test what I’m doing against our vision. If I have ten things on my plate, I’m going to pick the top three that are going to make the most difference in contributing to reaching this vision. And it could be a while before items #9 and #10 are addressed at which point I may eventually figure out who else might be in a better position to handle them in a more timely fashion. My goal is to work on high-yielding initiatives 60 – 75% of the time. I don’t always succeed – it’s easy to get drawn into major time-sucks that don’t add real value – but I’ve become more consistently aware of how I spend my time and now course-correct more easily.

We entrepreneurs can become adept at focusing on high-yielding initiatives if we understand our vision and choose what we do in terms of achieving that vision. Ultimately, understanding how to fly at 100,000-feet is one of the important aspects of leading our organizations.

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 125 – Marauders.

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.

Peripheral Vision

Question: My career has really taken off and I’m very focused on being successful. But I also am being told that I’ve become one dimensional. How can I grow my career and still be involved with the other things that are important in my life?

Answer: Entrepreneurs often struggle with balancing their passion for their businesses with their passion for their families. I faced this conundrum more than once in my career. There were a couple of thoughts running through my mind. The first was, “I’m young and I’ll have plenty of time to focus on my family – right now my business needs me.” The second was, “There is no one else who can do what I need to do to grow my business.”

For some reason I held the mistaken belief that time would stand still, and my kids would stay small waiting for me to tend to my business. And there was also a bit of arrogance in my belief that no one else could do what I was doing. Fortunately I remembered that when I was growing up my parents – both of them – attended every piano recital, basketball game and school function in which I participated. And it meant a lot to have them there. So if it meant a lot to me I figured that it would mean a lot to my kids.

What I also discovered was that I was only juggling one ball. Think about this. I was throwing one ball up in the air and watching it land in my hand. Then I was throwing it up again and watching it land . . . day-after-day, year-after-year. Eventually I realized that I needed to throw more than one ball in the air. So I began spending more time with my family. Then I was throwing two balls in the air. But I would throw one in the air and watch it land in my hand. Then I would throw the second one in the air and watch it land in my other hand. This became very frustrating. Why? Because I was bouncing back and forth between and career and family but was neglecting one while focused on the other.

Ultimately I decided that I needed to learn how to juggle many different balls at the same time. Have you ever noticed how a really good juggler never watches the balls as they land in his hands? Instead he uses his peripheral vision to keep the balls in the air and landing in his hands. This works for us too. We must establish our life priorities – family, career, friends, philanthropy, hobbies, etc., and commit to be fully present when we are involved with each. Being fully present and living in the moment is how we use our peripheral vision.

When we give our full and undivided attention to each of our priorities we can know that none are being neglected. In so doing we can have confidence that the other balls we have in the air are going to be juggled successfully because we are giving sufficient quality attention to each.

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.