Bears in Trash Bins

Here are several scenarios. Tell me what’s missing. A manufacturing operation is experiencing an alarming increase in the number of product rejections. A child chronically fails to turn in his homework assignments. Monthly financial reports for a company seem to always be delivered at least two weeks late and sometimes more. Customer service ratings for a particular business are abysmally low. Bears are constantly getting into trash bins in a neighborhood and making an incredible mess.

So what is it? What’s missing? It’s a concept that can sometimes be elusive in entrepreneurial environments and often in our personal lives as well. It’s called . . . accountability. Accountability has four basic components – understanding, commitment, responsibility and consequences.

A failure to understand what is expected can obviously lead to an overall failure in whatever operation is being performed. The manufacturing rejects could very well have been caused by a machine operator not understanding a critical step in his or her process. It’s pretty hard to hold this person accountable if there was a lack of training to ensure a full understanding of the process.

Without commitment full accountability is impossible. The child must not only understand how important it is to submit his homework but he must also be committed to the notion as well. If he refuses to commit to turn in his work, then he will refrain doing so. While it’s true we can hold him accountable for his actions, it’s unlikely that we’ll achieve the desired result.

The path to accountability involves a willingness to take responsibility. “It’s mine (or ours) to do” becomes the mantra. In unhealthy organizations there may be a great deal of finger pointing. “It’s the fault of Marketing.” “No, Sales screwed up!” No one seems willing to step up and claim whatever “it” is. Taking responsibility is a sign of integrity and sacrifice, especially if things go wrong.

Finally there are consequences. We may think of consequences in a negative sense but of course consequences can also be positive. The accountant who finally figures out how to deliver the financial reports on time may benefit from positive consequences in the form of a bonus. On the other hand, the customer service department that gets consistently poor ratings might suffer the consequences of being terminated. It’s important to note that for negative consequences to be administered fairly, the individual(s) in question must have a clear understanding of what they are supposed to do. One of the most common mistakes that is made in the accountability process is firing someone for their failures that are really the result of their not clearly understanding how to perform their role.

So let’s put it all together in a positive scenario. Mike and Susan are a two-person team employed by Newco, a tech start-up. For the first week after they are hired they undergo intensive training that provides them with the knowledge and understanding they need to undertake the functions assigned to them. The second week they work with “buddies” that scrutinize their work and ensure the finished product meets quality standards.

At the beginning of the third week the company founder sits down with Mike and Susan and asks them a number of questions about the work they are doing. He inquires as to whether or not they are clear on what they are supposed to do and how to do it. When they answer affirmatively, the founder asks if they are fully committed to do their part as a team in delivering a flawless product to the customer. Mike and Susan now have understanding and commitment.

One day a customer complained that two of the units she had purchased were defective. Upon further investigation Mike realized that he had missed a step in the production process. He wrote a note to the customer offering his apology and made sure the founder knew that the error was totally his and not Susan’s fault. Thus, he took responsibility.

Over the course of a year, Mike and Susan performed in exemplary fashion. They were accountable to each other, to their company and to their customers. As a result they were both promoted to supervisory positions and received generous raises. All in all the consequences were positive.

When we have understanding, commitment, responsibility and consequences we have full accountability. And that’s how we keep the bears out of the trash bins.

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 35 – Tick Tock.

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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The Really Big Bus

“Tom’s personal preferences on his footballs are something that he can talk about in much better detail and information than I could possibly provide,” Belichick said, “I can tell you that in my entire coaching career, I have never talked to any player (or) staff member, about football air pressure.” This is a quote from a press conference held by New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick during which he spoke about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the infamous “Deflategate” case. What just happened here?

This was a classic case of someone being “thrown under the bus.” In this instance it was very public and left some massive tire marks. In an entrepreneurial environment this is pure poison. Throwing someone under the bus destroys team spirit and leads to major internal trust issues.

As children, we had a tendency to point fingers at others rather than accept responsibility for ourselves. The blame game was in full swing and a fairly normal aspect of childhood. We should have seen its destructive nature then and refrained from carrying it into adulthood. How often have you heard something like this? “Our revenues are down because the salespeople didn’t move enough of our product.” Or, “The contract was late being delivered to the client because my administrative assistant was sick.” And how about, “I’m sorry we delivered poor customer service – I’m going to fire John Doe whom you spoke to on the phone.”

