The Small Business Owner’s Worst Nightmare

Starting and running a small business can be a blessing and a curse. The dream can become a nightmare. Yet there can be great rewards too.

There are so many things that can get in the way of running and owning a successful business. You hear people talk about “cash is king” or growing the sales pipeline, closing more deals, making payroll, and creating satisfied customers.

While these are all very significant issues for a business owner there is one thing that is even bigger than all of these put together. Do you have any idea what it may be?

Wait for it…..

Your ego. Yep. Good old fashioned pride.

Let me get straight to the point.

Small Business Owner’s Fear

small business owner

Letting your pride or ego get in the way can be the exit ramp to disaster. On one hand, entrepreneurs must be fearless. They have to start with a whole lot of courage. For that, I applaud you.

Think about it. You hear stories of people quitting their day job to start a business. That takes guts and sheer willpower.

However, that same dogged determination can become the owner’s death sentence too.

The Paradox of Success

Many years ago I wrote a piece I call the “Paradox of Success.” I got this idea after watching dozens of my banking clients go through similar situations. It goes like this.

For those of you who have actually ventured out to start your own company, you understand the intense effort and tremendous satisfaction you achieve by watching the company grow.

Those first few profit dollars start to roll in. Real profit, free and clear. No debt, no more obligations to pay off, pure, real profit. For all the planning, sweat equity, real equity investment, and down-right hard work, you eventually arrive at the threshold of the very thing you set out to accomplish…. SUCCESS!

Ah, but beware. The very thing you strive so hard to achieve, that is your company’s success, can start the downward spiral to eventual destruction. Perhaps even the infamous “implosion” of the company. That is the phenomenon called the Paradox of Success. In other words, success brings failure. How can that be? Let’s explore the full timeline.

First the Beginnings

As was described, the founder sets out to open his or her own business. Perhaps it is a sole proprietor, maybe “Mom and Pop”. It can even be a couple of good friends who decide to start something together. The actual legal structure does not particularly matter at this point.

The focus is on getting going and having that first order come through the door. Days and weeks go by. The founder(s) perform all the daily chores….everything! Sales, marketing, bookkeeping, systems, purchasing, supplies, advertising, contracts, payables, receivables, answering phones, sweeping floors, cleaning the bathrooms…everything!

Next, business starts to grow. The word is out. Your business has something people want and need. Your service ideas are working very well. Customers like what you have. Word of mouth even starts to grow. You are getting business from sources you had not really thought about at the start.

Finally, the business becomes more than you and your partner can handle. You decide to hire your first employees. This becomes turning point number one. New employees do not bring the same levels of dedication, commitment, and energy you had when you started the business. Your ideas are not their ideas. You must start to train and coach to be sure the new guys on the bus are fully on board.

Moving Further Toward Success

The service levels you created and nurtured must be sustained. The principles on which you founded the business must be reinforced. There needs to be a feedback process and a monitoring mechanism to be sure your values and principles are being followed.

Almost daily you feel the tug of contention for your time. The time spent to make the direct business contacts you enjoyed making at the start must now be juggled with the effort to resolve internal issues. Perhaps you add a few more hours to the week. Certain tensions become more frequent.

With employees present, interpersonal matters start to creep in. Sally doesn’t like Susie. Bob and Ted argue over sports teams and their preference in cars they drive. None of this is contributing the business. The founders become referees. Hostilities can even boil over when customers are present. A lack of leadership or even a momentary lapse of leadership can become significant. Who can handle these things?

Phase Two Begins – Leadership

Then, mid-managers are hired or appointed. Surely the owners can rely upon other seasoned professionals to handle the staff issues and keep the ship sailing. Now a new layer is created.

For all the potential good that can be accomplished here, there comes a trade-off. Again, the founders’ values have to be enforced, promoted, espoused, heralded, and cheered about.

Can the mid-manages carry the same flag? All the while the growth in volume creates a strain on the original infrastructure. Are the same tools and equipment that were used to open the business still effective? Have systems started to suffer? This can include everything from the high end network servers to the staplers.

And more importantly, who is truly watching over these areas. Have the partners brought the right skills on their own to address all the issues? Accountability for all aspects of business growth becomes more meaningful. If cash and checks are being handled, controls must be implemented. Growth across state lines adds to the compliance and regulatory burden. Specialists have to be added to the mix like legal counsel, accountants, IT professionals, etc.

The False Security

The very essentials that can help grow and expand the business become challenges to the owners. Volumes and profits continue to rise. A false sense of security here can be deadly. A failure to admit the changes that are happening underneath and any inability to properly respond to those changes can, at any point hereafter, start the spin downward.

Really this stage represents the first major turning point for the founders. The biggest and most honest question that can be asked is “Am I capable of keeping this going or do I need senior management help?”

