Ross Perot meant different things to different people. He was the CEO of Electronic Data Systems (EDS) – my first real job. EDS was later purchased by General Motors – there are many stories about that, especially re: Ross’ time on the GM board. Later, EDS became part of Hewlett Packard. My Ross Perot story isn’t a business anecdote, but a personal one.
Back in 1983 when I started at EDS, there was some pretty serious cultural indoctrination. EDS people do this, and don’t do that (drugs and infidelity were explicitly mentioned). EDS people dress like this, not like that, etc. I wore tasseled dress shoes anyway – making some think I was a wildling. We were designed to compete with IBM, CSC, & similar companies. Our clients were big banks, insurance companies & Fortune 500 businesses, so we had to look like them to keep them comfortable.
In the early days (at least my early days), EDS headquarters was an eight or so story business tower. The tower, access road, and parking lot were built on half of the old Forest Hills Golf Club just west of Central Expressway on Forest Lane in North Dallas. It was a big piece of land, about 200 acres, in the middle of a fast growing area of Dallas. Amazingly, nine holes of the course and a small clubhouse were retained and kept in playing shape for use by employees & their guests. It was a great employee benefit. Unfortunately, a subsequent owner transformed all but 20 acres of the property into wall-to-wall tract homes.
Lunch “with” Ross
In addition to the course, the EDS building had a nice cafeteria. The word “cafeteria” is a little understated. Long before it was fashionable for software companies to have coffee bars and delis in their headquarters – EDS had a restaurant with puffy hat wearing chefs, etc. The food was good – and the prices were subsidized, or at least reduced to close to the company’s cost. You could get a nice lunch for $2.00 in 1983.
EDS had outgrown the building years earlier, so I worked a few miles north. As such, I didn’t visit HQ for lunch too often. However, it was EDS tradition to bring visiting family members in for lunch during the holidays.
Around Christmas & other times of the year, the restaurant would serve steamship rounds of roast beef. A steamship round is a giant chunk of beef that is carved to order right at the buffet by one of the puffy hat wearing chefs. For $2.00 (!), with all the trimmings.
In 1983, my paternal grandmother came to visit for Christmas, so I took her to lunch at HQ on steamship day. When grandma & I got to the normally busy cafeteria (what employees called it), there was almost no one there as many were on vacation. I was nearing the end of my first year at EDS, so I didn’t have much vacation. As we stepped into line, a short man in a suit (all of us wore suits) turned & smiled. He stepped forward & said “Hi, I’m Ross Perot” to my grandma & shook her hand. He then looked me in the eye, shook my hand & said “I always like it when my guys bring their moms into the office for lunch.” He asked where she was from & made a moment of small talk before wishing us a nice lunch & continuing down the line.
My grandma was in her late sixties at the time & had a major league silver-blue bouffant hairdo. I was 24. No one would likely mistake her for my mother, but he err’d on the side of courtesy & charm by playing it that way. He could have ignored us, gone through the line, and scampered back up to his office with his lunch – but he didn’t. Despite having billion dollar things on his mind, he took the time to say hello to a wet behind the ears newbie and his grandma. It was one of my earliest “Business is Personal” moments – a valuable lesson.
Rest in peace, sir.
P.S. My grandma had no idea who Ross was. When we sat down to eat, she said “He was a nice man.” I told her he owned the company & was worth about five billion dollars. She (a widow for over 20 years at the time) said “Well, I guess I should take that cowboy home with me.” 🙂
Photo credit: By Allan Warren – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59243822
A good bit of what we discuss here relates to day-to-day operations. While a lot of operations probably seems simple and obvious, it’s the number one issue I see in companies. I suspect you’ve experienced, owned or worked at a company whose operations are a disorganized mess. Common problems shouldn’t be common at all, right? Let’s see if we can chip away at a few of these and get your operations polished up.
Somewhere in your company, there’s someone who is “under performing”. Not doing their job, not doing it well, It might be that they’re not doing the work in what their peers would consider a normal amount of time. IE: They’re slow. Slow can be OK for some work, but sometimes it isn’t.
As managers / leaders, this is your responsibility. The cause doesn’t matter. If they aren’t doing their job, it’s because their direct manager isn’t finding out why, attempting to fix it and circling back to hold them accountable. Is their direct manager isn’t doing those things? Ultimately, that manager’s performance is your responsibility. Does the under performer work directly for you? If you aren’t finding out why this is happening and you aren’t holding them accountable, it’s your responsibility. While this may seem like a difficult source of hand-wringing and drama, it doesn’t have to be.
