Tag Archives: Business Owner

Gooch

AutoHoodUp

In the old days you could actually do something under your own hood.

He was 58 and I was 24. He was a senior application engineer in the Dallas office of GE’s Industrial Sales Division, and I was a neophyte sales engineer. We became fast friends.

With short cropped gray hair, straight and thin frame, squinty eyes above the ever-present cigarette, and the ability to focus like a laser on an electrical system challenge, Bob Gooch represented his employer well. He used his name as his calling card. “People just call me Gooch,” he would say. And they did. It was comfortable, and the name, the manner, and the intelligence drew our customers to him.

Gooch and I both had company cars. All expenses related to maintaining and driving the cars were paid by the company. Most employees with company cars took them to the dealer regularly for oil changes, lube jobs, and tuneups. Not Gooch. He preferred to do his own work.

Shortly after I met him, Gooch suggested I might want to join him on a Saturday morning and service my car while he was servicing his. I had done these tasks on my own car before and really had not planned to continue the practice with my company car. But I liked talking with Gooch and the offer sounded interesting, so I agreed. It went well, lots of good conversation while doing our own service work, and we saved ourselves the inconvenience of dropping our cars off for service someplace else. 

We continued our DIY car servicing on a regular schedule and one Saturday morning we ran into a problem. The details have faded from memory, but the essence was that we were attempting to remove a component under the hood of my car, and the bolted connections were so rusted we could not budge them. I was prepared to take it to the dealer and let them wrestle with this snake. Gooch commented something like, “You know, we can do this if we’re willing to spend the time.” He went on to explain that a little oil and a lot of time would probably work. So, we proceeded to squirt oil on the rusted threads approximately every 15 minutes. After waiting fifteen minutes we would apply the wrench, attempt to loosen the nuts and, failing that, apply more oil and wait another 15 minutes. We must have gone through that cycle for about two hours before the nuts finally broke free. In between nut-loosening attempts, we took our time fiddling with other minor maintenance issues, and talking about all things under the sun. At the end of the day I had learned a lesson of time and patience.

As CEO, you face a variety of difficult tasks continuously. Some are intellectually demanding, some emotionally demanding, some even physically demanding. But today I’m writing about those that are time and patience demanding…tasks like carefully reviewing that government contract, and the numerous detailed changes your attorney has recommended; challenges like researching and understanding the variety of benefit packages that you might offer your employees as you grow your organization; time drainers like preparing a few slides for that next strategic planning staff meeting – visuals that can make the meeting so much more productive than merely winging it, but that require the discipline to block off the time to ponder and prepare.

There’s the key – discipline. We’re not talking about lacking the ability to do something important. We’re talking about the willingness to invest the time and emotional energy into an important task that will take a chunk of your limited time.

I’ll bet you have an important challenge right now, one that you’ve set aside. You have other more interesting and less time-consuming projects you’re working on. That important one you filed in your “future” file may remain there indefinitely. 

Let this be your springboard to jump on it.

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Competition

Competition within business organizations

Milo Competes at Lacrosse

Competition. Where does it fit in your company culture?

It might be helpful to step back a couple paces and consider where competition exists within organizations in a healthy, thriving American culture? How about on a sports team? Within the military? In school? Within a family? In a government organization?  A hospital? A medical research team?

Most reasonable people seem to conclude that competition is a good thing under certain circumstances and a bad thing under others. But the general concept is contentious, more so than in the past. And I have witnessed the swing of the pendulum over my lifetime, with an increasing number of people finding an increasing number of circumstances under which they believe competition is not good.

I began my business career with GE, and I was reminded of the competitiveness of that environment recently when I listened to a Freakonomics podcast in which Michael Dubner interviewed Jack Welch, retired CEO of GE. The following is a verbatim, unedited, transcript of one of the points that Welch made during that interview.

Look, differentiation is part of my whole belief in management. And treating everybody the same is ludicrous. And I don’t buy it. I don’t buy what people write about it. It’s not cruel and Darwinian and things like that, that people like to call it. A baseball team publishes every day the batting averages. And you don’t see the .180 hitter getting all the money, or all the raises. Now that’s the purest form. Athletics is the purest form of differentiation, because it’s public. Everybody understands it, the fans understand it, the people understand it. Big business is more subtle and it’s more qualitative. So the precision isn’t there to differentiate. So judgment’s important. But you don’t win with a gang of mediocre players in business or in baseball.

Welch believed and clearly still believes in “radical candor” when it comes to evaluating individual performance, and in rewarding the best performers while helping the worst performers find a different career.

