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Ken Keller: Why some business owners underperform

Posted: March 22, 2014 6:04 p.m.
Updated: March 22, 2014 6:04 p.m.

In sports, winning is clearly defined. In order to win, the performance gap has to close between potential and results.

We are in the middle of March Madness. One significant outcome of the tournament is that those who have the ability to perform when needed move to the next bracket and those that do not exit.

Underperforming teams do so for a variety of reasons. Players and coaches alike will spend ample time considering those reasons and work to rectify them prior to the 2015 tournament.

Businesses also underperform. I believe a considerable part of the blame starts with the failure of the owner to do four things.

The first is that winning is never defined so that it matters to the employees. Second, employees are never told what they will receive when the company wins. The third is that the owner has become distracted or detached and fails to lead employees to win. Fourth, the owner has failed to put into place policies and procedures for the employees to follow to help the company win.

Jack Welch defined winning for GE when he announced that the companies within the corporation should be ranked either first or second in market share. Over time, Welch sold off or closed down the companies that did not or could not meet the criteria.

Owners would be wise to take the time to define what winning means for the company and to communicate so employees know what they need to do each day to help the company win. This provides alignment and eliminates conflict in daily teamwork.

Sometimes winning is defined for the owner, and employees, but the rewards for being successful are not clear. Maybe rewards don’t exist.

When owners become distracted by activities and interests that occur outside of the company, the business is almost guaranteed to suffer.

Owners distracted or in a comfort zone is fine for managers and employees. In my experience, employees are quite happy that the owner not constantly looking over their shoulder. When the owner is around, people put on a show. Managers are on the payroll to hold people accountable but when they owner is gone, busy with other things, well; things just get casual pretty fast.

In the mind of the owner, leaving people in charge that can be trusted is paramount. When the management team is trustworthy, the owner has no worries; if someone in management turns out to be less than honorable, all kinds of issues arise.

It usually impacts productivity and finances; including time, inventory, cash, assets, including good will with vendors and clients.

High performing businesses don’t place trust as much in people as they do in processes and procedures. Checks and balances are in place.

Under performing owners fail to put into place the policies and procedures necessary to maximize productivity, use of assets and execution.

The underperforming owner is likely to lead a company filled with employees who also lack motivation. If employees under perform, there is seldom an incentive to do a better job.

It’s March and it is not too late to define winning, communicate it to those who work with and for you, provide goals and rewards and start to hold people accountable for moving towards having a winning year.

It all starts with you, the owner of the business. You have to lead by example. There is no tim=e like the present for you to start doing this.

Ken Keller facilitates The Wise Owners Advisory Boards, bringing business owners together for education, sharing and on-going success. Contact him at Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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