All too often ego may enter in and prevent the good hard look at the man (or woman) in the mirror. True Leaders with a solid track record behind them have been the first to ask this question and work with the right answer. And they do it with almost perfect timing.

Yet for the owner suffering a big ego, the right questions never get asked. The talk with the person in the mirror sounds more like this…

“Wow, things seem to be ramping up. You really did it.”

“Yes, I did.”

“It feels different now, but that’s nothing to worry about.”

“Just keep it going. We’ll be fine.”

Then one day the wheels fall off. The big accounts start to go elsewhere. Your pricing gets squeezed and you have no answer. The market shifts out from under you and you missed the warning signs.

Or worse yet, your team abandons you because they hate working with you. The few customers you have left eventually leave because the service is terrible.

It happens in all kinds of business. Every day. The tipping point is where the owner’s ego gets bigger than even the greatest of success.

A Cautionary Tale for Small Business?

Maybe so. But it doesn’t have to be. You can get help. You should get help. Is today the day? Business advisors or coaches can help you make sense of the new levels of growth and prosperity. They can help you see you way to even higher levels of success.

But you have to make the call. Don’t let ego stop you.

call a coach

A Little Change Makes a Big Difference

one small change

Hi, my name is Doug. I am hopelessly addicted to taking a little white ball, hitting it with a stick, and trying to get it into a small hole 475 yards away from where I am standing. Hi Doug!

Yes, I am talking about playing golf. One day, a friend and I were out to play a round. We were having a great day of fellowship and friendship, but the golf game was not going well. Scores were higher than the Texas heat.

This round of golf was shaping up to be just like my last 3 months. For some reason, my game had dropped to an all-time low, or high when you focus on the scoring. I was playing really bad golf. The computers at NASA could not keep up with my score.

After 16 tough holes on the course (they were tough because of the way I was playing), I realized I had run out of the fancy and somewhat expensive golf balls my son had encouraged me to play. Digging around in my golf bag, I found a sleeve of some other brand of golf ball. I had liked playing the game with this particular brand but had agreed to try the other ones my son recommended.

Seeing a Change

I teed up the new ball and Whack! My shot was a straight, beautiful arc headed right at the flag on a long par 3 hole. The ball landed firm, bounced a few feet, rolled, and came to rest solidly secured on the green. Now my excitement here may seem a bit overzealous, but given the day I had been having, this shot was perhaps the most gorgeous thing I had done all day. As I strolled up, I realized I had quite a long putt. But hey, I was putting. I putted twice to score a PAR! Wow, PAR!

The next and last hole is a long par 5. It is a relatively straight hole but has water right in front of the green. I set up my tee shot, took my swing, and saw the ball launch into the blue azure of the Texas sky, tracking straight down the fairway. Hmmm, could this be a trend?

As my friend and I motored down the course, I was feeling renewed and redeemed. The second shot was still a long way away, so I strategically decided to “lay-up”. This means I was not going to play Tin Cup and shoot for the green, with all that water in front. I took out a hybrid club and lined up. Swing! Wow, here we go again.

Making Change Happen

No, not into trouble, but straight at the target area I had chosen. This magical ball spun and flew right where I wanted it to go. So now for the approach to the green. I take my trusty 8 iron and practice a few swings. Now I am ready to launch my assault.

Just then a huge wind blew into my face. Oh no; water, wind, and still some distance to overcome. I am undaunted. I have the miracle ball.

Swing! The ball rises straight up into the air, chasing forward. The wind catches and starts to push a bit left. Could it be? YES! It lands on the green.

Ok, I’ll be honest, it’s a monster putt from where this thing lands, but I am on the green of a par 5 in three shots. By the way, my friend was having his own out-of-body experience doing pretty much the same. He too was sitting right up on the green. We strode onto the putting surface like gladiators. We had our trusty putting sabers in our hands. We were going to finish this beast once and for all.

As I got closer I realized this putt was going to be my longest of the day. I paced it off at 55 feet. My friend was almost the same distance for his putt, likely 50 feet. I stood over my shot, gathered my focus, and pulled back the mighty putting saber. Swoosh! The ball jumped off the club head and started its journey over hill and dale to make its way to the hole. Then it happened. Clunk!

Right in the dead center of the hole. I had scored a birdie! One UNDER par. What a way to finish! My friend was happy for me. Then he tried his shot. And amazingly he too heard that same glorious CLUNK! Another birdie! It was a great way to finish the day.

So why do I share all of this? I am not gloating about my golf game. Believe me, gloat is the last thing someone with my score should be doing.

A change made the difference.

I switched the brand of the ball I was hitting.

All manufacturers of golf balls strive to create a look and feel that influences the play of the game. Some golf balls are softer than others. Some spin faster due to the design of the little dimples on the cover. Some don’t spin much at all. The list of attributes goes on and on.

