Is the Grass Really Greener?

The U.S. unemployment rate is at its lowest since 1969. Companies are becoming more and more creative in their recruiting efforts. From an employee’s perspective, times have probably never been better. There’s certainly a temptation to job-hop the way up the compensation ladder in the belief that an employer is going to be much more generous than would have been the case during the Great Recession and for many years thereafter. But the question must be asked, is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence?

Everyone knows that there’s much more to a career than a paycheck. Those who blindly chase the dollars may get what they want – but there may be a whole lot more than they bargained for. I know many people who were thrilled with the amount of money they were going to make only to find out that their new boss was ridiculously difficult, the stress levels were off the charts and working conditions were abysmal. Yet, it’s very tempting to jump at the chance to make a lot more money and pick up a cool new title. So, how should we look at the “grass” on the other side of the fence?

Over the past 44 years, I’ve had numerous opportunities to make the jump. I resisted every time. Why? Long ago I realized that 1) I was working for and with honorable people; 2) I was allowed incredible freedom to be creative and experiment, and 3) I was working in an industry that I loved and had dreamt about since I was in the 8th grade. You’ll notice that nowhere did I mention money. The reason is simple. I was allowed to continually figure out how to add value to whatever I was pursuing, and my compensation increased accordingly. This approach is my suggested template for viewing the “grass is greener” dilemma.

I’ve always believed that most people work a job. A few pursue a career. And then there are those of us who are lucky enough to live our passion. I don’t think I’ve felt at any point in time (after the first three months in the mid-1970s) that I was working a job. For awhile I was pursuing a career. But for most of my adult life I’ve been able to live my passion. This is important to understand for it’s one of the three foundational elements to answering the “grass is greener” question. Each of us must find our own passion to pursue, and the sooner the better.

Let’s assume that we generally know that we are in the right industry – yes, I know – that’s a big assumption to make. But we must start somewhere. This brings us to the other two foundational elements. Am I working for and with honorable people? There’s much more to this question than it’s literal interpretation. What is the company’s culture? Is there a vision of where the organization is heading? Are there core values that are more than slogans in a fancy frame on the wall? Are employees valued and treated fairly? Do senior leaders express gratitude? Do they seek out feedback; listen to it, and act upon it? No situation is going to be perfect. But if the environment is comfortable and efforts are constantly being made to improve, that’s a good sign that we are in the midst of honorable people.

Finally, we need to measure how likely we will be to succeed over the long haul. In my case, I was pretty much allowed to make my own way. Sure, I had specific roles and responsibilities, but I always wanted to do more and be more. I saw a myriad of opportunities and developed plans to exploit them. I made plenty of mistakes – more than I can count. But I was allowed to make them and learn valuable lessons in the process. I always figured that as long as my successes exponentially outweighed my failures, I was on solid ground. And that turned out to be true. You’ve likely heard the old adage, “the cream rises to the top.” If we are working for and with honorable people, we can always know that we earn more trust and more latitude through our performance.

Ultimately there’s no need to look at the grass on the other side of the fence so long as we can grow a lush, green lawn on our side. When we do this we’ll surely reap the benefits accordingly.

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.

To Proposition or Not To Proposition

The other day I was talking with an entrepreneur about his company. For a number of years he had achieved a reasonable level of success with the manufacture and sale of a particular product. But more recently his sales had trailed off and he was becoming worried. He made very telling statement, “the product is the same as it has been for the past 15 years – I don’t understand why people aren’t buying it in the quantities they once did.” Framed in this manner, the problem is obvious. But how often do we march on oblivious to the changes that are occurring around us?

I asked the entrepreneur to explain his value proposition, a question that was followed by silence. He admitted that he really hadn’t thought about it for quite some time (actually it had been several years). The bottom line was that his customers no longer saw the value in his product the same way as they had in the past. Tastes change. Competition is fierce. Customers can sometimes feel like they are being taken for granted. Unless we make an effort to continually understand why our customers buy our products or services, we aren’t in a position to make the tiny tweaks or major overhauls that are necessary to maintain our winning streak.