Sometimes, an employee doesn’t know what is expected of them. Not kidding. You might find this surprising, but a list of duties, deliverables and responsibilities is useful to an employee. Nothing says “This is what you are responsible for. I will be looking these things when I assess the quality of your work.” better than a list.
Maybe they need training. When you discuss that list of responsibilities with the employee, make sure they are confident that they can achieve those things and have the right skills to make them happen. If they can’t, find training for them.
Training didn’t help. Nothing did.
If training doesn’t improve their performance, a new role might. They might hate some aspect of their work – work that someone else might love to do. Guess who’ll do it better?
Find them a new role that fits who they are, what they can do, what you need, etc. If you can’t do any of that, help them find a role somewhere else. Few “bad hires” are bad people that you’d never recommend to someone else, but they do exist. It takes too long to find and hire a good candidate to simply discard them because you put them in the wrong role, or didn’t train them well.
EVERYONE else in the department (probably in the company), already knows this person needs a new role, more training, or a different job at a different place. They know you aren’t doing anything about it and they’re not happy about that. They know it affects the security of their job, among other things. They’re right to be disappointed.
Disasters in advance
We’ve all seen these. A big project is coming. There are obvious bumps in the road. No one says a word because predicting disaster is “not being a team player” or similar. To a point, that’s correct. Predicting disaster is of no value, but preventing them is huge.
There’s a better way. Ask everyone: “What could go wrong? What could cause this project to fail?” Make it clear that it’s a positive thing to produce this list, as you want to avoid the “team player” baggage. Discuss this for each step of the planning, creation, deployment, and ongoing (if any) operational stages.
Once you have that list, discuss each one. Not only will you be better prepared (and perhaps plug a hole), but you may end up figuring out an issue no one saw when the conversation started. You’ll also help everyone think about hardening their part of the project, no matter what that means. You may find that items on the “What could go wrong?” list end up as a standard task in that kind of project. Would your company benefit if everyone was thinking about these things earlier in the project timeline?
You may get some responses that make no sense, or that seem silly. Don’t let the crowd shout them down. Imagine that delivering a product is critical to your process and someone suggests that a possible fail point is “MegaSuperBigCo can’t deliver our packages“. Something like this might seem a waste of time, but give them their due. Look back far enough and you’ll find instances where shippers or customs people went on strike. When that happens, packages sit in limbo for weeks or months. If your shipping is international, it can get complex in a hurry.
Don’t ignore the smallest items on the “What could go wrong?” list. History has proven that the tiniest thing can create a small failure that cascades to a massive one. We don’t always know which tiny thing will disrupt operations, but we can review each one, make note of what prevents that item from causing problems and move on. If it isn’t handled, the affected team should be expected to take care of it and report back when it’s been handled.
Follow through. Few do.
Have you ever noticed that you get a bunch of work done just before leaving on vacation? Obvious hint: Deadline. Or that your “do this before leaving on vacation” list is essential to making sure that you pack your swimsuit, turn off the stove, and take the dog to the kennel? Obvious hint: Checklist.
Follow through works the same way. You have to be careful that it doesn’t become micro-management, which no one appreciates.
If someone knows they’re expected to provide a status report every Thursday afternoon, they’re more likely to make better progress on the work involved. Work is a funny thing, it expands to fill the container provided. As Stephen Covey made famous with his four quadrants, it’s easy for urgent and unimportant work to fill the day and displace important work.
It isn’t that this work shouldn’t be done, it’s simply that it isn’t as important as a team has agreed to previously. Otherwise, why would you be expected to provide a project status report next Thursday?
What’s even better than a status report that you ask someone to provide? The status report they provide without being asked.
When you provide a project update to your manager / leader / owner without being asked, you make it clear that you know that work is important AND that you know it’s important that the manager / leader / owner knows how things are progressing. Most managers / leaders / owners don’t want to nag – they simply have to because no one is volunteering the information. Result: They don’t know the status of the operations they’re trying to manage.
Unknowns make people nervous, especially as deadlines approach. Make sure your team understands that and that you appreciate follow ups so that you can do the work they expect of you.
Post-mortem your disasters
One of the best times to prevent something from happening again is by taking some notes while it’s happening. An in-disaster post-mortem, for lack of a better term.
Oh, I know. You’re too busy wrestling the fire hoses to stop and take a note for 30 seconds. Really though, you’re not.