Then I realized my game had started going bad when I started using the higher-priced balls. By returning to a brand of golf ball that had been good for me made my last two holes play entirely different.

The AH-HA Moment

Change comes in many forms. Sometimes it comes when we least expect it and then later becomes the “AH HA” moment.

I did not consciously change the golf ball I was using until I ran out of the former brand. A moment of necessity forced a change for me. But once I made the change, the outcome was far more rewarding.

Yes, I know, the likelihood of long term success is yet to be seen. However, given all the other inputs yesterday, the only variable that changed was my golf ball. So I am glad the change happened.

Whether you own your own company or run a large business unit for someone, you can make small changes that can yield big results. If you’d like, we can arrange a short exploratory call to talk about ways you too can realize big change with small adjustments.

Join the discussion. Leave a comment or share it with a friend.

Want Real Change? Don’t Take the Scenic Route

avoid the scenic route

If you are thinking about making a change at work, at home or for yourself, don’t take the scenic route.

We’ve all done it. You went on a trip. Somewhere along the way you see signs for the scenic route. So you take a detour.

You begin traveling down smaller, winding roads. You see fewer cars, trucks and congestion. While the views are truly magnificent, you run into road blocks.

Maybe the blockage is road repair where the lane is closed and you have to wait for oncoming traffic to drive by while you wait your turn to go.

flagman ahead, road sign

Or where I live, in Texas, side roads will always have slow moving farm equipment; tractors or trailers hauling something. They move at 20 miles an hour if I’m lucky.

What could have been a beautiful drive in the country turns into frustration and delay.

Looking for a Change

I met a new coaching prospect this past week. She owned a nice sized business that had been operating 12 years. She was well past the start-up phase.

What she told me about was her frustration with the way her people operated. She felt she couldn’t rely on anything without close supervision. She wanted a change without firing everyone and starting over.

After learning a good deal about her situation, I explained my team coaching model to her. That is what she had called for in the first place.

woman leader at peace

When she finally asked how long would this take, I shared the time frame; six months. It would be a direct and intentional process of implementing new standards, methods, accountability, and measurements.

Six months may seem long, but for her it would be the super-highway version of the change she’d need to turn her business around. After all, it would have required engaging all of her employees, changing their behaviors and expectations.

Compared to the 12 years she had been building the simmering mess she had, my recommendation was super-sonic.

Despite my best effort to explain how this process can help and has helped many other small businesses like hers, she decided she needed something else. She could not name what that was, but, in her mind, my approach would not fit.

She sent herself on the scenic route.

Common Mistake

Change of any kind can be hard. We hear that. We believe that. And it is if you take the scenic road.

Identifying the change that should be made can be easy. “I need to lose 20 pounds.”

But making it happen takes all kinds of detours, redirects, pauses, stops and starts. It is the scenic route.

Taking the scenic route creates distractions. Some may be welcomed distractions to take our mind off of how hard the change seems to be.

But if you keep allowing the detours, pauses and distractions, you arrive at some point down the road with no change at all.

Getting It Done

I’ve had the privilege to work with larger, more global companies where implementing change can be very hard. “It’s hard to turn a battleship” they say.

Yet for leaders who get laser focused on the change they want and the ‘case for change’, they make every subsequent move very intentionally.

Here is a list of the practices great leaders follow to avoid the scenic routes and get things done.

First, create a crystal clear vision of what is to come. Be able to explain the “future state” in clear detail.

Next, rally the team. Your team may have been operating well with former standards and processes, but change may require them to step out of that comfort. As their leader, you must reinforce the case for change and help them rise to the change.

Then, monitor your progress, keeping in mind all change has an “S” curve element to it. The S curve of change describes leaving the status quo, dipping into a bit of chaos, then slowly rising above and beyond to former state to achieve new things.

S-curve

Parts of your staff may be falling behind further than others as the “S” unfolds. Keep an eye on that. Coach and mentor individuals to help them make the change.

Also, you will need to make adjustments. In the team change model “Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing”, the ‘norming’ part is about settling into the change. But it takes adjustment to be sure the right pieces are fitting into place.

Lastly, and this is one far too many managers forget, celebrate the WIN. When the change is up and running, have a victory dance. Celebrate with the team. Acknowledge the contributions.

Use these steps wisely to effect change when you need it. You’ll be glad you stayed off the scenic route.

PS – I love taking the scenic routes when I have absolutely nowhere to be and plenty of time to get there. I’ve seen some amazing sights.

executive coaching by Doug Thorpe

Leaders: What Holds You Back?

It’s the Leader’s responsibility to make the big decisions. Yet there are times when leaders freeze. They can’t make the call. They can’t pull the trigger. What holds them back?

In my early career I was a banker. We had a saying. “There are old bankers and there are bold bankers, But there are no old bold bankers.”

Bankers were supposed to be the pillars of strength in the community. Seldom was the banker looked upon as the guy on the leading edge. Being bold and daring was typically something no one did.