Where do you stand on competition within a business organization? Is your position significantly different when it comes to non-business organizations or communities? Why not bring this up for discussion the next time you socialize with some of your business peers? Better yet, share your thoughts below.

Watch the Super Bowl and think about the other S-Word

CoachChalkboardYou’re a competitor, so there’s a good chance you’ll be watching the Super Bowl on Sunday. Can I get you to think “Strategy” while you’re watching? It will actually enhance your enjoyment of the game, and you can watch guilt-free because your CEO gray matter will be working on your business at the same time.

The yet-to-be-determined winner of the game has built a season based on effective strategies. I can guarantee you that they both had the same BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) in mind at the start of the season – to win the Super Bowl. Each team had a set of values and an effective team culture that they stuck with throughout the season. They studied and understood their opponents, and they had short-term goals (weekly) of defeating that week’s opponent. They established game plans for each game that included appropriate contingency plans. If we fall behind early, here’s what we’ll do. If we aren’t able to establish our running game in the first quarter, here’s what we’ll do in the second quarter. If our quarterback gets hurt, etc. In short, they built strategies for each aspect of the competitive environment, with detailed action plans that were subject to change as conditions warranted. And they’ve repeated that strategic planning process in preparation for this week’s big game.

So, as you watch the game Sunday, draw parallels with your business and its environment and the competition you face each week. Challenge yourself. Is your BHAG clear? Are your short term goals understood by your “players”? Have you taken the time to outline, in writing, the goals and action plans and individual responsibilities for the next quarter or for the entire year?

Enjoy the game. Allow it to provide motivation to define and communicate your business strategy.

Unwinding and Reloading

CEO Relaxation

Unwinding

Another Christmas, a New Year looming, much year-end wrap-up to be done. And it’s the best time to take stock.

But first, make sure you have allowed yourself to unwind. Everybody unwinds differently, and many CEOs don’t unwind the way normal people do. You know you, so allow yourself to unwind in your most effective way sometime before hitting full throttle again in January.

Now, about taking stock…

Separately from the unwinding, allow yourself a couple hours to review your business year. Although you may want to outline or create a detailed plan for the first quarter or even the entire year, delay that until you have answered the following questions to your own satisfaction:

What were our most significant accomplishments this year?
Did we make money? If yes, was it a fair return on our investment?
Are we generally headed in the right direction, toward my vision for the business?
Am I becoming more skillful? In what ways?
Am I having any fun?

Unwind, reload, launch into 2018.

Have a joyous holiday. May you be well and prosperous in the New Year.

Fresh Eyes

FreshEyesRichard Nixon was early in his first term, the Detroit Tigers had won the World Series for their first time since 1945, and Fred Borch was CEO of the General Electric Company, when I came out of college and began a 17-year career with GE, a historically strong company, often emulated by other enterprises around the world. The company continued to build on that reputation well into the twenty-first century.

Few manmade constructs last forever. GE’s CEO for the past 16 years has just retired, and the new CEO is wasting no time making changes. Investors have been disappointed with GE earnings and strategies and performance for some time. They now have fresh eyes at the top and new directions and predictions of performance are being established.

My emotional ties to GE (even though I left prior to the turn of the century (how depressing does that sound?) have drawn my attention to their current circumstances. Having spent the final 15 years of my working life as a business coach, and having worked with a number of outstanding entrepreneurs, and having witnessed the making of numerous business decisions of consequence, GE’s current situation reminds me of the power of Fresh Eyes.

If you have operated your own business for a few years, you may or may not realize the upside potential of Fresh Eyes. Ingrained leadership can be very bright, very competent, very hardworking, but locked into a particular view of the business, its employees, its customers, and all its other stakeholders. Fresh Eyes can provide a path to improved performance, particularly when nothing the current leadership is doing appears to be working.

My suggestion is not that you look for a CEO to take your place (unless you are ready to exit your business), not that you get an eye exam and new prescription glasses, but that you seek the advice of trusted outsiders. One of the most effective approaches – in my experience – is to become part of a peer advisory board, a group of non-competing business owners, a collection of openminded leaders, an assemblage of generous entrepreneurs. Once you’ve become a board member, use the board effectively: do your homework; keep your board members advised of your business progress; seek their counsel prior to making key decisions.

You’re still the decider. But your decisions can benefit from the clarity of vision and variety of alternatives identified by Fresh Eyes.

As always, your thoughts are welcome and you may share them below.