Wow! These are some heavy duty statements and perfect examples of what it looks like to be thrown under the bus. They are also perfect examples of scapegoating, finger-pointing, excuse-making and general lack of accountability. At all costs the speaker wants to distance himself from what went wrong. It’s pretty obvious that this is not enlightened leadership. How simple it would be to change a few words and ultimately the whole message. Consider these alternatives. “We’re pulling the whole team together to identify a new strategy to increase revenues.” No one is being blamed here and a positive step has been identified. “I’m very sorry the contract was late. Please let us know if there is anything that needs to be changed.” The client doesn’t really care why the contract was late. Thus, a heartfelt apology is all that needs to be said. “I’m sorry our customer service wasn’t satisfactory. What else can we do to make this right?” Again, a straightforward apology and no one is blamed.

Teams become strong when each member knows everyone has his or her back. What if clearly someone screwed up and makes the whole team look bad? Shouldn’t that person be held accountable? This is a fair question and the answer is yes to accountability. But as leaders, we should never publicly do so – to a customer or in front of the whole team. Individual issues should be dealt with individually. We accomplish nothing when we embarrass a member of a team in front of others. Not only does that team member resent such treatment, but the other members become afraid of making mistakes for fear of being called out in similar fashion. Rather than move forward with positive energy, the team then becomes tentative and apprehensive.

A respected leader will always take one for the team. He or she understands that an individual failure is a team failure. The failure could have happened because the team member didn’t have the training or the resources to succeed. It could have happened because systems and processes within the organization were broken. Perhaps there was a lack of communication or understanding. And it’s possible that the organization failed because it placed a bet on a team member that really wasn’t qualified for the job. Rarely is failure isolated to a specific individual. Recognizing this, the strong leader will resist the temptation to single out an individual and instead accept responsibility on behalf of the entire enterprise.

Being thrown under the bus is humiliating and painful. People want to work within companies that create a climate of trust and avoid blaming individuals for problems when they arise.

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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Yin and Yang

Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work – Peter Drucker (management consultant, author and educator).

Good intentions aren’t enough. People have good intentions when they set a goal to do something, but then they miss a deadline or other milestone – Harvey Mackay (businessman, author and syndicated columnist).

Good intentions never change anything. They only become a deeper and deeper rut – Joyce Meyer (author and speaker).

I have low tolerance for people who complain about things but never do anything to change them. This led me to conclude that the single largest pool of untapped natural resources in the world is human good intentions that are never translated into action – Cindy Gallop (advertising consultant).

Each and every one of us has intentions; and most likely they are good intentions. But there must be another component to “intention” for there to be success. This component is a counterweight of sorts. It’s the yang to the yin. Without commitment good intentions never come to fruition. We’ve talked before about execution and how specifically we act. But before we can take action we must install the middle step of commitment. If we have good intentions and try to take action without commitment, we’re likely to fail.

Commitment embodies obligation, responsibility and dedication. Let’s suppose that I set an intention to exercise every day for at least thirty minutes. So far so good. Then I plunge into exercise activities the next morning and the morning after that. Wow – now we’re cooking! But wait, the third morning I struggle to get out of bed and decide to skip the exercise routine; besides, I have an early breakfast meeting that would probably have shortened the amount of time I could spend on the treadmill anyway. Then the next morning I have another excuse and so on. What was missing here? Why didn’t I follow-through on my good intentions? Very simply, I lacked commitment.

Understanding how to link intentions and sustainable action through commitment may seem elusive. There are two foundational elements to commitment. The first is what I call an “A ha” moment. This is when something in our mind clicks – where all the pieces fall into place – and our intentions make perfect sense. I’m not really going to commit to an ongoing exercise program until there’s a meaningful reason for me to do so. Of course I know that I want to be healthier, but that’s not enough. Why do I want to be healthier? My “A ha” moment came when I realized that my oldest grandson needed me to be in his life for the long haul. At that point, being healthier had a much more important purpose to which I was willing to commit. Often it’s easier to make a commitment when someone else needs us to be committed.