Taking Risk

The issue at the center of the matter is risk. Take the risk or not take the risk, that is the question.

The same holds true for decision making in general. Every choice has its consequences. We teach that to our kids. You make a choice and something is going to happen; good or bad.

In business, the choices might make or break the company. Should we expand? Could we relocate? Should we sell or merge? Add staff or cut back? Hold firm or change?

The list goes on.

But what holds us back?

Here are the main reasons decision can be so darn hard.

Fear of failure or being an outlier – not everyone is a natural risk taker. The self-talk going on inside our brains keep us from being bold. The messages may even go all the way back to childhood, when you were told ‘you’re too slow, not smart enough, not good enough.’

Maybe you were brought up being told ‘you should never bring attention to yourself’.

Making the big decision may do just that; bring a lot of attention.

Fear of reputational risk, internally and externally – Businesses of all sizes have something called ‘reputational risk’. You work hard to build brand identity or at least you should be working on that. Having a solid brand identity is your reputation as a company. Taking a departure from that identity can hurt your reputation.

Think about 2010 and British Petroleum’s Texas Gulf rig fire Horizon. It brought severe reputational risk and brand damage to BP.

Lack of resources (human and capital) – This is possibly the biggest reason decisions get stalled. Whether fact or fiction, the sense that resources are lacking causes many delays and misses when it comes to key decisions.

reviewing numbers

Fixed way of thinking (mental schemas) – Companies with a tradition or legacy get lulled into one way of thinking. As an example, having a large fixed asset base does not guarantee you will make money by simply ‘not screwing it up.”

Competitive decisions must be made daily to keep your winning edge. As the times change, so must your ways of thinking and guiding the organization.

Defining “Bold” – The meaning may vary according to the individual. When a leader senses it is time for a ‘bold’ decision, the level of boldness may be limited to just his or her mindset.

Sharing the idea with your team may reveal the idea is not so bold after all. It’s just a necessary choice about next steps.

Groupthink can lead to complacency – This too is a big derailer for great decisions. If you are a leader committed to team empowerment, you want the whole team to weigh in. That is a noble idea most of the time. But habitual development of a group-think mindset can lead to a false sense of security.

The Leader is still on the hook for the final decision.

groupthink

Lastly, being bold would not be received well by the organization (or the Board). You might possibly even get penalized for stepping out there. This is a simple reality about leadership. You ARE on point. You were put there to make decisions.

Not all of your choices will be applauded. That is your risk of being the leader.

Take Inventory

I challenge my executive coaching clients to periodically re-calibrate by reviewing their decision making patterns. The question is whether the recent decisions have been consistent with the picture of the leader they want to be, not the leader they’ve been before.

Staying true to the leader you want to be should drive your decision-making process. You can still incorporate all of the team dynamics you want, but the final choice rests squarely on your shoulders.

That’s why they pay you the big bucks! (OK, that’s funny for many of us.)

The Perfect Tool in an Imperfect World

Managers are worried about their remote workers. If you’ve never had anyone work away from the office before, it can be unnerving. How can they trust what is going on? Are hours being used wisely? How can I make everyone more accountable?

On the flip side, employees who work remotely worry they are not going to be given credit for the effort they spend and the work they produce.

Having this air of uncertainty doesn’t help anyone feel productive. I’ve heard of talk about upping your communication. What does that mean? More zoom?

Leaders providing clarity of purpose, assignment, and mission must have ways to drive accountability. Simply talking more won’t get there.

It’s not a perfect system.

How can the two sides connect to provide clarity of expectations and certainty of delivery? Well, you can have daily zoom calls, but who wants to do that forever?

You could build a giant database but who needs that burden piled on top of the already difficult process?

There is actually a very simple yet elegant system I’ve used for years. Calling it a system may scare some people away already. Maybe process or habit is better.

Explaining the Solution

The process is called Big 5. If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time I’ve written about this before.

But now is an especially significant change in workforce activity.

Big 5 can be the missing link for all you leaders who are worried about productivity and workers who wonder whether the boss knows your value.

Here’s how it works.

On a regular basis, every employee (managers included) writes out five goals or expectations they have for the upcoming month. These would be your ‘big rock’ priorities or ‘must wins’.

Next you write down your five biggest achievements for the past month.

Neither of these sections is long text in paragraphs. No, it’s simply bullet listed items.

You can add some comments about resource needs, constraints, etc. But focus first on goals and accomplishments.

Then send it to your boss.

gratitude smile

The boss can review and give feedback. It becomes a flash moment of coaching between manager and employee.

“I like your goals 1 thru 4, but let’s talk more about number 5.”

“Wow, I had no idea you got so much done last month. Thank you for such a big contribution.” Or…

“Sam I like what you can do for us. However I see you’ve been struggling with this remote working environment. Let’s talk about ways I can help you.”