If this bad thing happens regularly, put a recurring reminder in your calendar for a few days / weeks / months before the event. A simple reminder to deal with that one little thing that defuses a minor disaster is pretty valuable. Example: Before a trade show or big marketing push, contact your credit card company (merchant card processor) and alert them that you might be processing (much?) higher volume than usual. A five minute call is much less hassle than having your merchant account temporarily disabled in the middle of the business day.
Perry Marshall once mentioned a question his company uses – and I love it: “What system, if fixed or implemented, would have prevented this problem in the first place?” Important for leaders: Don’t ask this question after stating your answer to the question. If you do, you’ll likely miss out on some good ideas that you probably didn’t have. Let someone else get this win – one of them is likely to have the same idea. Listening to the discussion will be far more valuable than showing how smart you are.
What a post-mortem isn’t: A process for assigning blame. Blame has zero ROI, at best. Improvement has a massive ROI, particularly when it prevents future disasters, even minor ones. We can’t always see the future well enough to avoid disaster, but we can convert them into a positive by learning from them. Make disaster avoidance part of your creation, operations, deployment process.
Politics and work – do they mix well? As political communication seems to approach something resembling “say nothing or go psycho“, politics can become tougher at work. I love intelligent conversations with people I don’t (and do) agree with. But finger poking, red-faced, screaming rants? I’m gone. I’d rather watch hot dogs being made.
That politics and work don’t mix well does not mean that the mix is unavoidable or unmanageable. Employees whose politics are a mix of “us and them and them” can get along & be productive as a team. That doesn’t mean the company isn’t going to have to deal with conflicts. Avoiding these problems requires some care when hiring, and that still won’t guarantee you’ll avoid problems related to political differences between employees.
The mission is rarely politics
You may prefer to hire people who are very serious about their political views, particularly if they match your views. That’s OK. No matter where your team members align themselves politically, they need to understand what really aligns them as employees. There’s a single thing to align with when they’re at work and/or when representing your business. That they’re “invested in delivering upon the mission of their employer in the service of the employer’s customers.”
Every business has a culture, whether it’s intentional or not. If you hire people who are incapable or unwilling to adopt that culture, they probably won’t be around long. How politics is handled in the work environment is a part of a company’s culture. Part of delivering upon the employer’s mission is taking care of their customers in a way that is defined by the employer. Some employers are better at defining this than others. All companies define this by example & through their culture, if not via training.
Leading by example
You’ve probably heard about people being fired because of public actions / statements. Sometimes these are political in nature, sometimes the person is simply being a jerk (or worse). I wrote a few weeks ago about an executive chosen for a job who lost it the next day. Online posts that were incongruent with the role of being a senior leader in that industry were costly.
While everyone has a right to their views, how they are communicated in public may reflect upon their employer. It isn’t always that simple. Our political views tend to define how we work, in whole or in part. They can be at the core of who we are & how we got there. Still, we must lead by example.
What leaders say
Imagine hearing the CEO of a national fast food chain publicly stating “Our food is gross. I can’t believe our employees make it, much less have the gall to serve it. What kind of people are they?” Who at that company would feel motivated by their work after hearing that? If that person was named CEO at a different company, how would the new company’s staff react?
Would you expect that CEO to have your back in a situation where a CEO should have your back? How would you like to be one of that company’s salespeople after hearing that quote? What would your response be when a prospect repeated the quote to you after you finished your highly-polished sales pitch?
How does that situation not become all about that leader?
Losing sight of the mission
Politics creates problems in the workplace when someone has not only chosen a political viewpoint, but defines themselves by it. It ceases to be about issues and candidates. It won’t be about how they should respond based on their experience / training. It could become about how someone with their views should respond to work situations.
When an employee’s actions are no longer about the business or the customer, you have a problem. At that point, you get to decide what’s more important: that employee’s views, or your business. It won’t be easy, particularly if you share their politics.
Ask yourself these questions:
“Do I want the person who did / said / wrote these things to manage the people I’ve put in place to care for my customers and the future of my business?
Do I want them interacting with my customers?
Do I want them representing me and my business in public in this manner?
Whether the answers are yes or no, make sure your people know.
When you run solo business, you work in a bit of an echo chamber. Every decision is yours. You get used to being right, because the market is the only thing to tell you otherwise. Even wrong might not be all that wrong. Maybe you weren’t as right as you could have been – and perhaps market condition changes created that scenario. When you’re on your own, you’re the best at everything in your company because there isn’t anyone else.
