What is crushing the individual and collective minds of business today? What is taking hold of brain like a vice grip and not letting up for a second?
Obviously, there are numerous answers. I’d like to offer some insights that, although it might not totally alleviate the pain, can definitely reduce it.
Here are some pressure points and insights on how to relieve them.
Once again, these are not the only contributors to that crushing feeling on and in your brain. Appreciate that leadership can occur at any and all levels, take the temperature of your culture before implementing change, have a process to pull groups together to form high performing teams, respect the power of technology as a tool and learn from mistakes, rather that believing them to be failures can drastically reduce the pain..
The word predictability has been bandied about quite a bit lately. In particular, politicians have been stating that business owners crave and need predictability from the economy. They need to know what their tax burden is going to be, what their added expense under the Affordable Care Act will look like and whether they can afford to hire new employees and borrow money for new equipment.
Boards want predictability from their executives. In public companies, accurate predictions are valued, especially when it comes to sales and earnings projections. If a company looks bad, the Board looks bad. The market does not like surprises. Even good ones can be a reflection of an executive team not in touch with their business the way they should be.
Executives don’t like surprises, especially those that pop up when they have been shielded from bad news by their team, and then the whole mess explodes. Executives like to get exactly what they expect, or a little bit better. Some executives like to be shielded by subordinates so they can profess a lack of knowledge if something bad occurs. Deniability is a lovely concept, but it has a flip side, and that is that an executive does not have an open, transparent and collaborative relationship with his team. And that is a big negative.
Workers rarely get good news these days, so surprises are usually bad news. Fewer people but the same amount of work, work more hours for the same pay. Surprise- no raises this year. Surprise- we are cutting back on benefits. Or even the tried and true ones- you have to stay late tonight or you have to work this weekend- are hard to swallow.
All of the above is prelude. Predictability is valued. So then, why would anyone ever work for or with an entrepreneur? Put bluntly, entrepreneurs are a roller coaster ride, the main difference being that on a roller coaster you can look ahead and see the ups and downs. With an entrepreneur, you don’t know when they are coming. An entrepreneur’s passion is usually the emotional core of any business. That passion can be like a magnet, attracting people who hope to be involved with something meaningful. It can also blind people to the thrill a minute ride that is part of that passion. That passion can take you to very high places, but it can also lead you into an occasional abyss.
Many entrepreneurs have competencies that enable them to be good “builders” of companies. They tolerate and manage risk well, they can see the big picture, they have a powerful vision and they see how the pieces fit together. So they are fired up in the growth stages, however long they last. However, when growth becomes more steady and less meteoric and good operations management becomes the order of the day, a different set of competencies is required. Many entrepreneurs lack the willpower and the discipline to take on a more regular operational role, they get bored, and they decide to stir the pot. They need action, they want the jolt that comes from doing something big. They may push for a new product line, want to scale quickly, decide to make an acquisition, or even worse, they could do a pivot into a totally illogical area that nobody understands. The point is, they become unpredictable.
If an entrepreneur has nobody to answer to, or has the gift of gab so as to be able to explain the new direction successfully to those he does answer to, off he goes- and he expects his employees to follow him- without a road map, without any direction and often without much communication at all. While he is getting the “high” of his new activity, his employees are scrambling to keep up. They are confused, uncertain of what has changed, uncertain of what the future looks like, and not anywhere near approaching the buzz the boss is getting. While he is getting excited, they are getting depressed.
The entrepreneur is responsible for the highest highs and the lowest lows in the business. And all he wants to do is have fun. He is not thinking about what his quest is doing to others. He is not considering the consequences of his actions He is not considering predictability. He is probably thinking about how exciting it must be to work for him.
Is there a way to add a measure of sanity to these situations? It may be hard to change the basic nature of the entrepreneur, who feels it is his right to do what he wishes. But adding some communication into the process at key points might make it more tolerable and perhaps even enjoyable for employees, without dampening the owner’s enthusiasm. Picture a really smart and somewhat thoughtful entrepreneur faced with this situation and trying to fashion a win-win solution. He might come up with something like
The Entrepreneur’s Declaration of Interdependence.
