Most of the challenges business owners face as they grow their companies can be traced to a handful of entrepreneurial behaviors they bring to their companies.
Most businesses aren’t launched with the dream of becoming the next Microsoft. Many of us started our businesses to fulfill personal needs — physical comfort, financial security, emotional fulfillment. These needs may not include developing the skills it takes to lead larger businesses or making the tough calls that come along with them. When that’s the case, our responsibility becomes finding the business model and the people who will allow us to achieve our personal objectives through the businesses we have.
Complications increase when you add family members into the mix. Things can become downright combustible when those family members inherited their jobs or when they’re being asked to perform jobs they either don’t want to do or don’t feel they should have to do by virtue of the gene lottery. This elevates hiding out to a whole new level that involves both business and home life and can limit family interactions to a short list of “safe” topics. After all, everyone in the company and the family remembers what it was like the last time Mom or Pop was asked the wrong question at the wrong time!
Understanding some of the underlying causes that can lead us to hide out from important information or avoid tough conversations is a first step in overcoming this tendency. Learning to recognize the consequences hiding out can lead to in our companies might help us to take the necessary steps to address this condition.
Just as the symptoms and underlying causes of hiding out (which we discussed in the October issue of this magazine) can be both highly visible and more subtle, so are the consequences that hiding out can produce.
Other behaviors get covered up. At its core, hiding out means that we’re avoiding the responsibilities that go along with being in a leadership position in our businesses. Some of these responsibilities include being accountable to others and holding other people accountable as well. When we hide out, it sends the message that this is the way things are done in our companies.
Establishing and maintaining focus on our company’s vision is another behavior that gets covered up. If we’ve taken the time to establish a vision for our businesses, yet we hide out from making tough decisions or measuring our progress toward that vision, then we’ll constantly struggle to achieve it. This results in our people being less efficient because they’re uncertain about where the company is headed, what their roles are in getting there and how committed the company leadership is to accomplishing the vision.
Our businesses operate in the dark. As mentioned in part one of this article, hiding out from measuring important KPIs is like driving a car with the gauges on the dashboard hidden. With no solid data on which to base our decisions, we’re forced to rely only on our intuition. “I think I’m driving within the speed limit.” “I think I have enough gas in the tank.” “I think I still have oil in the engine and it’s not overheating.” Without seeing the gauges, we can’t be sure, and we run the risk of long-term damage to our car.
It’s exactly the same with our businesses. Failing to measure important metrics puts us at enormous risk of doing long-term damage to our companies or unknowingly sending them into a tailspin.
We establish a culture of poor performance. Nobody starts their businesses with the intention of doing mediocre work. Mediocre performance doesn’t knock on your door one day and announce itself by decreeing: “From this day forward, we shall be known as the mediocre company by virtue of the subpar standards by which we operate!” Instead, mediocrity creeps in, almost imperceptibly, through the gaps around our policies and processes until it becomes part of the corporate air we breathe. It settles in a little deeper with every metric we fail to measure, with every conversation we avoid and with every decision we delay until mediocrity becomes part of our company culture.
Companies that perform mediocre work don’t usually do so because they have second-rate equipment or systems. They perform mediocre work because their leadership, and by extension, everybody else in the company, accepts mediocre performance. Customers don’t call and complain when we do mediocre work; they just don’t call back. So, when we have trouble keeping our current customers or attracting new ones, we blame our equipment or we blame our customers or we blame our employees. What we should do is take a deeper look at some of the compromises we’ve been making or the decisions we’ve been avoiding that have led to this point.
Recognizing the symptoms and understanding the underlying causes of hiding out are needed steps to addressing it. But if we’re serious about overcoming it or avoiding it in the first place, we have to take action
Identify the triggers that set off your desire to hide out. Is it fear or intimidation? Is it a general sense of being overwhelmed, brought on by having too many things to do and too little time to do them? If either of these are the case, don’t beat yourself up or feel that you’re a weak leader. Use this recognition as an opportunity to dig a little deeper into why you feel this way and then do something about it. People will forgive a poor decision if it’s made with the right intentions. They’ll adjust to having you hold them accountable. But your best people will leave your company if they feel you’re not willing to make the tough calls, hold people accountable or progress toward your goals.
Start by stopping. Stop denying that measuring things is important or thinking that kicking decisions down the road is good strategy. Flying blind might have worked when your company was smaller, but as your company grows, it can lead to disaster.
Start small. You don’t have to jump from measuring nothing to tracking a full-blown dashboard of KPIs. If you’re not in the habit of tracking your numbers, then start by tracking one thing, but make it an important thing — such as sales growth, net profit or cash flow. If you’re experiencing high turnover in your business, figure out why. Ask your people for their opinions and listen to them. As you get more comfortable with tracking and less comfortable hiding out, you can add more sophisticated measurables.
If there’s a tough conversation you need to have with someone, but you’ve been putting it off, try approaching them about it just this once. Lead into it by saying, “I need to have a conversation with you, but I’ve been putting it off. When can we get together?”
Surround yourself with strong people. Business owners have plenty of yes-men around to stroke their egos and tell them what they want to hear. What they need are people who are strong enough to speak the truth to those in authority.
One of the most difficult things for an entrepreneur to do in his business is surround himself with strong people who are smarter than he is. It can be incredibly intimidating and may even make him feel threatened. But it can also be the best thing he does for himself and his company. Strong people who are smarter than you will probably be more willing to give you the unvarnished truth when it’s called for. This is important, especially when we don’t want to hear it. What’s more, strong people not only help you identify tough issues that need to be addressed, but they support you when you address them. They bring points of view you may not have considered before or firsthand experiences they can share to help you navigate the tough personal interactions that are a natural part of a growing business.
Hiding out isn’t a behavior that’s reserved just for business owners. It resides at every level within a company. Recognizing it when it appears and taking the necessary steps to either address it in others or overcome it within yourself will set you and your company on a path for growth and success. RIA