Conventional wisdom says that a value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered. Obviously there’s a lot more to it. A restaurant where we eat sometimes seems to be having a bit of a struggle with its value proposition. I suppose that the proprietor could say to me the customer, “You pay me money and I’ll cook your dinner.” Technically that’s a value proposition – but a pretty bad one. The website for this restaurant references “a special dining experience.” There are some other superlatives in the “About” section of the website, but nothing that would really grab you. There are a lot of little things about this place that demonstrate a lack of focus on a strong value proposition. The prime rib is fatty and gristly; the wait staff isn’t trained to make sure that a diner’s glass of tea or water is always full – even if it’s not their assigned table; likewise, empty plates aren’t cleared by the bus staff while guests are at the table (only by the primary server), and finally, service can be a bit slow at times.

A value proposition needs to reflect the culture of the organization. In the case of the restaurant previously mentioned, there doesn’t seem to be a culture of attention to detail. This restaurant probably gets 95% of the dining experience right, but doesn’t seem to care enough to nail that last 5%. If I owned the restaurant, I would re-tool the culture and become fastidious about the little things. My ultimate value proposition would be something like this: “Most restaurants can cook you a meal. We focus on that last 5% to make your dining experience 100% perfect.” Then I’d follow that with a further explanation – “your drink glass will never be empty; we select only the highest quality beef, pork, poultry and fish; our wait staff will always be looking for ways to serve you – regardless of whether or not it’s their assigned table.” Not only does this clearly state what value we’ll be delivering, but it also defines the points of differentiation with competing venues.

A good value proposition is clear, inspiring and differentiating. To avoid becoming irrelevant, entrepreneurs must continually review and refine their value propositions.

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.

old diner

It’s Later Than You Think

Question: I have a colleague who is habitually late for everything. This is really aggravating and is hurting our business. Why is he this way?

Answer: I once had a partner who was always late to everything. When I’d say something to him about it, he’d only laugh it off. I finally realized that he was late on purpose. Why? Because I believe that he always wanted to make a grand entrance to any meeting or appointment. I think he felt it gave him some sort of power over everyone in attendance – they had to wait to start until he arrived.

There are several reasons for lateness. The first (and worst) is exemplified by my former partner (who sadly is deceased) as described in the preceding paragraph. Another reason is a lack of organization and/or poor time management. A third reason is simply not caring that others must wait. And finally, every once in a while there may be an unavoidable occurrence that prevents us from being on time.

It’s important for us to put ourselves in the shoes of others and think about how they feel when we are late. I personally resent it when others believe their time is more valuable than mine and choose not to be on time for an appointment or meeting. This drives me to try and be early to meetings that I attend. I don’t believe there is any such thing as being fashionably late. Suppose I am on a phone call and know that I need to leave in five minutes to meet an investor for lunch. And suppose that I know that the call I’m on is going to take longer than five minutes. I will ask the other party if I can call him or her back from my cell phone and finish the conversation while I’m driving. I’ve never had anyone object to this approach and I’m always on time when I use it. For the few times I’ve actually been late, I always call ahead and let my party know exactly when I will arrive – even if I’m only going to be two or three minutes late.

Recently I made an appointment to see an oral surgeon for some dental work. I arrived 10 minutes early and was informed that the surgeon was running 75 minutes behind. No one bothered to call me in advance. I re-scheduled the appointment with assurances that I would “get right in.” Once again I arrived early and was processed by the receptionist. After 30-minutes of waiting past my appointment time I left for good and wrote the surgeon a letter. He called and apologized and then blamed his staff for poor communications. Not once did he take responsibility for overbooking. This obviously was his modus operandi which seems to be the case for many in the medical profession. I formed an unfavorable opinion about him and unfortunately (for him) have related this story many times. He’s probably a fine surgeon, but projects an air of arrogance with his tardiness.

Being late is a simple choice. We may believe that we have a legitimate excuse, but again, it begins with a choice we make. When we are early for an appointment or meeting, we send a signal that we truly value the other person. This small, uncomplicated act does wonders to build strong and positive relationships.

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.

lateness