Decisions change after hiring
As soon as you hire someone, that changes.
Presumably your first hire is better than you or smarter than you at *something*, otherwise – why did you hire them? Most founders / owners are generalists, but are very, very good at a few things. Hiring someone worse than you for any role outside of your sweet spot is crazy.
The arrival of a new team member starts the process of discovery. As you learn their true abilities, you can begin to leverage their ideas, opinions, perspectives, and experience. You may delegate some decisions to them, while continuing to make the majority of them. At that point, discussions about decisions tend to take one of two directions:
“I’ll make the decision and tell you what I’ve decided.“
“Tell me what you’re thinking, how you’d make this decision, and why. I will still make the decision, but I want to hear any insight your background, training and experience tell you. To me, hearing how you arrived at the decision is as important as the decision itself.“
I suggest the second angle. For the decisions you begin to delegate, you can see from the second angle the importance of explaining how you’d make them and why. Their thought process may not be identical to yours, but they need to understand your decision making process and what factors you see as important.
Delegate with intent
Delegating isn’t solely about making decisions. There are many ways to design something, setup a trade show booth, make a sales presentation, etc. Once you hire someone better than you at a particular task, you should expect that some of your past work will eventually appear less than ideal.
It’s difficult to delegate the work that you’ve always done. Your staff will do things differently than you, and probably better than you. Does this make you wrong? No. Should it put you on the defensive or embarrass you? Don’t let it. Celebrate it. They’re doing exactly what you hired them to do – relieve you of the work and the cognitive load related to that task.
You may not realize that you become defensive when “wrong” or when your past work no longer passes muster. Be aware of your reactions to these events. If your team sees you become defensive when proven wrong or when your work is improved upon, people will avoid making those situations happen again. It isn’t worth it to them. They’re likely to agree with everything, or worse, add nothing. They’ll say things like “Nope, I don’t have anything to add”, “I’m good.”, or “That’s fine.“
Losing decision / process trust
The pain you create when you’re proven wrong changes people’s input. When being right or better seems more important than good results, you lose their trust. You hired them because they’re skilled, yet you’re uncomfortable when they inevitably show it.
They’ll change their interaction as they learn when & where you have to be right. They may downplay their opinions & work reveals, despite being better than you at certain work. They may suppress experience / data used to make a point during meetings. This won’t happen because they don’t like their work or want the best for the company, but simply to avoid stirring you up.
Over time, they’ll avoid expressing anything in public that’s counter to your position – even when you need it. They’ll censor themselves in private discussions with you. Eventually, they’ll have no input at all, and because this happens gradually, you may not notice the change. If it gets that far, you’ve probably lost them – particularly when it involves previously motivated, engaged staffer.
It’s tough adding new people to the mix. Give them some rope. Let them prove they can handle the work you hired them for. The freedom they provide by taking work off your plate provides valuable time you can leverage on the work you’re best at.
The news seems to document a consistent parade of unethical behavior by executives. You see it both in “startups” (Uber, Theranos) and in more traditional large corporations. Even if you ignore Enron, Tyco, and the well-known cases, they’re in the news almost every week. Have you ever wondered how so many people with a severe lack of ethics managed to get into leadership / ownership positions? The reasons add up.
You hired them.
My answer? “You hired them.”
OK, maybe it wasn’t you specifically. Think back through your career. Any of us who have hired someone can probably think back to a time when something happened related to a hiring, a firing, or a delivery of discipline – and we let something go.
Without thinking hard about it, your natural response is probably “Nope, not me.” I suspect that would be my answer as well, so I decided I should think back a bit and provide some examples.
Was there ever a time when a resume didn’t seem 100% up and up? Maybe there was “a little something” that made you wonder. Did you investigate? If not, did you hire them anyway?
Was there ever a time when you didn’t speak with every reference on a resume? How many hires have you made where you didn’t talk to ANY of a candidate’s references?
Have you ever assumed a degree listed on a resume was legitimate and decided not to take the time to confirm it?
You didn’t fire them.
Have you decided not to fire someone who deserved it – and not because of paperwork or contract requirements?
Have you ever said “No” when someone asked if they could work from home, even for a day? If you said no, was it because you didn’t believe they would actually work? Or perhaps because you didn’t believe they’d give you a full day’s work? If you can’t trust them to do that, how can you trust them at all?
Have you kept someone who deserved to be fired, only to see them repeat the behavior that you didn’t fire them for?
