Tunnel Vision

During the days when I was flying an airplane, I learned a very important entrepreneurial lesson. I’d be approaching a large airport and the situation became very busy. I had Approach Control giving me vectors and altitudes which required regular attention to the instrument panel. I had a landing checklist to review. If there were passengers, I needed to make sure they were buckled in and loose objects were secure in the cockpit. I also had to dial in the radio frequency for the airport tower to be ready for the hand-off from Air Traffic Control. Whew! With all this activity it was easy to forget to do one very critical thing – and that was to get my head up and look outside the airplane. Pretty obvious, right? You have no idea how even the most experienced pilots can make this mistake. We’re focused on everything else – and yes, we are looking straight out in front of us to line up with the runway. But there are other objects in the sky – aircraft that might be unaware of our presence, radio towers, drones, birds, etc. I quickly came to understand (under the penalty of death) that I needed to avoid Tunnel Vision at all costs.

What does Tunnel Vision look like in the entrepreneurial world? Here’s a hypothetical example. Jeff owns a three-year old company that provides IT services to small and medium-sized businesses. He has 27 members on his team and his top line has been growing at 60% annually. Needless to say, Jeff is crazy busy right now. He’s up at the crack of dawn and after a quick workout he heads to the office. Many nights he’s not home until after 9:00. At work he’s consumed with an endless stream of team members who catch him for a wide variety of reasons. He attends meeting after meeting. E-mails pile up and phone messages go unanswered. During the few moments Jeff has to breathe he wonders why time is flying by so fast and why it seems that he has accomplished so little.

You probably already know the rest of the story. Jeff and his team are so consumed with trying to keep up with their meteoric growth that a competitor sneaks in and steals some of their best clients. Instead of focusing on the customer, Jeff and his company have fallen victim to Tunnel Vision – and what they are seeing are systems, processes, recruiting, hiring, training, HR issues, accounts receivable, accounts payable – everything except the customer.

There are several ways we can be vigilant about keeping Tunnel Vision at bay. First, we need to make certain that every member of the organization has well defined written Roles and Accountabilities – let’s call them R&As. The R&As need to be of sufficient detail to identify all of the areas on which each of us should be focused. It’s kind of like a position description on steroids. Next, we should regularly review our R&A. I recommend that this be done at least once each week. Perhaps we have an “accountability buddy” with whom we review our respective R&As. I have gotten into the habit of doing this at least weekly and can see how easy it is to fall into a rut by just paying attention to one or two specific roles, sometimes to the exclusion of others. Part of this review is determining what I’m going to do during the coming week that involves each of my R&As. This helps keep me from falling into the ruts in the road.

As leaders, we must model how to avoid Tunnel Vision. After doing this for ourselves, we then need to encourage others to follow the same process. Often when Tunnel Vision is prevalent, I hear the same refrain – “there’s just not enough time in the day!” What this means is that we have lost control of our schedule and are allowing ourselves to be pushed and pulled by others. Tunnel Vision is inevitable when this is happening. Regaining control of our schedules is paramount and can be accomplished by planning what we are going to do rather than reacting. Ultimately, this planning initiates the R&A review and subsequent determination of our actions to be juggled in all areas.

Tunnel Vision can have fatal consequences for an organization. It can be avoided by reviewing Roles and Accountabilities at least once a week, and planning action steps that impact all areas for which we are accountable.

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 87 – Ted’s Song.

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 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