And recognizing that it being my company, I can do what I please, but do so at the risk of making my team unhappy to the point that I may cause some valuable employees to seek employment elsewhere;
And recognizing that my highs may actually be “lows” for others in my company;
And further recognizing that while I crave excitement, everyone else in the company desires a relatively stable existence, desires to know what is expected of them and what competencies they need to be successful; and desires consistent measures of success and reward and appreciation for achieving them;
And further recognizing that we all have in common the desire to see the company succeed and grow and for the professional opportunities within the company to grow; and the desire to find work interesting and fulfilling and our mission and vision shared;
I hereby agree to the following:
It has been said that one man’s floor is another man’s ceiling. One man’s high is another’s low point. The entrepreneur has it within him to be both, and at the same time. Thinking about the few fairly easy behavioral changes cited above could turn a nightmare boss into a more predictable, inspirational leader without necessarily dampening his fun. And it could get rid of the lowest of the lows.
Without our dreams, life would not only be dull and boring. There would be only stagnation and death. Which call to mind the song from the musical, Les Miserables. Although this song seems to be more about lost romantic love, it certainly drives home a significant point in terms of the death of any dream. Please note the last line of the song.
I Dreamed a Dream
There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong.
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted.
But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame.
He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came.
And still I dream he’ll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather.
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.
The last line is worth repeating…
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.
People and businesses are so busy doing life, shuffling strategies, tasks, products, services, people and problems, that they often lose sight of the dream that galvanized and energized them in the first place. Unfortunately, their day-to-day “life” is killing their dream.
Is your life killing your dream? Have you moved the focus in so many other other directions and tangents that you are dispersing your thoughts, goals and actions away from that dream that motivated you in the first place?
If the answer is yes, consider what it will take to get your life, your work, your profession, your business back on track. Think about motivation as one of the most significant multipliers to keep your dream alive.
Here are three steps for keeping dreams alive:
Assessing, Aligning and fan certainly are not the only steps that will enhance motivation. However, they are simple steps to help keep dreams alive.
Almost every business is begun with the thought that it is going to be the best of its kind in the marketplace. Its value proposition puts it head and shoulders above the competition. But as we all learn at some point in our lives, thinking it does not make it so. There must be more than a thought or a hope to make a business great. It takes a strong strategy, a collaborative team and a focus on execution and results.
Being great is hard work. Many businesses get to be great for a short period of time that may be equivalent to their fifteen minutes of fame. But few sustain it because the effort to do so is too much for the business. The discipline is not there, the metrics are not followed, high standards are not established and observed. Accountability wanes and when it does a company can quickly go from great to good. And many companies find this to be all right with them. Over time there is a little more slippage and things become “just okay.” And somehow, that becomes okay. It is a bit like an individual watching his weight carefully over a period of time and then ignoring the extra pound here and pound there. And then one day he discovers he is twenty pounds overweight. The effort to lose twenty pounds may be too much, and he just learns to live with them.
I often ask organizational leaders if they would be willing to have written on their gravestone, “We went for mediocrity and we achieved it.” Few would want that as their legacy.
How would the business world change if every company made a concerted, ongoing, continuous effort to be excellent? What diligence would be required? We know the ideal formula is to increase sales, decrease costs, retain your customers and employees and focus on operational excellence. 720thinking gives us a look at what must be addressed to achieve that magical formula.
There must be a clear and compelling vision. It must be communicated and pursued with courage, energy, innovation, integrity and accountability with a focus on results. There must be an equal commitment to leadership, to building powerful teams, to employee engagement, to customer loyalty and to developing business acumen across the organization. And each of those key areas must be imbued with the same multipliers, which bear repeating- courage, energy, integrity, innovation and accountability with a focus on results.
Business owners have a lot to do. Their own open door policy brings employees to them on an ongoing basis, deterring them from their own agenda and getting them involved in everybody else’s issues. Constant telephone calls, e-mails, text messages, tweets, news flashes and life itself can be an ongoing distraction. Somehow, it is not surprising if focus is lost and the company begins to slide toward mediocrity. Business leaders need to prioritize, set goals and hold themselves accountable.
