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The ABCs of successful business ownership

Inside Business

Posted: December 2, 2008 10:29 p.m.
Updated: December 3, 2008 4:55 a.m.
Over the long Thanksgiving weekend I thought about those things that make the translation from school days to the working world. I did a simple compare and contrast analysis to see what tools were used in school as they related to business ownership. 

* A is for accountability
In school, the student is held accountable for being on time, behaving properly, doing assigned work and turning it in on time. The teacher holds the student accountable and responsible for these things, turning to parents and the school administrators when additional assistance is needed.

How many business owners have someone or something to hold them accountable for doing what needs to be done? The most successful companies are run by individuals who have to answer to someone more than just themselves, usually a formal board of directors or a group of peers.

Without someone to hold the owner accountable for forward progress, most do not achieve anywhere near the potential they are capable of. 

* B is for business planning
Go to your local school district Web site and print out a copy of the school year calendar, perhaps even the following school year. At the beginning of each school year, teachers prepare schedules tied to the calendar and plan how they will teach specific learning objectives. These objectives are communicated to both students and parents alike. This is a simple version of a school business plan.

Too many businesses don't even have a company calendar, let alone their own version of a written business plan. Most businesses lack revenue or profit goals.

Departments, if they exist, do not have budgets, objectives or action steps to achieve goals. If a plan exists, it is in the brain of the owner, which means there is not really a plan, just some ideas. Those ideas may or may not be shared with managers and employees.
* C is for coaching
Some students in school are lucky enough to build a solid relationship with a favorite teacher who will provide guidance and advice along the way. Others find a similar relationship with another adult, perhaps a coach or school administrator. Still others receive coaching from parents or another family member.

These coaches share wisdom and candid advice to help students through difficult times but also serve as a sounding board when opportunities present themselves. And they listen well.

Coaching occurs in very few businesses. Most of the time those in charge are so busy with day-to-day activities that they fail to see why coaching is so critical.

Stephen Covey asked a participant in one of his workshops, "Have you ever been too busy driving to stop for gas?" So it is with coaching. Coaching fills the need of the employee to understand what they are doing well, where they need to focus and upon what they need to improve.

* D is for direction
In school you have a choice of two directions: up to the next grade level or leaving. If you need to repeat a class or grade level, you are still moving forward. If you leave, your future is pretty limited.

In the business world, most owners don't have a direction, because they are to busy working in the business to work on their business. The key is to be able to answer one question and the rest will fall into place. That question is: "What is the purpose of my hard work and long hours?"

Answer that and the direction becomes clear. Yet too many owners cannot even answer that question. 

* E is for education
When you are a student in school it is all about learning. In some classes you apply what you've learned immediately, like in a science lab. Except for recess and lunch, you are constantly in a formal learning environment. At lunch and recess, the student is in a social learning situation.

To be a successful business person, education cannot be a sometime thing; it has to become an always thing. The world of commerce is always changing and those in business need to keep up least they fall behind, which is very easy to do. But too many owners don't believe in furthering their own education, to the detriment of their personal and professional growth.
* F is for feedback
The one constant in school is the feedback. If you are tardy to class, you hear about it. If you fail to turn in a homework assignment, the teacher says something to you. If you turn in an assignment, it is returned to you with comments on it. Take a test, quiz or give a presentation, and your teacher lets you know how you did.

Add to that the day-to-day feedback from regular formal progress reports and report cards. Students are bombarded with feedback so that they can become better students and better young adults.

Like coaching, feedback is not often provided in the world of work. It should be. Feedback in today's business world is far different from that received in school. When employees receive feedback these days, it is to hear from their supervisor how they screwed up; not what they did right. This makes most everyone fearful of receiving feedback, even if delivered with the best of intentions.
* G is for goals
A goal is an objective that is specific with regards to magnitude and time. In school, once you start, you can count the number of years on your fingers until you graduate from high school. College is a little more nebulous in terms of time but generally speaking, if you stay in school, you have a pretty good idea as to when you will earn a diploma.

You already know how most businesses operate without goals. Make an effort to be the exception and set goals for 2009 today.

Kenneth W. Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums in Valencia. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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