While you might’ve thought that you were doing someone a favor, you may have encouraged them to continue that behavior. It’s also possible that you helped them see the light & turn things around. Only they know for sure.
Hiring and not firing adds up
OK, so we can probably all remember maybe one of these situations. Perhaps you can recall seeing it happen as someone more senior overrode a decision you made. Or you watched them make the decision as a leader elsewhere in the company, but you had no input into it. You might even have been a line employee who watched it happen with a new employee. Maybe you were told to “get a warm body ASAP” and pressured to make a hire before you were ready.
No matter how it happened, it reinforces the bad and/or unethical behavior.
Thinking back, these little things may not seem important. They put something on their expense report that really shouldn’t have been there. It’s OK, they were on the road, etc, etc.
Reinforced bad behavior creates more instances of bad behavior.
Eventually, the size and scope of this behavior will increase as success is repeated. Why? When someone gets away with these things, they gain confidence to do it again. The more it happens, the more it seems normal. The more confidence they get, the bigger the reach.
But that isn’t the worst of it. What could be worse? Like many things, ethics has a network effect.
The network effect works for good & bad. Team members with poor ethics (at any level) likely have more tolerance of bad behavior from others. Once they get into a leadership role, are they going to come down on that sort of behavior?
Everyday ethics sends signals
Recently I suggested that when people tell you who they are (in words or via behavior), believe them. Everyday behavior sends signals to indicate how they’ll behave when you leave the room. IE: how they’ll act when you’re at lunch, out of town, or sick.
Which of your people do you feel you can trust while you’re gone? Discuss it with them. They need to know how you feel. It sends signals about your leadership.
PS: The rest of your team already knows about these folks.
Last week in “Reflecting on Leadership“, I said “The more I thought about it, the more disturbing this reflection became. I thought back to any number of employers and client businesses and the training they offered to new team members. Training was never about preparing a new (albeit, sometimes experienced) employee to succeed / survive IN THE ACTUAL SITUATION / ROLE.“
It’s important to unwrap this & explain why I find this disturbing.
I said “disturbing” because the short and long term impact of this lack of role specific training hit me. It impacts the company’s success, the employee’s short term success in the role, and the employee’s career in the long term.
Think about the perspective of the employee who steps up. Employees might be stepping outside of their comfort zone in order to take a shot at this role. While access to opportunity is important, employees like to help their company & manager by filling an important role. Consider the potential chaos created by the departure of someone with “big shoes to fill”. Everyone knows the impact of that departure – yet someone is likely to volunteer to take on that role. Employees who step up to fill a role created by increased workload feel similarly.
From the owner’s perspective, each of those situations imply that success in the role is important to your company. An existing staffer who steps up deserves to be well-prepared for the role.
What happens if someone who “steps up” to take on a new role is “thrown to the wolves”? The natural response is that other employees will be less likely to step up when the opportunities present themselves. Eventually, the perceived lack of opportunity will provoke them to leave your company.
They reflect what we teach.
The lack of role-specific training teaches the employee what “normal” is. As their career continues, they’re likely to manage others – and will likely do so as they have been managed. There will be exceptions, of course, but our own experience tends to be our teacher. Consider the long-time employee who becomes one of your senior leaders. Would you want them based role-specific training decisions based on the training they received?
Anything you do is everything you do. It all ties together.
Employees who join other companies in your industry send a message. Not because they left you, but by reflection. Their skill set, experience and how they work reflects upon your company. Your peers and your customers will eventually figure out that your team is “making it up as they go along”, if that’s how things work. Poorly trained people are easy to notice.
What about seasoned staffers?
You might expect them to step in and “hit the ground running” since you selected them because of their background & experience (among other things). Even so, experience & background aren’t everything. New team members joining from “the outside” should take part in discussions about your company’s culture, resources, role expectations, etc before a hiring decision is made. Culture is a critical piece for experienced people. Behaviors expected / tolerated elsewhere can cause failure of a new team member as if they never had a chance.
Avoiding the blank sheet
While the specifics of role specific training will vary, some topics likely occur across industries.
Examples to get you started:
Specific duties of this role on a daily / weekly / quarterly / annual basis.
Process-specific training required to succeed.
Where / how do the duties in this role fit into its department?
How does this role’s work fit into and contribute to the company’s big picture / mission?
Information / data received regularly.
Which events to be concerned about.
What events to expect.
Events you should be concerned about – if they don’t happen.
