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Kenneth W. Keller: Behaviors and attitudes to avoid when the going gets tough

Inside Business

Posted: July 28, 2009 7:35 p.m.
Updated: July 29, 2009 4:30 a.m.
Challenging times require, for survival and success, to do things differently and to do different things. If your business at the end of July is not where you want it to be, don’t “stay the course.”

Instead, take another look at what you are doing and what you are telling your employees to do and make changes as needed as soon as possible.

The worst mistake is confusing activity with progress. Motion by itself takes you nowhere. Are you, the owner, avoiding deadlines, shuffling stacks of paper, having long, unproductive conversations, holding lengthy meetings during the workday and wonder why, at the end of the day, week, month and quarter, nothing of significance has changed? Is it because the focus is on activity and not progress? What is needed is a plan to move forward.

Owners often don’t know what to do so they freeze and fail to act. This manifests itself in being focused on not knowing what to do, except knowing what to do when a decision is to be avoided so no decision is made.

The only thing that happens is that the situation stays the same or gets worse; it does not improve and it does not go away. In the end, a decision still has to be made, and sometimes the passing of time has reduced the options available for a positive outcome.

Speed up the decision making in challenging times.

Is the process more important than the result at your company? Most of the time, owners get hung up on making sure the process is solid, maybe too solid, that there is a failure to understand that most of the time, the result is all that matters! It is the responsibility of the owner to make clear what the desired results are.  

  • Owners fail to measure what is important: Every organization has leading and lagging indicators. Most owners don’t know the difference and how one can impact the other. Because they don’t understand the importance of what to measure, and when to measure, they measure nothing at all or something of insignificance. Decide what the performance indicators are and begin measuring them.

  • Too often owners stay in their comfort zone: These people fail to understand what it is that is necessary to learn to be more successful. Because owners don’t know what they need to learn, many opt to learn nothing at all. Status quo is the default position of the learning activity, which really means moving backward because so much knowledge that impacts a business is being generated each day. The areas of weakness should be the first area of learning for an owner.

  • Owners believe meetings are for decisions: Meetings are for information exchange, not for decision making. Owners make decisions. Don’t hold meetings with the idea that somehow a group of people will reach a decision, they won’t. Hold a meeting to decide how a decision you have made can best be implemented.   

Owners hire and promote people thinking they will change. People don’t change that much; they are who they are. People may change if forced to by circumstances, but even then it is very, very difficult. Often they end up being the same person they always were, or angry that the owner asked them to be someone they aren’t.

  • Some owners expect others to solve their problems: Like the fairy tales of childhood, people wait for someone else to arrive on a white horse, wearing a white hat, just in the nick of time. The corollary to this is that owners blame others (competition, incompetent vendors, employees, the world) for everything that has and is going wrong in the company. Accept the responsibility for ownership and deal with it all: the good, the bad and the ugly.

  • All too often, owners fail to face the brutal facts of our current reality: Ignoring reality is a dangerous habit that usually leads to disaster. Life is not fair, competition is fierce, and the customer doesn’t always pay their bills when they should, and employees call in sick when they are not. Face reality and deal with it in a cold, factual manner. This can be done every month with a one page sheet of paper divided in half: On the left make a list of what is working and on the right, what isn’t.

Ken Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, which brings business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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