The Credible Entrepreneur

I’ve had many aspiring entrepreneurs express frustration over their inability to gain traction in the marketplace with their products or services. Sometimes they tell me that others in their organizations won’t take them seriously. I can remember my early days in business – especially during my twenties – when I was treated like a little boy and being patted on the head periodically. I would work my tail off only to have the client want to talk about his property with our CEO and not me. At times it felt downright condescending.

I finally (and painfully) realized that everyone at my age was experiencing the same thing and much of this treatment was simply a function of youth. But the other lesson I learned was that of credibility. While there are many elements to credibility there is a primary formula that I discovered.

Results + Consistency = Credibility

Let’s break this down further. Results do not necessarily correlate with effort. Yes, I like members of our team to work hard and make a great effort but that doesn’t mean the job gets done. There were times in the past where it was difficult to terminate an employee because I knew that person had given his all and no one had worked harder. Unfortunately, even with all of the blood, sweat and tears this person still wasn’t getting the necessary results. It was kind of like studying diligently for an exam in school and still getting an F. The professor really didn’t care about the three all-nighters; only that in the end the answers were wrong.

Results are produced through a combination of skill, perseverance, creativity, timing, risk management, training, attitude and yes, effort. If any aspect of this combination is out of whack we might fail or barely produce an acceptable outcome. This leads us to the second factor in the formula – consistency.

Here’s an obvious statement. When we are hit or miss with our results we are thus inconsistent which damages our credibility. The goal is always to produce high quality, consistent results. How does McDonald’s turn out the same identical hamburger no matter what store we visit? It’s accomplished through a fanatical adherence to specific standards and delivered through comprehensive systems and processes. McDonald’s uses the very same equipment at every location. They purchase in bulk the ingredients used to make the hamburger and are extremely exacting in their specifications for the quality and composition of these ingredients. Employee training is intense and standardized. Quality control measures are baked into their culture. Everything they do is geared to providing a consistent high quality customer experience.

When we can “McDonaldize” our operations we greatly improve our chances to achieve consistency. But it’s not enough to just be consistent. There are some companies that are consistent . . . they are just consistently terrible. For example, why is it that so many of the cable television providers receive consistently terrible customer service ratings? Ditto the U.S. Postal Service? When I send a document via FedEx or UPS I know that it will arrive exactly when it is supposed to. But a similar delivery by the USPS has always been consistently inconsistent for me. I speculate that this may have something to do with business models and customer focus. A business model that is designed around selling a product or service – i.e. cable TV or overnight letters, is less likely to generate consistent quality results. By contrast, an enterprise dedicated to delivering an amazing customer experience is more likely to far and away be the winner.

Our credibility is built on a foundation of producing consistent high quality results. Implementing strong systems and processes focused on wowing the customer helps maintain our hard-earned credibility.

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 Confident Entrepreneur

There is at least one must-have trait for successful entrepreneurs. Without confidence the road is very steep and rocky. College basketball is one of the most interesting demonstrations of how confidence or a lack thereof, can impact outcomes. I’ve watched many a game where the players on a team are tentative. They lack energy and they are missing their shots. Often they are out of position and cannot rebound or chase down loose balls. A few days later the same team plays another game. This time there is fluidity in their motion. They are passing the ball crisply; players are getting nice elevation when they shoot, and the ball is going in the hole. The night-and-day difference between the two contests is that of confidence.

What is the secret to gaining and maintaining confidence? There are several elements that are required. The first is that of “mastery.” Mastery is achieved through constant practice and the repetitive patterning that occurs as our experience builds. This is particularly important for millennials to understand. Fair or not, many millennials are tagged with the stereotype that they have an incredibly high sense of urgency. They don’t want to wait for results and can be impatient at times. However, I’ve seen millennials and people of all ages, try something a couple of times and believe they have mastered it. Then I watch as they try it again and bomb badly. With confidence shaken they are humbled and may become afraid to jump in the water again. All of this could have been avoided had real mastery been achieved. One of the biggest fears in society today is that of public speaking. And the only way to resolve this fear once and for all, is to practice speaking over and over and over. The fear doesn’t suddenly evaporate after a handful of gigs. It took me 50 or 60 times to reach the point that I began to feel comfortable in front of a group.