Data the company creates and/or collects that’s related to this role.
Expected deliverables & their due dates.
Sources of industry info that should be monitored.
Industry influencers to interact with / follow.
Available ongoing training / certifications needed.
Company’s policy on getting initial & advanced training. Time out of office, travel, tuition, reimbursement, etc.
Time normally required in this role before going to advanced role specific training.
Company experts (in this role’s context) and the person whose job requirements include mentoring the person in this role.
Internal company groups related to this role / department. When / where they meet. What to gain from them. Insight they need.
If you get enough email from “gurus” and you see enough Facebook ads, you will find yourself reading discussions about that unicorn of unicorns, the self-managing business. It sounds amazing. “You mean I’ll have the freedom to go skiing, hiking, or fishing and when I return, my business will better than it was when I left?” Yes, they say. If you dig deep enough, they will begrudgingly admit that your business will be no worse than it was when you left. In some cases, that’s normal because the business actually gets more and better work done when you’re gone. But they leave out a lot of detail, or more often, people read far more into the title than is really there.
The four hour work week
Take Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week. Tim’s built an integrated team and systems that allow him to spend his best, most productive four hours of the week working on things he loves to do that no one else in his business can do as well as he can. It’s real work to create systems and train people to work autonomously, or at least close to autonomously. It’s worth it, of course. He shows how to build a business that lets you work from anywhere. Could you turn your bait shop into an absentee business? Sure – if you’re put the time into developing systems and training people.
However, it isn’t just about training people to do the work. That’s the easy part. If you are truly going to disappear, someone will need to make decisions for you. Presumably, you’ll want their decisions to be the same ones you would have made. Otherwise, it becomes more like the business of the people you left behind, not the business of the person taking the three week horsepacking trip. Upon your return, you might not like what you find.
What does self-managing business mean?
To some, it means that all the stuff that can be automated has been automated. A self-managing car might drive itself to the dealer (or your preferred mechanic) if it detected a problem that wasn’t enough that it meant the car couldn’t be driven. It might know when to get gas (etc) – and to go to a station that offers full-service, since it can’t fill itself from a standard pump.
It isn’t simply about automation. Automation simply buys time / speed, and reduces / eliminates human error. While automation is getting better every day, someone has to tell it what you want it to do. The same must be said about your staff. They need to be told HOW you want things to be done, but also, how to decide and prioritize those things. Everything, in fact.
Making decisions is also work. Sometimes it’s the work that makes a difference for the business – and it’s often the kind of work that repeatedly pays off. So how do you replace that?
Being Like Mike
This is the real work of “systematizing” a business. Building & implementing automated systems isn’t nearly enough. You need people who are prepared & ready to make decisions close to as fast as you do, based the same points and considerations you use, and after all that – make the same decision you would have made (mostly).
Until they do that consistently, how can you leave for a month?
Write down a short note about the last five decisions you made. I don’t mean major like “we bought a competitor”. I’m referring to the kind of decisions you make daily or weekly. With list in hand, take your best staffer for a walk. For each decision on the list, put your staffer in the scenario you were in, provide them with whatever info you had, and then ask them to make the decision they thought you would make. Now ask them to tell you how they arrived at that decision. After a few decisions, is the staffer on track?
If they aren’t, think about the training that’s necessary to get them there. Are your managers ready for that? If you left for a week, would they have the data, tools and decision-making process (from yours) to make it for a week without calling, texting, or emailing you?
Start slowly. Train them, give them the autonomy they need, & coach them. When they’re “ready enough”, start leaving them for longer and longer stretches.
We have attorneys, insurance, OSHA, safety regulations, procedures, safety gear, training, etc to help us protect our business, while keeping our staff members & customers safe. We know that in some markets, someone still might get hurt despite all our preparation, training, safety equipment, etc.
If you run a hotel with a pool, offer zip line rides, take people on boat rides / float trips, lead hikes or offer horseback rides into the backcountry, there are obvious risks, but almost every business has some level of risk like this. Have you wondered how you’d respond if something horrific happen to your customers while they were at your place of business? It’s one of a few worst possible nightmares for a business owner. Could you, much less your business, recover from something like that? Could your staff?
There are (and will continue to be) a lot of what ifs related to the recent duck boatdisaster in Branson. It’s difficult to comprehend, much less try to relate to what the victims’ families, the employees and the business owner are going through. While it’s the worst possible time for all involved, the rest of us owe it to ourselves, our team, and our customers to learn from it.