When the next period rolls around, the things you said were goals should become accomplishments. Now, you update the goals.

Take really big, longer term goals and break them down into those bite size tasks.

Frequency of Reporting

Usually, when I teach Big 5, we start with monthly check-ins. However, with the massive change in the workplace, like what we have right now, you might ask for weekly updates.

I once ran a large project with very high velocity, rapid-fire activity. A weekly check-in made more sense. I was providing my client with a status report every Monday, so I had my team do a weekly Big 5.

When they left on Friday, they dropped me their individual reports. I could compile them into a summary picture I gave the client on Monday.

It was powerful, productive, and very effective. Huge goals were achieved, deliverables were met, and the client was very happy with the results.

What About Me?

You might be saying I don’t have a team, but I do have a boss.

Ok, write your Big 5 and give it to the boss. When he/she says “What’s this?” Explain it to them. Say you want to create more clarity and you believe this can help.

That is exactly how I was introduced to Big 5. The colleague who created it actually worked for me many years ago. We were going through tumultuous times in our industry and days flew by.

Finally, one day he dropped a printed copy of his report on my desk. Sure enough, I said, “What’s this?” He explained. We had a brief discussion about the content. He left with perfect clarity of my expectations for him and his team.

Next month he was back again with an update.

And we thrived after that with better clarity, alignment, and a sense of achievement. Sure, we had meetings in between, but the big objectives were being conquered.

Fill the Gap

If you are worried about the productivity of your team, introduce the Big 5 process. If you don’t think your boss understands what you do, give them a Big 5 report. Rinse and repeat.

I’ve added a special online course to my curriculum just for Big 5. If you are interested in learning more, click here. I am offering a special 40% discount for readers of this blog. Yes, regularly $47 now just $27 while this article is in circulation until June 15, 2020. Again, click here to take advantage of this exclusive offer.

Big 5 has even replaced employee ranking and annual assessment tools. If you’re doing Big 5 monthly, when the annual review comes around, you have 60 data points to discuss. That, my friend, is powerful.

It’s by far not a perfect work world right now. Why not use a more perfect tool to manage the crisis?

Big 5 Performance is created by Roger Ferguson of ISIHRConsulting. Big 5 has an app to automate the process. It even manages the reporting with the next level up managers. If the app is something you want for you, your team or your company click here.

Important Versus Urgent, or Both?

increase your productivity

We live in a crazy, busy world. That won’t be a surprise to anyone. The at-home quarantine for COVID-19 have even increased the load on workers and families everywhere.

Your day gets crammed with to-do list items that feel overwhelming. What can you do?

If you’re like most people I know, (myself included) you want to get it ALL done. But how do you decide what gets done first and what can wait?

In the face of this global crisis, turning to some old-school thinking just might help you.

Prior to becoming the President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower served as the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during WWII. As a general officer, Eisenhower was faced with daunting decisions concerning the tasks he needed to focus on every day. This led him to create a principle that can help us priorities our tasks by looking at whether something is urgent and important.

Using the Eisenhower Matrix

Eisenhower uses four squares to define various stages. Stephen R. Covey in his The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People further popularized Eisenhower’s concept.

Here is how the four boxes work:

Box 1: Do First

I like to call these things that are both important and urgent your “big rocks”. These are the must win items to get done.

Many of my clients admit that the big rocks can get pushed aside in favor of clearing out a bunch of smaller things. There’s a flaw in that idea though. Fill your day with a bunch of little things like those 135 emails, and your day will be gone before anything got done on the big rock.

The things you know you need to do first can be put aside because of perfectionist tendencies. The thinking sounds like this, “I know this is big. I am not prepared to make it perfect, so I am going to wait.”

Perfect is the enemy of good.

Get busy on those Big Rocks, now!

Box 2: Decide When

Box 2 items are important but not urgent. So what they need is a decision about when.

Items placed in box 2 can have life changing impact; remember they ARE important. Yet you have time to decide when they get done.

Here’s where we need to talk about urgent versus important. People often associate urgent matters with being important, which is not always true.

There are many examples of Box 2 items. Getting another degree can be very important to your career advancement, but does it have to be done right now? Exercising is important for health, but you can schedule the right amount of exercise.

Staying productive

Box 3: Delegate It

Have you ever spent time doing something you thought was so urgent and important, but when it was done you realized it was not?

If so, congrats. You are in great company.

For Box 3 it is important to learn when and how to delegate things. If you lead a team, you have resources. You can salvage your time in favor of letting others do these particular tasks.

If you are in the middle of working on a big rock (Box #1) and the phone rings. You don’t have to answer it. If you see who called, ask a team member to return the call and find out what is happening.

Box 4: Delete It

You want to avoid much of Box 4 items. Examples are playing video games, watching old TV shows. Any mndless web browsing may be a Box 4 item.

