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?
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?
It’s not just lonely, but also unique at the top. You must hold yourself accountable for certain responsibilities that cannot be delegated to others. The challenge is that, if you’re like most CEOs, you also hold yourself accountable for many items that could indeed be delegated.
If you are buried in the weeds of your business 24/7, your business will eventually bury you. Yes, most CEOs must devote significant time to working within their business. But if you haven’t already developed the discipline of spending at least 2% of your time each month (about a half day) stepping back and working on your business, your business is likely to continue to run you rather than the other way around.
What are those unique accountabilities that only you can assume?
- Establish your vision of where the company needs to go, and communicate it clearly and frequently.
- Find and retain employees who can help get you there.
- Lead the creation and routine updating of company goals, strategies, and action plans that will help get you there.
- Protect the corporate assets (physical and financial) while making sure you are using them to help get you there.
- Assure that the various parts of the company are coordinated and working together to deliver customer value at a profit, and to help get you there.
In a sense, being CEO has a lot to do with attitude and perspective. Consciously accepting this higher level of accountability is a way of your ultimately exiting your business on your terms.
Why not keep score for a few months? Copy the list of accountabilities and keep them close by. Make a daily or weekly note of your estimated time spent in each of the five areas. Hold yourself accountable – or get somebody else to do so – for tracking how much time you actually spend on these important areas. Then make appropriate adjustments.
Do you remember Peter Falk’s character, homicide detective Lt. Colombo? In almost every episode of that TV series he would interview the suspect in a non-threatening manner, start to leave, then turn and ask that incisive question that began, “Oh, just one more thing…”
As CEO, you often play the role of the suspect in the Colombo dance. And an employee, or customer, or vendor, or creditor plays the role of Colombo. They are wrapping up an important meeting with you when they say those fateful words, “Oh, just one more thing…”
What follows is generally another piece of information or a request, rather than the type of interrogation question that Colombo would spring on his unsuspecting target. But it is just as important as the Colombo question, and your senses should be on full alert.
Even though the deal has all but been done, they are about to toss a grenade that they hope you will ignore in your haste to tie a bow around a decision finally reached. Don’t be too hasty.
“Just one more thing” is often way more than an incidental comment. “Just one more thing” is often the real crux of the matter for your Colombo character.
Being the chief decision maker in your company can wear you down. Make sure that your weariness on any given day, regarding any important decision, doesn’t lead to your dropping your guard at the critical “just one more thing” moment.
It’s been my experience that many CEO’s either omit or give short shrift to three major parts of their annual business plan. The first is how they wrestle through Critical Success Factors. These links between the upfront analytical sections of your plan and the downstream implementation sections provide a solid reality check against your objectives. They also force you to consider all reasonable alternative strategies for achieving your major objectives. Continue reading
In the holiday season just past, I often heard one of my favorite Christmas songs. The lyrics incorporate three questions:
- Do you see what I see?
- Do you hear what I hear?
- Do you know what I know?
While the poetry and melody surrounding the three questions are lovely, my mind occasionally drifts to the application of these questions to the life of the CEO. With regard to your employees, be aware that they do not see what you see; they do not hear what you hear; they do not know what you know.
This is an especially relevant point at the beginning of a new year. Continue reading
Understanding Intrinsic Motivation
“I don’t know why, but I have no motivation right now to do anything with my business!” I occasionally hear these words or something very similar from CEO clients. Where does the motivation go? How does a business owner get that “Mo” back?
Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, offers some research and some suggestions, specifically regarding intrinsic motivation. He emphasizes that for those “right brain undertakings – those that demand flexible problem-solving, inventiveness, or conceptual understanding –“, extrinsic motivation doesn’t really work. It has to come from within. “Those right brain undertakings” account for a heavy portion of the most important work performed by a business owner/CEO.
This leads to the question of what fosters intrinsic motivation in most humans. Pink’s conclusion is that it depends on “three nutrients”:
- Autonomy over task, time, technique and team
- A belief that Mastery is possible – that one can really get better at doing something
- Purpose – a belief that what they are doing really matters
Understanding this as CEO might lead to your becoming a great manager. A deliberate examination of how each is affecting your own current motivation might also open a path to self-invigoration.