If your business involves activities that could put your employees and/or customers in a scenario where they could get hurt, you should watch the process closely as they talk to the media, address safety issues that are discovered, and change processes while customers are in their care.
Review. Look for clues. Ask for help.
What you’re able to see from the public perspective of this accident will help, but the opportunity to learn won’t stop there. There will likely be additional considerations discussed by your advisors that they will want to share with you. As an example, you’ll want to talk to your attorney, insurance agents, licensing and related safety enforcement agencies, as well as industry groups.
As details come out about what went wrong in Branson, you may find subtle gaps in your tools, gear, processes, inspections, or training. Even if you have 40 years of experience in your business, as the boat tour business does, you can still learn from the lessons and discoveries that come out of this.
Your customers know they’re putting themselves at risk to take part in adventures. They expect your team to be experts. Reviewing your current procedures, training and equipment use is at least as important as making sure that you’ve developed enough of a sales pipeline to have the necessary cash flow to make payroll three months from now.
One more critical tool
There’s more to this than safety equipment and training.
When bad things happen, time has a way of changing. For some people, time stands still, or more commonly, slows down a good bit. For others, it accelerates.
It’s easy to find stories about highly accomplished people (athletes and others) who describe what happens when they get really good. They’ll say the game or activity “slows down”. It means that they are so ready, so fit, so well-trained, and so mentally prepared that the activity feels as if they have plenty of time to do whatever they’re good at. It looks easy when they do it because to them, it is. For the rest of us, the game or activity feels like it keeps getting faster and faster. When we try to keep up at a pace we aren’t used to, we start making mistakes.
Leadership works this way too.
When bad things happen, preparation slows things down. When you’re the owner and 20 people are asking questions at once, preparation, experience, and practice help you keep your bearings, calm everyone, and handle the questions.
You aren’t the only one who needs this preparation. Your ENTIRE team needs leadership training. When everyone else panics (and perhaps rightfully so), they will need leaders to help them find a safe way out. Leave no one out. That kid in produce might be the one who takes charge and guides your customers to safety when the worst happens.
Train your entire team. All of them will need one another to get through it, both during the event, and afterward. You’ll need their leadership most of all. If the worst never happens, you still have a team of leaders. Your customers will notice.
You’ve probably heard about things that didn’t work in someone else’s business. The story probably included an assertion that whatever isn’t working for someone else also wouldn’t so won’t work in yours. The tool itself is generally irrelevant. More often than not, the problem is a lack of consistency.
Execution isn’t easy. We do the wrong things. We do the right things at the wrong time. We fail to prioritize, or prioritize poorly – often doing the urgent rather than than the important. Each of those things have their own solution, tactic, or cure. The challenge is executing every day, every hour, every appointment – as appropriate for the solution, tactic, or cure. To be as effective and efficient as possible, all of these things require consistent execution.
We all have a ton of things to do. It takes a systematic intent to consistently eliminate tasks of no / low value, making room for the high value work our peers and customers need most.
Consistency has a number of benefits. If you are consistently good, people will depend on you / your company – and soon get to the point where their expectations are that you will always do, say, and deliver what they expect. This clientele will tell people. Some of them, the most rabid types, will tell lots of people. A small percentage of them will practically take it as an insult if one of their friends or colleagues don’t use their consistent vendor.
Consistency gives your clients something steady to latch onto at a time when many of them feel there is little they can depend on other than themselves. Outside of your spouse and perhaps a few others, do you have a vendor you can depend on no matter what? One that you would bet your business on? Think about the peace of mind that would give you if you had that kind of vendor (or vendors) in place.
Consistency is a quality you can sell, price higher, and use as leverage when competing for a new customer. Anyone can make a single sale. Consistent vendors make that sale while claiming an asset – a new, long term customer.
Do you have vendors or places you do business with as a consumer where you always have to remind about delivery or deadlines? Do you frequently have to correct a vendor’s work or invoices / paperwork? Do their work habits force you to be the one who must consistently follow up about promises, on-time delivery, service windows, quality and completeness? Is that the exception or the rule?
How does that make you feel? What’s it feel like the next time you have to purchase or get service from a vendor like that? Do you dread it?
Are you repeatedly changing vendors in an attempt to find one that you can consistently depend on? How does that feel?
Does your business track churn?
Churn happens when a business gets X new customers and loses Y customers each month. If you have to track it, you’ve probably got a churn problem. Maybe it reflects the direction and growth of your MRR (monthly recurring revenue) due to your business model.
