In late August I participated in the annual conference held for the benefit of TAB facilitators worldwide. Since 2002, I’ve missed this conference exactly the same number of times that I’ve forgotten my wedding anniversary.
As in years past, I came away with several pages of prioritized notes listing possible strategies and tactics for improving my business. I accumulated these during the assortment of presentations, breakout sessions, and casual networking that takes place at every conference.
As I reviewed my trove of takeaways on the flight home, it occurred to me that I seldom hear from my business owner friends and clients about their awesome experiences at their industry meetings, trade associations, or professional society meetings. I’m thinking that’s because they don’t attend.
There is a tendency for an entrepreneur to start or acquire a business and then proceed to become so buried in the work that they cannot get away to sharpen their saw at an industry conference. This is a symptom of the “too busy working IN my business to take time to work ON my business” disease.
If you don’t participate in industry-wide sharing of ideas and practices, you’re starving your business. This business starvation condition presents as the sound of anxious breathing or wheezing. Unfortunately, in most cases, the source of that sound has proven to be the business owner.
Lesson? Stay connected to your broader industry or profession!
By the way, I’ve never forgotten my wedding anniversary.
Riding a Dead Horse (not really)
There are some subjects that are difficult to approach positively. This seems to be one of them.
Every CEO occasionally finds himself or herself riding a dead horse. It could be that new product program that is consistently delayed and where the projected cost to manufacture is much higher than the original estimate. Or that new employee whose performance is so far below what you anticipated three months ago during the final interview. Or it might even be your entire company. Maybe you’re worn out, ready to move on, and have never really created the entity that you envisioned when you founded it.
Regardless of the situation, you feel the right decision in your gut. Your gut understands that you are riding a dead horse and that the only appropriate next step is to dismount.
Contrary to my opening statement, this negative post really does have a silver lining. Dismounting creates a better situation. Killing the new product program frees up resources that can be more profitably applied elsewhere. Terminating or reassigning the failing employee eliminates drag on the organization and allows the individual to find their true niche – either within or outside your organization. Selling your company to a strategic buyer who has the resources or market position to make it a success is good for you, your employees, and probably the overall economy.
The timely dismount can be every bit as potent for your company as any new initiative might be. So, how are your feet stuck in the stirrups?
Remnant of 1990s war in Croatia
I recently returned from a journey to Eastern Europe. I briefly visited towns in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. The tour caused me to reflect more seriously than ever on the freedoms and opportunities we enjoy in the United States.
We took a photograph of a bombed out building in Vukovar, Croatia, located on the Danube River. Someone had placed beautiful blooming flowers in several openings of the building where windows used to be. The symbolism was intense.
My professional life for the past fifteen years has been devoted to working with leaders of privately owned businesses. Most small to midsize businesses cycle – from relatively good times to relatively poor times. Occasionally a business is devastated. Even in “normal” times, my clients face difficult challenges. Some are fighting serious diseases while still running their businesses. Others are unable to pay themselves a salary for months at a time due to negative cash flow. Some are angry with and frustrated by lending institutions who offer little or no support. Still others must struggle through broken family relationships that are exacerbated by the demands of the business.
So it’s not surprising that businesses are sometimes figuratively blown up. Maybe more surprising are those occasions when, out of the ashes, something beautiful emerges. Individual perseverance and guts, and the unbending support of family or friends or customers or suppliers, produce bright color where only gray existed before.
Now, back to Eastern Europe. Having met and heard the stories of a number of people who once lived behind the Iron Curtain, I am struck by the power of having the freedom of choice. I’m more appreciative of having a system of checks and balances in a government that sometimes seems to be gridlocked. I’m grateful to live in a country where any entrepreneur has the freedom to choose his own next step. Doors may not be wide open at every decision point, but at least the doors exist.
Has your business ever seemed like a mere shell of the structure it once was? And you’re still standing? Then my photo from Vukovar is for you!
I bought the dehumidifier in 1979, and it lived in three different homes over the years. When I finally decided to retire it, the machine was still working! That is, when I plugged it in, the compressor began running. If the temperature of my basement was below about 75 degrees, the coils would freeze up. The simple on/off switch no longer worked. The control knob for adjusting the humidity setting did not work. When running, it was very noisy and threw off a lot of heat. But it still removed moisture from the air when the conditions were right.
The new unit I bought 35 years after the purchase of the old one works better. It removes more moisture, more quietly, radiating very little heat, under almost all operating conditions. And I can run a hose to the basement sump for continuous draining. With the old unit I had to empty the bucket twice daily because the plastic hose connection was stripped long ago and leaked.
I know CEOs who, like me, stick with the old technology too long. The ancient computer operating system causes all kinds of interrupts and lost productivity. The phone system is cumbersome for customers as well as employees. The printer/copier/scanner still prints, although the paper feed jams regularly and the scanner feature has never worked right.
Inertia and penny-pinching sometimes combine to make us stupid. Running a great business requires relatively current technology. What’s your dehumidifier?
Jackson Hole Paragliding
Have you ever jumped off a mountain tethered to a piece of fabric? Tandem paragliding has a lot in common with business ownership. If you have launched your own business, or have bought a business, or have made a decision to redirect, or turnaround, or chart a new course for your business, you can understand the parallel.
First off, you cannot do it alone. Continue reading