The second element is that of achieving a history of desired outcomes. It’s one thing to repeat a process enough times to master something. That helps to build confidence. But achieving the results we want is the validation necessary for us to know that we’re on the right track with our mastery. Let’s use our basketball example again. A team may be executing the basics and fundamentals properly; it may be playing strong defense, and the players are running the plays as designed. But if the scoreboard isn’t showing a W for the team on a regular basis, it’s hard to build confidence. I’ve never heard anyone profess that losing all the time builds confidence . . . but winning does. As entrepreneurs we must tweak our approach until we begin to win consistently. For example, if our sales approach isn’t working and we keep doing it the same way, it’s time to start experimenting to learn what it takes to win. After all, there’s no point in “mastering” losing!

The third aspect of building confidence is to always maintain a positive attitude – no matter what. We must believe that eventually we’ll get it right; eventually we will win. I’ve said many times that what we think in mind produces in the outer after its kind. When we believe at our core that we are going to win, eventually we will win. If we have doubts or know in our bones that we’re going to lose, eventually we will lose. I have never seen anyone become more self-confident by having a negative attitude. Attitude is critical to the success of individuals and to the team. If one member of the team is positive and the rest are negative, the confidence of the team will be adversely affected. As entrepreneurial leaders it is incumbent upon us to make sure that our team is unanimous with a positive attitude.

Developing mastery, achieving success and being eternally optimistic are the rocket fuel that will propel us to a perpetual state of self-confidence. This patterning also inoculates us from having our self-confidence shaken when from time-to-time we might stumble. We’ve been there before. We know what we must do, and we are able to re-calibrate and get back on track with ease and grace. There is no panic or desperation – we simply remember to follow the formula that has worked so well in the past.

Building self-confidence is a process much like riding a bicycle. Once learned, we may fall off on rare occasion; but when we do we get up, dust ourselves off and start riding the bike again like it never happened.

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.

F-

I’ve had many aspiring entrepreneurs express frustration over their inability to gain traction in the marketplace with their products or services. Sometimes they tell me that others in their organizations won’t take them seriously. I can remember my early days in business – especially during my twenties – when I was treated like a little boy and being patted on the head periodically. I would work my tail off only to have the client want to talk about his property with our CEO and not me. At times it felt downright condescending.

I finally (and painfully) realized that everyone at my age was experiencing the same thing and much of this treatment was simply a function of youth. But the other lesson I learned was that of credibility. While there are many elements to credibility there is a primary formula that I discovered.

Results + Consistency = Credibility

Let’s break this down further. Results do not necessarily correlate with effort. Yes, I like members of our team to work hard and make a great effort but that doesn’t mean the job gets done. There were times in the past where it was difficult to terminate an employee because I knew that person had given his all and no one had worked harder. Unfortunately, even with all of the blood, sweat and tears this person still wasn’t getting the necessary results. It was kind of like studying diligently for an exam in school and still getting an F. The professor really didn’t care about the three all-nighters; only that in the end the answers were wrong.

Results are produced through a combination of skill, perseverance, creativity, timing, risk management, training, attitude and yes, effort. If any aspect of this combination is out of whack we might fail or barely produce an acceptable outcome. This leads us to the second factor in the formula – consistency.

Here’s an obvious statement. When we are hit or miss with our results we are thus inconsistent which damages our credibility. The goal is always to produce high quality, consistent results. How does McDonald’s turn out the same identical hamburger no matter what store we visit? It’s accomplished through a fanatical adherence to specific standards and delivered through comprehensive systems and processes. McDonald’s uses the very same equipment at every location. They purchase in bulk the ingredients used to make the hamburger and are extremely exacting in their specifications for the quality and composition of these ingredients. Employee training is intense and standardized. Quality control measures are baked into their culture. Everything they do is geared to providing a consistent high quality customer experience.

When we can “McDonaldize” our operations we greatly improve our chances to achieve consistency. But it’s not enough to just be consistent. There are some companies that are consistent . . . they are just consistently terrible. For example, why is it that so many of the cable television providers receive consistently terrible customer service ratings? Ditto the U.S. Postal Service? When I send a document via FedEx or UPS I know that it will arrive exactly when it is supposed to. But a similar delivery by the USPS has always been consistently inconsistent for me. I speculate that this may have something to do with business models and customer focus. A business model that is designed around selling a product or service – i.e. cable TV or overnight letters, is less likely to generate consistent quality results. By contrast, an enterprise dedicated to delivering an amazing customer experience is more likely to far and away be the winner.

Our credibility is built on a foundation of producing consistent high quality results. Implementing strong systems and processes focused on wowing the customer helps maintain our hard-earned credibility.

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.