You need time to invest in working boxes 1 and 2. The more time you free up by simply deleting things, the more productive you will become.

OK, yes, we need “downtime” to unwind and relax. Take that time. But watch yourself for wasted time doing very unnecessary things. That junk email doesn’t even need to be opened. Just delete it.

Procrastination and the Eisenhower Grid

As I mentioned earlier, procrastination can get you confused about this grid. Sometimes it’s easy to make distinctions between your tasks, other times not so much.

Everything you have in front of you does not fit in one of the boxes. The reality is that all things do fit somewhere, just not in the same box.

Picking up that gallon of milk has to wait while you find your car keys. There is a logical order to things.

For procrastinators, while you wrestle with box 1 and 2 things, you fill your day acting on things in boxes 3 and 4. Ultimately, you feel a sense of missed opportunity.

Here’s How to Use the Grid to See If YOU are Procrastinating

To see if you are spending the bulk of your time in the first two quadrants, do a one-week assessment. To do this, make six copies of a blank grid, and use one grid per day, listing the tasks you accomplished or the activities you did, and the time spent on each thing.

When all of the grids are full, combine the Monday-Friday data onto your sixth summary grid and calculate how much time you spent in each grid, then break those numbers down into percentages.

Evaluate how effectively you spent your time and whether your process needs to be reorganized.

6 Great Questions to Lead Your Team

Being a leader requires the ability to build rapport with your team. Those following you must have good reason to do so.

Every time you have a one-on-one talk with your employees, you have a big opportunity to add to and build that individual rapport.

However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, too many teams are separated, working remotely, and having trouble connecting. Or do they?

The very best leaders I know have been using the following six questions (and then some) to stay connected, stay in communication, and thrive during this period.

Use this in some form or another every time you get that golden opportunity to talk to each individual on your team.

The 6 questions are:

Where are WE going?

Ask this intentionally so that the employee or follower is able to express in their own words their understanding of the current state. Let them tell you what they understand to be the mission and direction.

If the answer catches you off guard, then maybe you have a big disconnect that needs to be handled immediately.

The “we” here is about the team. Be sure to gauge whether the individual’s understanding is in step with the team direction you hope for.

Where are YOU going?

This is a logical follow-up to #1. If the person expresses a correct team direction but shares a personal variance in what they think is happening, then you have another opportunity to connect and correct.

The where are you going question also measures engagement. When an individual has begun to disengage with the team, they must be offered the opportunity to reconnect.

What do you think you are doing well?

This is a great opportunity to let the individual team member express their pride for what might be working for them. Let them share their focus.

Again though, if there is a bit of misalignment, this is the perfect opportunity to realign, recalibrate the role and the duties to set the path for better performance.

By allowing the person to share, you open the communication letting them state in their own words the accomplishments they view as significant.

What are some suggestions for improvement?

Open the door for individual dialogue about ways to improve things. The people who are on the frontlines see things differently than you. Be open to listening to these observations. You just might get the next great idea.

How can I help?

This may be the most powerful of all questions a manager/leader can ask a follower. Letting them know you are there to help is the biggest proof of your commitment to seeing them succeed.

This is an especially important question during remote working conditions. 

Don’t ask it if you don’t mean it, but use it sincerely and you will see team commitment rise significantly.

If something is suggested, you must follow through to get it resolved or delivered. Don’t let this golden opportunity fall flat on its face from your inability to deliver.

If the ask is too big, then say so. Explain what the limitations are, but be real. Let the person know they were heard and that you understand.

What suggestions do you have for me to be a better manager?

This is last but by no means the least of these 6 questions. Again, your hope should be to receive sincere feedback. Your response should be an open acceptance of what you get told.

If all you do is ask the question but recoil, then you’ve missed the opportunity.

However, if you take the suggestion and do something with the feedback, you build great rapport and trust.

Speaking of Trust

Trust is at the root of the best performing teams. Building an atmosphere of high trust keeps the whole team engaged with you as the boss. Having the rapport through regular, recurring one-on-ones with your team, using these six questions, will keep the trust growing.

In a recent study conducted at Google, they spent two years researching what made some of their teams perform better than others.

The overwhelming answer was “psychological safety” or TRUST. When teams created a safety net of trust, team members performed at much higher levels.

I’ve developed the following model to help explain the six elements for building and maintaining trust within your team. This model has been used by industry giants in several different settings. 

Team Trust

When trust is present, people can accept bad news. They won’t necessarily like it but they can better accept it when they know you have their backs. They get to that end by seeing you make the effort to build the rapport at each chance you get. As rapport improves, so will the trust they have.

Call to Action

If you are a manager or executive who needs a little help with any of these ideas, perhaps a coach can help. To learn more about the coaching I do, schedule a call to speak with someone about the programs and ways we can help.