Churn happens because customers cannot depend upon multiple vendors in your market. Yes, others are part of this as well, otherwise new customers wouldn’t be filling YOUR bucket that’s also leaking customers every month. Some may be new to the market, but a reasonable percentage of those new customers are coming from other vendors who aren’t taking good care of them. How long will you keep them? Consistency is a factor.
If you ever ask a former customer who churned away from you, they will almost always say they left because of price. Price is an easy excuse to use and it’s one they know you will be least likely to argue about. However, churn is rarely about price. More often than not, it’s the last straw after a customer has lost patience in the consistency of your product / service quality. First they get frustrated, then the investment seems like a waste, and finally, they’ve had enough.
No one gets into business to intentionally be bad at something. It takes effort. Wasted motion. Lost focus. Lack of intent.
Process by process, employee by employee, consistent execution improves quality. Going to the gym once doesn’t produce ideal results. Neither does inconsistent execution.Photo by Dan Harrelson
Today we’re going to use a common political event (and some football) to discuss the effective delivery of criticism.
Recently a new candidate joined a local political race. The new candidate’s campaign has spent plenty of time pointing out things that are broke, need attention, or didn’t go well. That doesn’t mean the candidate has nothing to say, nor that they have nothing valuable to add to the conversation about how their community is run. Even so, this “list” dominates their campaign while offering no specifics about their qualifications for office.
Criticism is not a qualifying skill
We all have the right to bring attention to things that aren’t working or need improvement. Even so, the ability to identify problems doesn’t qualify us to run the organization exhibiting those problems.
For example, my alma mater is (putting it politely) having a rough decade on the football field. It’s easy to note my team’s problems (or at least the symptoms), including their consistent inability to win a game after trailing at the half. When this doesn’t happen for six years, it stands out.
The ability to identify the team’s problems doesn’t qualify me to run a NCAA football program. That’s why I didn’t offer a solution. I might have theories, but management expertise doesn’t make you a coach.
The same kind of expectations exist for that political office. It’s real work. The ability to criticize isn’t enough. The job requires related experience.
If you want a job that requires leading the management of a $25 million budget, people expect that you’d have a fair amount of experience successfully managing a budget of at least low seven figures. Criticizing your opponent’s handling of the budget is fair game. Likewise, so is the public’s desire to hear about your experience and specifics about what you’d do differently and why.
If you want a job that requires leading the management of a team of ~900 employees, you should have experience successfully leading the management of a team of 100 or more. Tell us about your management successes, what you learned from your management struggles, and specifically how you’d make things better. Don’t think we won’t be taking notes and coming back to them to remind you of your suggestions if you win.
Criticism in the workplace has similar demands. If you provide context and propose specific solutions, great. If you’re simply complaining – does that help you, the company, or your target?
Embarrassing people isn’t criticism. It’s ego.
While I frequently discuss inept, unfortunate, or unproductive business behaviors I’ve experienced, I avoid mentioning the business. Why? Embarrassing an employee or business owner serves no purpose. It doesn’t improve the lesson / advice. It doesn’t positively serve the reader, or the business. It’s the kind of criticism that accomplishes nothing.
I prefer to shine a light on things a business can improve how they serve their customers. In turn, this gives the business a better chance of not just surviving – but thriving. It should also build job security for their team, and help the owner’s family benefit from the risk they took wh en opening a business.
To make your team’s feedback loop more valuable, teach them how to deliver effective criticism.
Criticism delivery determines the response
Whether running for office, grumbling about your team, or criticizing how you were treated in a local business, how you deliver that criticism says more about you than it does the recipient. It also plays a substantial part in how your criticism is received and the response you receive.
Criticism is not a bad thing. We all need it. It serves the recipient, not the one delivering it. Much of the criticism people given these days serves only the ego of the person doling it out – and does nothing for the person receiving it.
Ego-driven criticism looks like this: “(business / org / person) is terrible at (whatever). Fire them.”
Effective criticism is intended and designed to help those receiving it, rather than drawing attention to the provider.
When delivering criticism, include specifics and where possible, suggestions for improvement. Describe the problem behavior / activity / outcome. Compare it to the desired behavior / activity / outcome. Discuss solutions. Ask how you can help. The outcome is usually what needs to be fixed, not the person.
Think about the best criticism you’ve received. What made it so valuable? Consider that when criticizing the work of others. You’re giving them a gift.