Here is the call to action. Do the right things or you will wake up one day and you will not recognize your own business. And it may be too late to re-shape it; or if not too late, maybe the effort required will just be too much. And you will find yourself stuck in the land of mediocrity, a place nobody goes to willingly- unless it is on the way back up.
Excellence must be earned, and once gained must be fought for every day. Almost everybody talks the talk of excellence. Few walk the walk. There is a big gap between the two.
Leaders model behavior for the business and everyone in it. That means they have to stay motivated in order to inspire others. If they do not, employees will know and will gradually become less motivated themselves and thus less engaged in their work, and there begins the slide. So leaders need to find meaning in their work and bring passion to it. They need to show their positivity, even in the face of challenges.
Brand can be viewed as the sum of all organizational behaviors. Wherever someone has contact with a company, he or she will walk away with a brand impression. It can be positive, neutral or negative. Put another way, it can be excellent, mediocre or poor. What do we want them to think and say? We want them to think “Excellence”, right? It is up to leadership to model excellence and pursue it rigorously, inspiring all stakeholders to do the same. If excellence is the focus and the focus is executed upon, the company path into the future and its legacy has a good chance of being just that. And boy, does that beat “okay.”
Everyone has a pocketful of excuses and rationalizations that can be used to sidetrack excellence. Try to keep them in your pocket and focus on the real deal. There is a big payoff, now and forever.
Businesses are continually faced with many challenges. Not enough time or money., too much competition globally and locally, too little innovation and creativity, too little available workforce talent, interest or expertise… This list certainly can go on and on. It’s amazing how any business can even hope to survive given all the factors that come to mind. Research is showing that the greatest drain on organizations’ success is accountability.
Accountability is more than an interesting topic for every company to toss around. It is a fundamental multiplier for success . A simple definition is the ability to account for one’s actions.
With some further research four words consistently show up when defining accountability. These four words serve as invaluable pillars to support accountability:
Responsibility – This is the first pillar in the foundation for accountability. Commitments have been made and our “duty now binds our course of action.” To say we are responsible is NOT the same as being responsible. An offer is made, a job is offered, a contract accepted, a meeting is set, we have now have to take action. It’s more that shaking hands in agreement. It is about demonstrating every step of the way that every action is with ability, integrity and honor. Be proactive and do home to fully understand the strategy and objectives that are sought.Mutually commit to the main agenda or purpose of the role, the relationship.Prepare, prepare, prepare before every meeting, every day, every week, every quarter, every year.
Answerability – Being willing and able to answer for decisions, actions, mistakes is the second pillar. When called for a status report, have facts and figures that support the good, the bad and the ugly. It is better to admit that we don’t know, rather bluster, blunder or blame through with excuses. Offering, in advance, information, feedback and summaries of the situation demonstrates a level of accountability that is not only respected, but is often actively sought out. I remember one executive was promoted because they were viewed as always offering answers and solutions , not just coming in with questions and problems.
Trustworthiness – Trust is something that is earned. Our behaviors can build or destroy trust. Honesty and integrity are the linchpins that hold relationships, companies and communities together. Once trust is violated or challenged, it is imperative. There is an old cliche’ which stills much merit – “My word is my bond.” Think about the years and dollars that could and would be saved in legal fees, if people just stuck to their word. Another huge element of trustworthiness is consistency. In a market research study conducted in 2010, it was found that customers that perceived the business was trustworthiness also was a strong, statistically significant predictor of value. (Ralitza Bell, Australian Catholic University) Just doing what we say we are going to do can add significant value.
Liability – This more than being legally bound. Ethics, morals, values and character are tremendous components of the individual psyche and organization culture. Consequences need to be clear and consistent. Repaying a debt with dollars is often a small price to pay if we can maintain our character and sense of self. To “lose face” in many cultures is a tremendous price to pay. At the very least, an apology is certainly merited. apologize for the action, there is no need to apologize for being you (that actually becomes an excuse).