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How to Create a Winning Business Culture

When  a once-growing business stumbles, the cause is sometimes an overlooked culprit: the company culture.   Many good businesses with solid ideas, a great market and talented people start to lose their grip on growth after failing to win victories that seemed within grasp.   Slowly, the “win or die trying” mentality gives way to deciding how best to fail.

This saps energy from the business as people stop believing they can be successful.  “There is no obvious moment when the danger of failure becomes clear,” says leadership expert John Hamm. “But there is a moment  when a business enters the risk zone—when challenges arise and there are no clear answers. It is at this fork in the road that business owners must intervene with specific messages and actions aimed at getting everyone back into the winner’s mindset.”

Here are seven ways to keep a culture of winning alive in your business:

1)            Set reasonable goals:  There’s a thin line between an invigorating challenge and a deflating expectation. Business owners – and especially hard-charging entrepreneurs – should realize that not everyone may share their level of maniacal commitment.  Sure, top performers are often inspired by stretch goals.  But goals that are clearly beyond a reasonable expectation of success are worse than easy goals—they can actually damage your company’s energy.

2)            Avoid the trap of “pseudo-wins.”  Everyone likes to reward small wins.  And that’s great.  But it becomes a problem when that’s all there ever is and everyone starts to major in minors. In other words, keep your perspective. It’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important, and where the wins are most needed. The danger in seeking minor wins all the time is that when everyone seeks those small satisfying moments that can be gained from simple tasks, nobody tackles the tougher jobs. 

3)            Banish lame excuses.  Every workplace has the equivalent of a “the-dog-ate-my-homework” excuse.  Don’t buy it.  Some tolerance is required, but there should be clear lines as to what’s acceptable and what isn’t.  In other words, define clearly what success looks like so there’s no confusing it with something that is really a failure. Huge amounts of energy are expended on complex excuses and playing the blame game.  Shortfalls are certain; and expected.  But what you want is an insightful explanation for the gap so the problem can be fixed.

4)            Don’t tolerate sloppiness.  The nice guy in all of us wants to avoid the perception of being a hardcore drill sergeant and will politely overlook a cut corner, incomplete report or other shoddy work.  But sloppiness often stems from laziness or simply not having enough pride in the finished product.  Successful businesses don’t allow sloppiness because they know it equals death.

5)            Discourage data fudging:  Achieving and measuring victories often requires interpreting data of one kind or another.  But data can be interpreted to fit whatever you want it to fit. This “editorialized data” is a big danger.  Business owners, as eternal optimists, have a tendency to signal  their dislike of bad news. When that happens, others will begin to shape and color the data to meet your expectations and needs. Feedback becomes corrupted and the likelihood of success begins to plummet.

6)            Measure what matters: The right metrics will help enormously.  Look for reality – not what you simply expect.  Measuring what matters is critical to successful execution. Once your plan is set and underway,  you must rely on feedback (metrics) to make course corrections along the way. 

7)            Make your commitment to winning absolute:  “A tolerance for excuses, corrupt data and a distorted view of what is really happening ‘out there’ is akin to boiling a frog one degree at a time,” says Hamm.  “The frog can’t tell how hot the water has become until it’s too late.”  You must avoid the rationalization that occurs when winning seems out of reach and keep your commitment to making it work.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

7 Leadership Lessons Every Biz Owner Should Know

Business owners are all leaders, but not all act that way.  The best ones inspire peak performance, passion, engagement and enthusiasm by everyone associated with the business.  For them, “lackluster” isn’t an option. Real leadership equity is earned, not bestowed, says John Hamm, a high-profile venture capitalist who’s led investments in many successful high-growth companies as a partner at several Silicon Valley VC firms. Just because you’ve been granted authority doesn’t mean you’re getting the full, collaborative effort of others.

In the heat of day-to-day business battles, business owners can lose sight of basic principles of leadership. In other cases, they never learned leadership fundamentals or just aren’t cut out to lead and need to understand why.  “Normal” leadership is a complex system of behaviors that can tolerate a lot of little mistakes.  But extraordinary leadership cannot.  Small deficiencies create a radical difference in outcome.  The depth, breadth and frequency of the mistakes you make often determine success or failure.

Here are some top leadership lessons for biz owners:

1.    Authenticity wins. Authenticity is about owning your failures and shortcomings. It’s about allowing others to really know you, warts and all. It’s about having the guts to seek feedback from others in a sincere fashion. And it’s about being able to maintain your authentic self under difficult circumstances.

2.    Your words and moods carry great weight. Leaders must think carefully about every word they say, because others certainly will. “Every conversation with, and every communication from, a leader carries added weight because of the authority of the position behind it,” says Hamm. “Have a bad day and snap at one of your subordinates, and that person may go back to a cramped cubicle and start updating his résumé or miss a night’s sleep. Your momentary bad day could be his nightmare—and something he will remember forever. Your mood matters; don’t make it your employees’ problem.”

3.    Trying to squelch bad news will backfire. Excellent leaders work hard to build a primary and insatiable demand for the unvarnished facts, the raw data, the actual measurements, the honest feedback, the real information. “We must install a confidence and a trust that leaders in the organization value the facts, the truth, and the speed of delivery, not the judgments or interpretations of ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ and that messengers are valued, not shot,” says Hamm.  This will pay off handsomely in getting you accurate information quickly.

4.    “Good failures” are like shooting digital pictures. A digital camera is the perfect analogy to the kind of culture you want to create. There’s no expense associated with a flawed digital photo. Hit delete and it disappears. And we know it so we take many more photos digitally than we would have in a world of costly film and sometimes get that one amazing picture that we wouldn’t have if we were paying for all the mistakes.

5.    You must constantly renew enthusiasm. A big part of a leader’s job is to be compelling. That means you must recruit “A players” through a big vision of the future and a personal commitment to a mission. But it’s not enough to recruit once and then move on. Never assume “once enrolled, always enrolled.” Even the best followers need to be reminded again and again how fun, rewarding, and meaningful their work is.

6.    Chronic underperformers must be dealt with. Chronic underperformers spoil things for everyone else. They create resentment among employees who are giving it their all, and they drag down productivity. Leaders must have a plan for getting these problem children off the playground—and they must act on that plan without procrastination.

7.    Not making a decision is usually worse than making a bad decision. As long as they aren’t utterly ill-advised and catastrophic, bad decisions at least keep the business moving in pace with changing events, and can often be rectified by a course correction. Not making a decision at all, although it may seem the safe choice, actually strips your business of momentum, stalling it at the starting line, and making it unlikely you can ever be a serious player.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.