Taking Control

Business owners wear many hats; they fill many roles – as CEO, President, leader and visionary and oh so many more. But, as a business owner, are you fully in control? Are you actively growing your business as you envisioned it to be?  Or, are you just holding on to something less than what you want your company to be?

If it is the latter, what will trigger a commitment to actively and urgently pursue the control and growth you want? Maybe, just maybe, it can be a simple mental shift, a new mindset saying that enough is enough and that now is the time to regain control.

Since the onset of the “Great Recession” many business owners have pursued a downsizing or survival strategy, reducing employees and minimizing operational costs to “right-size” their business to reflect external market conditions. Years later, and, admittedly not pervasive across all industries, there has been some general market improvement. While eliminating non-performing aspects of a business can be healthy, consider the following questions: 

Are you experiencing more chaos and less control?

Are your customers more or less numerous?

Are there more customer complaints?

Are you working harder with less cash to show for your efforts?


Maybe it is time to change direction and take more control.

Regardless of industry or business size, all business owners must be in control and embrace change to remain viable and achieve the success they desire.  John F. Kennedy said that Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”  

To not miss your future, to achieve your personal goals and objectives – and the Desired Future State of your business – each business owner must evaluate the Present State of their business and – in a step-by-step manner – begin to invest, innovate and encourage changes within their business. Take control. Circle the wagons with employees and others with expertise, collaborate and land on a manageable number of initiatives that can begin to transform and energize every aspect of your business.

You can start small or write large, but start.

Ancient Rock

greece_photoMy wife and I were fortunate enough to vacation in Greece, taking in the island of Crete for 5 days and enjoying the area around Athens for 3 days. The entire time in Greece was amazing and punctuated again and again with history and warm, welcoming Greeks. The Greeks were consistently so friendly it was striking. It was an exceptional experience – with exceptional customer experiences around every corner!

We rented a car in Crete and visited multiple cities and small villages along the north shore, from Agios Nicholaus in the northeast to Chania in the northwest. Unlike most tourists, we also ventured into many smaller villages in the interior mountains and on the southern shore. Oh so many vistas were remarkable, with roads shifting from modern to narrow and twisting in tight switchbacks on the sides of the mountains, leading to charming orchards, vineyards and vibrant, small town squares. The smaller villages were classically picturesque, with almost unfathomable streets to navigate and a no-holds-barred maze of parked cars and motorcycles that made moving through the villages like “threading the needle.” We visited museums and seaside fortresses, ate amazing traditional Greek food in countless tavernas and visited the historical sites of Aptera, Knosos and many other places of historical significance, all with a sense of awe.

Greater Athens – known as Athina to the locals – was much the same, yet far more urban and exceedingly alive. We had the great fortune to visit the Parthenon and other temples near the Acropolis, the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion, the Acropolis Museum and the National Archeological Museum (both world class) , and the shopping areas of Plaka, Monastrki and Kolonaki. Our hotel afforded us the view of the Acropolis, lit up at night and on the final night, a full moon over it. We highly recommend Greece to all.

As to the business-side of this blog, again, my wife and I were struck with the friendliness of the Cretans and Athenians. Almost without exception, but especially in the various tavernas and local businesses, we were greeted with smiles and amazing personal warmth. Yes, there was an old-world charm and we were tourists there spending Euros, but it was more. There was a friendliness that spoke to a type of customer service that was exceptionally genuine.

For example, after every meal almost every taverna in Crete brought us a parting gift of a dessert and a small bottle of a local, often homemade liquor called “raki.” Similar to Ouso, each taverna exhibited pride in their version of raki. We came to realize that asking for the check didn’t conclude the meal; it became a highpoint with us wondering what we would have served to us. It was delightful.

A taverna owner in Lerapetra on the southern coast of Crete – after we had commented that his version was the very best and after our bill was paid, knowing that we would be moving on – presented us with a half-liter bottle of raki. Businesses in the United States and around the world could emulate the people we met in those shops. Each business that mirrored those in Greece would undoubtedly prosper even more.

As a final comment, we overheard a student from Texas utter the following words as he and his companions were walking up to the base of the Temple of Poseidon – “Well, I guess it is time once again to take pictures of more ‘ancient rock.’” Indeed.

Do It Differently

Delving into a mountain of information on various topics of interest I was once again intrigued by an offering from Seth Godin, this time on the subject of “Unbetterable.” Seth’s insights are always thought provoking; this is no exception.  I encourage all to make Seth a regular part of your day.  His comments reminded me of the rather famous, but murkily attributable quotation to Albert Einstein (maybe not?), and one more by him:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.”


 “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

The Einstein quotations and Seth’s commentary also reminded me of the multitude of unprecedented challenges many business leaders are facing today and a near-universal predisposition to resolve problems in old, very familiar ways, by “doing the same thing over and over again.”