Your Black Labrador

oscarexposed

Oscar

Oscar, my black lab, looks a little different from most black labs. His legs are shorter, his fur is shorter, and his head is smaller – not to mention his entire body. But he’s a black lab because, where we have recently moved, everybody has a big dog, and many are black labs. So, he needs to be a black lab.

When we hike a trail with his new best friend, Delmar (who looks a lot closer to a black lab than Oscar), Oscar invests himself in the walk almost completely. He wants to keep up with Delmar. His short legs churn at blazing speed (OK, maybe not blazing, but faster than normal), constantly trying to catch up to Delmar. This attempt at speed is in dramatic contrast with a normal Oscar walk which is more of a saunter, a meandering, a sashaying, guided by his nose, and at a pace resembling that of the occasional slug he confronts on our garden path.

Oscar’s metamorphosis when walking with Delmar is not unlike some small businesses. When they get around larger businesses, they develop more of a spring in their step. Large customers, large suppliers, large potential investors, and large member companies in their peer advisory group can cause the business to step it up a notch.

As a result of hanging out with Delmar, Oscar is healthier and his self esteem is elevated. He’ll probably live longer because of his new friend. He dares to try new things (like actually getting close to the creek that runs along one of his favorite hiking trails).

If there’s a downside, it’s the potential for injury as he tries to keep up with the big dogs. He could experience a heart attack, or he could develop the confidence to leap into a fast moving stream that whisks him away prematurely to doggie heaven.

Business lessons? Acquiring large customers or large suppliers or large investors, or joining a business owner peer advisory group with some larger members can be helpful to your business growth, if you’re willing to run faster to make up for your shorter legs. While it’s OK to tell fellow business owners that you are running a $10 million business, even if the best year you’ve ever had was $7.8 million, do not let that bravado lead you into overburdening the business with debt, or seriously overcommitting to large customers.

One of your challenges as CEO is to balance your view of your business against reality. Dreaming of a bigger business can be the beginning of a true metamorphosis. Driving the business considerably faster than its current capabilities allow can lead to a bad ending. The best CEO is a balanced driver.

A Big Fish in a Small Pond?

small business hiring corporate manager

Salmon Coming Home

Not long ago I read John Dini’s excellent blog post on importing a manager from a large organization into a small company. When I recently heard a tour guide comment on sockeye salmon migration, it brought to mind John’s exposition. Let me explain.

The tour guide had declared that as the salmon return from the vast ocean to the stream where they were hatched, they must make the transition from salt water to fresh water. He highlighted the fact that, as they entered the brackish waters near the mouth of the river or stream, they lingered – maybe days, maybe weeks – allowing their body to make some important adjustments to their new environment. [Although I have no empirical evidence to offer, I suspect the percentage of salmon making it all the way home has increased since the advent of those navigational apps for their cell phones. I mean, really, how do they find their way back? But I digress.]

It’s been my experience that a significant percentage of the Corporate Migrants decide to return to the sea, or are asked to find another body of water in which to swim.

As a business owner, you may have several good reasons for wanting to bring an experienced large-company person into your fold. Their background in systems, in planning, in structuring, and in thinking broadly about crucial decisions can be invaluable to a small business management team. If you are positioning the business for your own eventual exit, they bring an outside perspective and professional expertise that can be very attractive to a potential buyer. However, in the words of Paul Simon, “…a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” True of business owners, be they men or women. So don’t disregard the risk that the imported large catch can also be ineffective or even disruptive.

Like salmon, some who leave Corporate America are indeed returning home. They see small business as a better fit for them, for whatever their reasons, and they are correct. Others, however, are simply looking for a resting spot prior to returning to the sea. Your recruiting, hiring, and onboarding processes need to take this into account. Here again, you will likely be tempted to hear what you want to hear and disregard the rest because you consider the candidate such a valuable find. In truth, you may be flattered that they would even consider coming to work for you. Get past that. Dig deep to try to determine all the motivations for the candidate’s interest in your company.

Then, if you both agree to move forward, bring them aboard in a manner that allows them to acclimate. Both the migrant and the organization need time to make adjustments. They will probably see many areas where changes would strengthen your organization. But they also have the potential to damage a healthy culture in the process of pushing for change. You are the filter through which their initiatives must pass. It’s your job to help orient the new hire to a significantly different environment. If, after a fair amount of time in your brackish waters, they are not meshing, it becomes your job to return them to the sea. By that time, they have probabl come to the same conclusion, even if they haven’t yet admitted it to themselves.

I’m not saying you should never bring a Corporate manager into the fold. I’m saying be diligent if you do.