Report Card

Urgently Patient

We entrepreneurs are a pretty restless bunch. Most of us have an ultra-high sense of urgency. I know that I certainly fall into this category. I plead guilty to always wanting things to happen a lot faster than they do. And I do realize that this creates a level of stress for the people I work with. But I’m also one of the most patient people you’ll ever meet. Huh? Does this seem like a complete contradiction? Let me explain.

My urgency meter moves quickly into the red zone when I encounter bureaucracy or if there are delays in implementation. I guess I feel like we’re all living on borrowed time and there’s a lot I want to accomplish before my time is up. Thus, anything that wastes time or energy causes anguish for me. Recently I worked with a state agency on a particular matter that took two months to finally resolve. I had a pleasant conversation with the government employee and suggested that there must be a faster way to conclude the matter. She explained that two months in government time is “lightning speed.” Unfortunately she’s probably right. In the private sector the matter would have been handled in a matter of days or perhaps even hours. Fortunately I have a great relationship with the head of this agency. At the time of this writing, I’m working with him and his team to create a more expedited manner in which to deal with issues of the kind I encountered.

Here’s a key point. My sense of urgency is with the process. I want things to be efficient. I want things to be cost-effective. I want the manner in which something is accomplished to happen quickly. In my world there’s no place for analysis-paralysis or indecision. We don’t need a committee to make decisions. It’s important to get input from different members of the team and their buy-in is critical. But someone must then step-up, take charge and lead. Poor communications is a killer of initiative and creates bottlenecks. If communication isn’t clear and concise, time is wasted when clarification is sought. All of this is process-related.

I said I’m a patient individual as well as having a high sense of urgency. Here’s another key point. I am patient when it comes to results. I’m in the type of business where results don’t materialize overnight. I have come to realize this after more than 40-years in the trenches. My philosophy is that if we take care of the basics and fundamentals through well-designed systems and processes, the results will take care of themselves. I can wait months or even years for the results because that’s often what it takes.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Suppose you and I are farmers. We must get a crop in the ground by date certain or we’ll have to wait an entire season to plant again. We know the steps that must be taken. The soil must be tilled, the seeds drilled into the furrows and covered, fertilizer must be applied and the crop must be irrigated. We’re racing the clock to get in and out of the field. There’s no time for a committee to decide what crop we’re going to plant and where, when or how we’re going to plant it. We work our process with precision and complete the planting with days to spare. Now we wait patiently for the crop to grow, nurturing it as required by our process until it’s ready for harvest.

We can have a high sense of urgency and be patient, all at the same time. Our urgency lies with developing and implementing an efficient process, and our patience comes in waiting for the results.

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.

stopwatch

Transformers

Question: Some entrepreneurs seem to be able to take an unexpected and difficult situation and turn it into success. How do they do it?

Answer: The skill to which you are referring is very simply the ability to adapt to a particular situation. And as with so many other things in life, it all starts with mindset. Have you ever created a plan that didn’t work perfectly when implemented? How did you feel? I can remember times in the past when I would become very upset and frustrated when my carefully crafted plan seemed to go up in flames. Other people always messed things up for one reason or another.

Recently we had an historic building we wanted to develop but needed a state agency to approve affordable housing tax credits in order to move forward. We submitted the project twice to the state agency and both times did not win an award. Of course this was immensely frustrating and we very easily could have given up and moved on to another project. Instead, we figured out a different (and even more complicated) structure for the deal and have been able to put the train back on the track, so to speak.

Being adaptable means having a mindset of flexibility. But there’s one more element that really unlocks the secret. It requires being able to anticipate that when something goes awry, it’s an opportunity. An opportunity to be creative, change direction – slightly or a lot – and make things even better than originally foreseen. I’ve reached the point where I expect to have such opportunities. This isn’t negative thinking by any stretch. Instead it’s a mindset of looking for ways to improve upon a situation. When something isn’t working quite right that’s a signal to me that there’s a better way.

You’ve probably seen the kids’ toys called Transformers. The basic premise is a toy that transforms from a seemingly mundane robot into a much more powerful object. Optimus Prime was the original hero in the Transformers franchise – a robot that transforms into a Kenworth truck cab containing a powerful ion blaster. Sounds silly, right? But that’s exactly what we entrepreneurs want to have happen. We want our good ideas to transform into great ideas. Sometimes this takes some twisting and turning, but eventually we prevail.

Problems lead to solutions. But be careful what you believe for what you believe creates the world in which you live. If you believe that problems are an opportunity to adapt and improve, your world will be filled with outcomes that are better than you ever imagined.

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.

Optimus Prime