In today’s economic malaise more and more business executives face an imperative to look at their business through new lenses.  Many owners and management teams are struggling to survive with MORE with LESSmore competition and challenges, and less resources to overcome said competition and challenges… and, of course, less on the bottom line.  I assert that it is time to do more than just survive.  Reject the status quo.  Reassess old assumptions, business strategies and processes.  Actively seek opportunities to infuse innovation into all aspects of your business practices and solve problems with new thinking.  Revitalize your businesses by asking questions, opening the dialogue with colleagues and considering new solutions.

If your business is already successful, make it more so.  Look at some aspect of it anew; you can make it even better.  If your business is stable but underperforming, or if your business is barely surviving, consider how to shake it up.  Re-vision your business.  Incent and motivate the team.  Seek talent to fill voids.  Attract and retain top performers.  Pursue innovation and new markets.  Challenge everything.  Look at it comprehensively or start small.  Focus on one challenge; resolve it.  Then pick another, and another.  But don’t do the same thing and expect a different result.  Find a way to do it differently.  Success will follow your efforts.



Post Inspiration

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.”

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein


The two best ways to break through a rut and to make an impact:

  • Find things that others have accepted as the status quo and make them significantly, noticeably and remarkably better.
  • Find things that you’re attached to that are slowing you down, realize that they are broken beyond repair and eliminate them. Toss them away and refuse to use them any longer.

When a not-so-good software tool or a habit or an agency or a policy has too much inertia to be fixed, when it’s unbetterable, you’re better off without it. Eliminating it will create a void, fertile territory for something much better to arrive.


The Learning Imperative

If you propose employee training programs to the owner of a small business you will likely trigger the “run- away” response. Often training is viewed as time taken away from “doing real work” – and as an overhead expense to be minimized or even avoided. But what if you reframe “training on the job,” into “learning on the job?” Wouldn’t most business owners want employees to learn, and do better in their roles and responsibilities?

“If you think training is expensive, try ignorance.” The esteemed management thinker Peter Drucker wrote that, and also recommended that a company should invest 5-15% of company revenues on employee training and development.

It has been researched and is now accepted that company training for employees contributes to greater job satisfaction, increased productivity, less turnover, better motivation, and more effective self-supervision. When a business workforce is engaged and satisfied on the job, it creates better customer experiences and financial gain for the business. Learning (training) correlates to improved performance.

So, about that time and money issue – when a company outlines its overall success objectives – those goals should be matched with a learning program to enable success. Tie whatever the company wants to accomplish with whatever it takes to get it.

Learning should begin with an organizational assessment to clarify where the company is, and where the company wants to go. Measure the gap and target specific goals. Is everybody on the same page, ready and willing and able to get it done? Can the company commit to an improvement plan, and is the process reasonably enjoyable for employees to do?

Training and learning should address defined job roles and responsibilities and be matched to specific employee competencies and capabilities. Everyone in the company should be included in the learning and improvement process – even the owners and leaders.

The learning and change processes must always be realistic with objectives everybody can manage and incorporate into everyday work requirements. Every business wants results, so it is crucial that job development and performance change processes are linked to accepted financial measurements.

Companies need to learn about the organization as a whole unit, because not all improvement essentials are specifically related to job tasks. Hard metrics such as financial health require careful examination – and so do the soft measurements of company culture. Realities of employee job satisfaction, well-being and motivation and others are critical attributes of a company – and they come from company culture.

Let’s get back to the question of whether or not a business can afford to take time and money for learning, and whether or not it will matter. Here’s another great quote; this one from Maya Angelou. ”We did what we did because of what we knew, when we knew better, we did better.”

For a business, that could translate into … more clients, more revenue, more profits and more cash flow.

Discipline is a Core Business Attribute

I recall listening in mid-December to the memorial words of Cape Town, South Africa’s emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as he eulogized Nelson Mandela. He spoke of the incredible discipline epitomized by Nelson Mandela in his life, and the need for all people to capture that same discipline in their lives. Archbishop Tutu’s focus was on the discipline required to seek peace and reconciliation in the face of hate, bigotry and injustice, but I believe that same discipline is a core attribute that can and should be embraced in business practices and everyday life.

Businesses are successful, in no small measure, when they are consistently engaged in performing to the needs of their customers, providing products and services in a “disciplined” way (standardized processes and business practices that are metrics-based, accountable and predictable) that brings value in a reliable manner – meeting or exceeding customer expectations. Whether your business is small or large and regardless of the customers it serves, it cannot be successful if the needs of the clients are not being met consistently. Meeting those needs requires discipline and commitment. From time management to literally hundreds of individual behaviors that comprise the work product of a business,  owners, managers and all employees must be strategic, engaged and collaborative, to act in a disciplined manner that supports customer needs.

As each of us go to work and witness the myriad of activities that are required to deliver a value to a client, take a moment and consider whether or not those activities are consistently delivered in a manner that meets the needs of each client and supports the growth of your brand and your company. If not, maybe a new measure of discipline is required. With heightened levels of discipline consistently evident throughout a company, I suspect that total company performance will be significantly improved.