“What gets measured gets managed.”
It’s hard to argue with that piece of wisdom. That said, here’s another old saw to consider:
“If everything is important, then nothing is important.”
Between these two valuable quotes is a balance and a guideline for business owners.
All businesses have certain numbers that define success. Some, like profit, are universal. Every business must take in more than it spends, so an argument could be made that this number – profit – is a definition of success for every business.
But what about other numbers? There’s certainly no shortage of other things to measure – sales, costs, margins, cash … the list goes on and on.
They’re all important. But don’t forget: “If everything is important, then nothing is important.”
Focusing on a small, carefully-selected handful of numbers and actually doing things to improve them is much more likely to lead to overall success than scattershot oversight of dozens of different numbers.
Some business owners create a scoreboard or “dashboard” of metrics – to pull selected numbers out of the blizzard of income statements, balance sheets and other reports – and single them out for an appropriate amount of attention.
This is how the “What gets measured gets managed” piece comes into play.
So, how do you cut through the scads of potential metrics which might be worthy of your undivided attention, and discover the select few which will truly make a difference?
Think about your business. Two questions:
1) Are there things related to your specific business model that are absolutely critical to ongoing success? For instance, if you are the low price leader, then cost of sales is likely a primary area of focus.
2) Are there things going on in your business right now that deserve attention? Examples might include things like declining quality, too much dependence on one customer, or high employee turnover.
If you find that there are specific things that warrant a permanent place on your scoreboard, then add them and leave them there. Or, perhaps you’ll discover that a temporary issue needs attention – so it gets a spot, only until it is resolved.
In most cases, these big-picture, corporate-level “critical numbers” will have underlying “drivers” – activities which must be done to move the number in the right direction. A simple example: weight loss. If your critical number is pounds, the drivers would be calories in (eating) and calories burned (exercise.)
The best drivers measure activities and behaviors, as in this weight loss example. If you want to change a number, you’ve got to change someone’s activities or behaviors.
These are the numbers that deserve a significant amount of time and attention. That’s not to say other numbers aren’t important. They’re just not as important.
Identify and break out your critical numbers and drivers. Get them on a scoreboard for all to see. Talk about them. Teach and learn about them. Assign responsibility for them. Track them. Most importantly, be sure to move them in the right direction.
Your business will be more successful for the effort.
The trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool.” – Stephen King
We all have people we trust. And they trust us in return. In some cases, that trust has been earned via confidences kept and commitments achieved. In others, it’s possible that the mutual trust is there because … well, just because.
Among my friends are two entrepreneurs who have been harmed by being too trusting, and perhaps too eager to offer others the opportunity to benefit from their businesses.
We all know people we describe as “the nicest people.” While this may well be an over-used phrase, in this case it’s true. These two folks – who by the way don’t know each other – are easily the most kind, gentle, nice and trusting people I’ve known.
For each of these two people, a positive characteristic – trust – turned into an Achille’s Heel.
What happened? In both cases – despite their very dissimilar businesses – there was a common thread: Each of these entrepreneurs sought outside help in advancing the business.
For one, it proved fatal for the business. The offending party offered to provide cash and a building in which to grow the operation. But after making those investments, the villain seized the business, leaving my friend out in the cold and wondering how this could have happened.
For the other, the culprit posed as a potential buyer of the company, only to copy the products and steal the customer list. The scenario is ongoing as this article is being written.
Both situations, I’m 100% convinced, were premeditated.
The impact on these people is predictable: Anger. Embarrassment. Financial loss. Uncertainty about the future.
What could these two overly-trusting entrepreneurs have done to prevent such skullduggery? Of course, the short answer is to get a lawyer involved. Hindsight, it is said, is always 20/20.
How does one know when to seek legal help? (A note to my attorney friends: The correct response is not “early and often.”) Certainly, there’s a time to bring in the lawyers, and having a competent – dare I say “trusted” – attorney at the ready is a must-have for any business owner.
Who wants to go through life thinking there’s a business-stealing boogieman around every corner, waiting to pounce?
But there’s a brutal reality: the boogieman is real. He sucked the blood from these two wonderful people.
Like it or not, a healthy amount of suspicion and skepticism goes with business ownership.
Each of us has to find a comfort zone. For some, it might mean cynicism and sliding a non-disclosure agreement across the table to every new acquaintance. For others, it may be a reluctant admission that some folks are scallywags.
So, be nice. Be generous. But be careful out there.
“Trust everybody, but cut the cards.“ – Writer & humorist Finley Peter Dunne
“Never trust anyone completely but God.” – Lawrence Welk
“Trust, but verify.” – President Ronald Reagan
Ever heard someone say, “There’s no such thing as a short-sleeve dress shirt”?
The pocket protector crowd (think of Dilbert) might disagree with that statement, but those who know far more about workplace apparel than I do accept it as gospel. To quote anchorman Ron Burgundy, “It’s a given.”
There are many “givens” in business. Time is money. You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Cash is king.
Here’s another one to add to the list:
“If you’re the owner, nobody cares as much as you.”
Many business owners haven’t yet heard this valuable fact. Or, they’ve heard it and refuse to believe it. As a result, they have unrealistically high expectations for their people. Then, when their employees fall short of these lofty expectations, the owner is disappointed, surprised and maybe even angered.
Ultimately, in a situation like this, the employee leaves – either voluntarily or through termination for “poor performance.” Of course, the owner’s expectations were never clearly defined, never written down, never explained and were very likely a moving target.
Let’s run down the list of what the business means to a typical entrepreneur. We’ll call him Bob. For Bob, the business is:
Now let’s make a list of what the company means to Joe, one of Bob’s employees:
OK, Joe may think of it as a career. Joe may be emotionally attached to the company and may be a big part of its success. Even so, you have to admit that Joe’s list is much different than Bob’s.
Here’s my point: Business owners must adjust their expectations to the givens of the workplace. If you learn to accept “Nobody cares as much as you” as a given, you’ll save yourself from the inevitable aggravation and consternation: Anger. Firing. Recruiting. Rehiring. Retraining. Low morale. Missed opportunities.
Get real and get used to it. Nobody cares as much as you. It’s a given.
Some readers may find this attitude to be in contrast with my position that employees can think and act like owners. It is not. Many employees can and do think and act like owners. They will rise to the challenge and accomplish the most incredible things. I see it all the time. But there is one indisputable difference between an owner and an employee:
If the business fails, the employee experiences a job-changing event. But for the owner, failure is a life-changing event, potentially bringing total financial ruin on the owner’s family.
Yes, employees can be wonderfully loyal, incredibly hard-working and intensely dedicated. But the fact remains that if and when the hammer comes down on the business, it is the owner who takes the biggest blow. It stands to reason, then, that the person with the most on the line – with all respect to faithful employees – will care the most. After all, the owner’s connection to the business goes far beyond livelihood and career.
Consider the following simple formula for effective leadership:
So, do what it takes to foster loyalty, hard work and dedication among your team. Return their gift of loyalty by being loyal in return. Create a win-win work environment. Share information and solicit their opinions. Thank them for a job well done and reward them for exceeding goals.
Help them learn to think and act like owners. But remember, they are not owners. You’re the owner. Don’t blame your employees for drawing a line.
Again, have realistic expectations. You owe it to your employees, to your business and to yourself.
I write about business, small business, marketing, management, leadership, a little bit of travel & other topics of interest to business people.