The second foundational element to commitment is that of accountability. Sure, we can be accountable to ourselves, but unless we have tremendous self-discipline this isn’t always easy. If we feel an obligation to others for some reason, then we can be accountable to them for that which we commit. In my case the reason I’m committed to an exercise program is to be alive and supportive of my oldest grandson. And thus I’m accountable to him for this commitment. If for some reason I don’t feel in the mood to exercise, I see his innocent young face in my mind’s eye and it isn’t hard to kick into gear and follow-through with the necessary actions.

Intention and commitment are necessary before we can take action. Making a commitment to another person and being accountable to that person helps to ensure that we follow-through and translate our intentions and commitment into action.

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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Own It

When things go wrong there’s a pretty strong chance that human nature will cause a very specific reaction. And what do you suppose that reaction will often be? Yes, someone will be blamed. “It’s his fault” is simply another way of playing the victim card. As entrepreneurs we should resist allowing ourselves to be drawn into the blame mentality.

As children we often would blame our siblings for our own transgressions. Fortunately (though unfortunately at the time) my parents didn’t buy into my efforts to shift responsibility away from myself. A withering look from my mother was all it took for the blame to shift right back where it belonged. Perhaps it was this grounding effect that taught me to be accountable for my actions – right or wrong.

We damage our credibility as leaders when we blame others. When I’m speaking with someone from another company about something that went wrong, I lose respect for that person if he or she doesn’t take responsibility in the “organizational we” sense. Let me explain. I’ve gotten calls before about a glitch in our customer service. It would have been very easy to say something like, “Mary Manager failed to do her job and I’ll see that she is disciplined.” Instead, I want everyone in our organization to know that I have their backs. When I get those calls I say, “I’m sorry your customer experience was unsatisfactory. Clearly we should have done better. We’ll see that the matter is rectified as soon as possible.” If Mary Manager really caused the problem we’ll make sure to privately counsel with her and make sure she has the proper tools and perspective to avoid a repeat of the mistake. But internally and externally we won’t point our finger at her.

As entrepreneurs and leaders, we need to own our mistakes and be comfortable doing so. Recently I failed to properly communicate in a situation that caused some heartburn for a client. Upon realizing my error, I quickly sent an e-mail falling on my sword and taking full responsibility for my inadequate communications. Then I called him and apologized personally. I have a philosophy that mistakes are experiments in the laboratory of life. If we are properly prepared we usually don’t make them. But when we do, we admit and amend. Quickly acknowledging a mistake; apologizing for it, and taking the necessary steps to remedy it actually builds customer loyalty. It also builds loyalty with team members.

Refusing to play the blame game demonstrates real leadership and engenders respect. We can model this for others when we accept responsibility for our own deficiencies and do so in a gracious manner.

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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Resolved

Question: What’s the best New Year’s resolution for an entrepreneur?

Answer: While many great ideas come to mind, there is one that is elegantly simple and it goes like this. I resolve to embrace entrepreneurship as a lifestyle of choice and responsibility. Doesn’t this statement epitomize entrepreneurship?

One of the greatest things about being an entrepreneur is the fact that we are free to make our own choices. While this is true for everyone – entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs alike – to succeed as an entrepreneur it is imperative that we understand the concept of choice. No one else makes our choices for us. We can choose to make rational decisions or irrational ones. We can choose to be positive or negative. We can choose to be creative; we can choose to be philanthropic; it’s our choice to win or lose, and we choose whether or not to be happy and prosper.

Choice is perfectly symmetrical with responsibility. We make our choices and then we take responsibility for the consequences of those choices. If we make rational choices we will succeed and if we make irrational choices we will fail. And we accept responsibility for this. If we choose to be positive, our life will be rewarding in countless ways. And if we choose to be negative, our life will be full of stress and strife. Above all, we accept responsibility for these choices. We are never victims of anything or anyone.

The power of choice and responsibility is one of the most liberating aspects of our lives. An entrepreneur who completely understands choice and responsibility can live a life absolutely free of fear for he or she is in control of his or her own destiny. I’m not a big resolution-maker as each year comes to a close. But from a big picture standpoint, I remind myself that what happens in my life – every single thing – is the result of a choice I made. I fully understand the results that stem from each choice. And if I don’t have this understanding it’s because I didn’t choose to do the necessary research in the first place to reach a full understanding.

Thus, it is my resolve to make the best choices I possibly can using the best possible information I can gather, and then let the chips fall where they may. But at the end of the day they are my choices and my responsibility. Happy New Year.

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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