Introducing the Entrepreneur Scan

back hand scan

When you have a business, it is only natural that you try to examine it. We all know that the more information you have about something, the more significant your chances of making correct decisions for the business.

Entrepreneurs scan their business often, even though many already know their ventures like “the back of their hands.” When you think about it, the cliché “knowing the back of your hand” is a bit false.

back hand scan

In fact, only a few of us know how the back of our hands really looks. We just think we do because we see it every day. However, we also take that view for granted, and very few of us can honestly say that we have memorized every detail of the back of our hands.

The Business Case

How does that connect with how entrepreneurs look at their businesses? Well, most entrepreneurs nowadays want to believe that they know every detail of their ventures. But the truth is, very few do. You see, there are disadvantages to being the boss.

You have to be the Chief Everything Officer. Yet, in reality, there are plenty of details that can slip by while you handle other, more pressing matters.

Heard It Thru the Grapevine, Or NOT

For one thing, the boss always seems to be out of the grapevine. The boss hardly ever gets wind of any trouble that goes on in the workplace. It also means that there may be some problems that the boss will not be able to know unless the entrepreneur scans his environment.

So how should entrepreneurs scan their environments? Well, a good idea is not to act like a drill sergeant and start shouting down your employees to get the answers you need.

For one thing, it shows that you mistrust your employees and this would only keep you out of the loop, as it were. Another thing is that you cannot expect to get the information you want this way. With intimidation, you only get the information you want to hear, not the information you need.

You should let your employees feel that they can trust you. Be one of the team. However, be sure that you do not cross the professional boundaries that exist in every workplace. [for more on building team trust click here]

You should show your employees that you are the kind of person whom they can come to for any problem. Remember that any small issue of your employees can affect the way you do your business.

Further, you need a systematic accountability process. You must inspect what you expect.

Now, you know the proper way entrepreneurs scan their businesses through the employees. But there are, of course, other factors to consider so that your business is the best it can be.

Look Inward

You also need to assess yourself. What kind of entrepreneur are you? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How well do you handle the business and everything else that the world throws at you?

Remember that sometimes, we are not the best judge of our character. We tell ourselves a story about who and what we are. That becomes our sense of identity. But what we do and how others perceive us becomes our reputation. It is the reputation you must change, not your identity.

Most entrepreneurs scan their characteristics by getting an outside opinion. This opinion, of course, should not be biased to be helpful to you (your spouse is not a good source). You need to have someone tell you to your face all of your faults and give you credit for your abilities.

Look Outward

Entrepreneurs should also scan their environment. What are the potential markets available for their business? What threats out there can affect their business? Entrepreneurs examine the situation around them because it is one factor that they cannot control.

All you can do when something in the environment, whether opportunity or threat, takes place is to adapt to it. The change means that you have to be able to prepare for any contingency. It is necessary to plan to succeed. But you know that, right?

Entrepreneurs scan the market for any signs of behavioral changes that could mean the collapse of their business. Why do you think that chips and sodas develop different flavors all the time? People change all the time. One example is a change of preference. If a market gets tired of your product, you would be in considerable trouble.

Be Sure to Adapt

You need to adapt your product to the trends of the present. Anticipate future changes and do your best to prepare. However, you also need to remember your past. Sometimes, people dislike changes that a company or product goes through and, as a result, takes their business elsewhere. Ensure the continuing legacy of a good product if you think you have one.

Here’s a Great Mash-Up of Ideas for Better Leadership

leadership mash-up

In recent posts, I’ve explored two great themes that have received a lot of attention on social media. Leaders and managers can benefit from both ideas. Today, we’re going to do a mash-up of the two.

The first topic is Inspect What You Expect. It’s about an old piece of sage advice that often gets spoken but can be misunderstood. When you set goals or objectives for your team, you have to follow-up and check up on them.

The other topic is increasing accountability; your personal accountability as well as making those around you be accountable.

If we do the mash-up on these two principles of leadership, you’ll get a much better understanding of a powerful way to get the most from your team.

First, let’s review Expectation Inspection.

Inspect what you expect maybe a bit obvious, yet it is frequently ignored or forgotten by busy managers.

Once you explain your vision for your team and begin plotting the course for what success should look like, you will be tasking members of your team with their own duties and responsibilities.

If you then hide in your office and simply wait for results, you’re going to be disappointed.

You have to mingle within your team, making yourself available to answer clarifying questions, lead people through problem-solving, and guide the effort.

Periodically, you have to simply ask about progress. Find out what works and what doesn’t. Let people tell you whether they have roadblocks or not. Give them the chance to show you the progress they are making.

A few decades ago a popular management theory grew up called “management by walking around”. I still run into managers who were taught that as their primary leadership style.

It sounds great, but it’s too easily misapplied. Just walking the office floor or shop area isn’t enough. It’s what you do out there that makes a difference.

