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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Civil War

Saying that our society has become very polarized is a massive understatement. The 2016 political campaign was one of the nastiest and most vile election cycles I’ve ever seen. Personal attacks drowned out any attempt to discuss the issues and it was pretty clear that up and down the ballot, the candidates really did not like each other. There are many reasons that we find ourselves in this mess – but that’s not the point of this blog. Instead, I’d like to explore the long lost notion of respectful disagreement.

Many of us entrepreneurs have a healthy ego drive. This is a good thing and should not be confused with the self-centered, destructive aspects of ego. Ego drive is our desire to persuade someone to agree with us. When an entrepreneur hears the word “Yes,” it’s music to our ears. We develop marketing strategies, sales pitches and a variety of other theses to convince others to see things our way and buy whatever we’re selling. This might be an idea, a product, a service or whatever. We all know that things go relatively smoothly when heads are nodding approvingly and the Yes-word often finds its way into our eardrums. But we are also aware – sometimes painfully so – that others don’t always agree with us. And if we aren’t careful, that’s where the trouble begins.

Respectful disagreement is guided by the ageless precept of the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you wish them to do unto you. Pretty simple – right? Yet, our strong ego drive sometimes makes it difficult to practice the Golden Rule. We struggle to understand how it could be possible that someone else doesn’t see the logic that we have offered. We can’t believe that another person actually has a counter perspective that is possibly 180˚ different than ours. Tempers may flare, veins in necks begin popping, faces get red and jaws are clenched. The whole situation can quickly devolve into raised voices, hurt feelings and a completely unproductive encounter.

Here’s what I’ve learned about respectful disagreement. It starts with understanding that we’re all equally entitled to our opinions. Thus, while what I believe may or may not be right, it doesn’t entitle me to become a flaming you-know-what when making my case to others. Further, I need to remember that positive persuasion is much more likely to produce the outcome I desire than is a negative approach. Remembering to smile before engaging in a persuasive moment helps set a positive tone. I also work hard to avoid making inflammatory statements. For example, saying “You obviously don’t understand what I’m saying,” can sound accusatory. A better approach might be to say, “Let me explain things differently,” or “I’m sorry, I’m not being very articulate with what I’m saying.” Being mindful of my body language is also important. I try to make sure that I maintain an “openness” at all times. I use non-threatening gestures; keep from crossing my arms; eliminate the urge to sigh or roll my eyes, and retain a passive facial expression. When we nod and say, “I understand what you are saying,” whether we agree with it or not, we are signaling the desire to preserve and continue a dialogue.

If we want to get to Yes, we do everything we possibly can to make the other person feel important and respected. We fail at this when we are manipulative, have hidden agendas, or take an approach that makes that person feel small or angry. Sometimes it’s hard work to stay positive and courteous throughout the encounter. Maybe the other person doesn’t choose to follow the Golden Rule. But that doesn’t mean we should do the same. If we don’t end up on the same page, it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Let’s just agree to disagree.”

Civil and positive discourse is still possible. Practicing it will dramatically increase our chances of success as we work to persuade others to say “Yes.”

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 – Audio Episode 21 – Fortune Telling

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 RPM Game

Question: I’m finding that I’m becoming less patient as I get further into my career. Sometimes my impatience doesn’t serve me well. Any tips on how to be more patient?

Answer: I’m right there with you . . . I hate to wait. As a matter of fact my sense of urgency is off the charts – my colleagues can certainly attest to that! It’s the worst when I’m in my car. I think that once upon a time a wicked witch put a stoplight curse on me because I seem to hit every red light known to man. In my world, things need to happen right now and right away. I have a perspective that life is a fleeting moment in the overall scheme of things and there is too much that I want to accomplish in a short period of time. So I’m not very tolerant of things that slow me down.

Yet, I actually have become more patient in many respects. What I’ve learned is that my impatience at times has caused me to try and muscle through situations where a more patient and finessed approach would have been much more effective. My sense of urgency remains as high as ever, but I’ve become more intuitive at backing off and being a bit more gentle and methodical in moving forward. At some point in the past I realized that my impatience with the people around me wasn’t helping them advance the cause. Instead it was frustrating and flustering them. That quite literally gave me pause.  

My sense of urgency is now tempered with my willingness to slow down and make sure that the people around me have clarity and understanding about the situation at hand. If they don’t, it’s my obligation to patiently take the time to help them gain a clear perspective. I liken this to the simple act of shifting gears in a car. In a lower gear the engine revs up and runs harder. When shifting into a higher gear, the RPMs drop and the engine doesn’t have to work as hard. The more impatient we become the harder our engine has to work.

Slowing down long enough to ensure that others have a clear picture of the road ahead is in itself, a practice in patience. And this actually allows us to shift into a higher gear and go even faster.

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.