You have to engage with the team. Interact with everyone at all levels. Let them ask you questions.

Accountability

Good teams set goals and standards. Great teams are accountable for results. It all starts with the leader.

Becoming a better leader with accountability

Leaders need to clearly communicate the vision, plan, and expectations. There has to be an understanding of what a win should look like.

If your team is not clear on these basic terms, the leader must do more to provide clarity.

However, once the clarity is understood, everyone on the team, including the leader, must be held accountable for driving toward success.

To understand more about the reasons accountability is so important, refer to this article.

Hand In Hand

Applying both principles creates a big win. By setting the vision and creating standards you now have the measure of success.

But to get there, you have to inspect the very thing you expect. If adjustments are needed, that is the accountability piece.

leadership accountability

Holding others accountable, then re-inspecting what you expect assures greater success.

It’s really a cycle that needs to be administered daily if you really want to score high returns.

3 Ways to Better Accountability

accountability in action

The word for today is accountability. It’s an elusive yet powerful tool for your leadership toolbox.

As a young manager, I don’t think I ever thought specifically about accountability. Sure, there were deadlines and goals, but as my teams reached those, seldom, if ever, did I include intentional accountability.

It was later in my career that I discovered the incredible power of accountability. I was invited to join a men’s mastermind group. At each meeting, we shared the truth about where we stood with important areas of our life. We banded together to hold each other accountable for accomplishing the growth and change we each desired.

During the following several years, the collective outcome from that group enriched lives, expanded businesses, and strengthened families. Powerful indeed!

Here are three, very important ways accountability impacts you and those around you.

It Starts with You

The leader must set the tone, communicate the vision, and establish expectations. “Inspect what you expect” is a wise old saying. Once you establish the expectations, you have to monitor the progress.

Team members failing to meet expectations must be called to accountability.

But accountability isn’t punitive. It’s responsible.

Accountability gives the team the sense of “I’ve got your back.” If the leader sets that tone, then it is much easier for others to follow.

Leaders can demonstrate accountability by being accountable to the team. Let them know when hurdles are met, but also when they are missed. Which hurdles? YOUR hurdles.

Acknowledge when you need to stand up to something that has slipped or fallen behind; i.e. below standard. Call yourself out for that and let the team know you’re serious about meeting those expectations yourself.

Your Teams Want It

Yes, it’s true. People inherently know whether they have met the mark or not.

Among your best performers, they are looking for that small margin of gain which they truly believe is there. Despite how gifted and talented your team may be, the best performers know there is more that can be achieved.

Team success

If you, as their leader, ignore this margin, your action (by avoiding the subject) becomes a disincentive to your best performers. You’ll lose their respect.

It would be like you denying them one element of what it takes to build job satisfaction.

For your workers who are already on the cusp of performance, they too know they should be doing more. If you ignore this part of accountability with them, then they will slide further away from the desired performance.

Your Peers Expect It

In every 360 review I’ve ever been a part of, there is a mention from the peer raters that the subject person needs to do something with accountability.

Either they need to see it across the organization or within the team. Simply put, accountability is at a premium regardless of your position in the organization.

When you ask a sister department for support, they know they should be accountable. If you don’t manage that expectation, you will lose face with your peers too.

What About the Servant Leader

When I coach clients in the area of accountability, the ones who rate high on the servant leadership scale are often soft on accountability.

accountability on your team

Consciously or unconsciously they feel enforcing accountability will detract from their collaborative leadership approach. They err on the side of letting people figure things out for themselves i.e. the “less than” performance issues.

For all the reasons cited above, even the best servant leader needs to hold people accountable. And the great ones do.

Set Goals That Are Measurable

Be sure your expectations have measurable attributes to gauge the “wins”. What does success look like? Think about that as you plot the strategy for your team. Then clearly communicate your view of success.

Define it for the team. That way, you have a clear goal by which you can hold others accountable.

Leading Your Team’s Accountability

Finding the right tools to lead your team’s accountability is not hard. For the leader, accountability is about setting the expectations, then following up on them.

Many years ago I was introduced to Big 5 Performance tools for doing just that.

With Big 5, you and your team establish five things you want to accomplish during the month. At the end of the month, you report on those five and set a new five for the next month. Right at the start of the new month, you sit with each of your team members and review the report; aligning expectations and talking about results.

Building better accountability

That is great accountability.

The report is simple but elegant in nature. Using Big 5, you are always on the same page with your team. It’s a great coaching tool for you, as a leader, to implement for your team.

Let me stress Big 5 is not a “big” report. It’s a one-line summary of each task you decide is a priority. Many of my clients administer it using email between the manager and the employee. (Although there is a cloud-based app to get it done).

Using a tool like Big 5 can increase clarity on the expectations and deliver regular accountability for everyone on your team.

Leave a comment. Tell us the approach you have used to hold your team and yourself accountable.