Posts Tagged ‘A great business A great life’

When I was in the seventh grade, during our school’s annual track and field day, I was assigned to the shot put event.  That was a bit of a problem.  Back then, I wasn’t what you would call skinny – I was downright scrawny.  I could barely pick up the shot put, let alone heave it across the field.  Let me tell you, I was definitely scrawny but I was scrappy too.  I practiced hard.  The gym teacher worked with me and, day-by-day, I got better.  It hurt and I hated it, but I got better.

After what seemed like an eternity of training, track and field day arrived and I threw the shot put farther than I had ever thrown it.  It was a personal best.  And I came in … dead last.  Thirty-seventh out of thirty-seven boys.  I had worked hard, I had gotten better, and I had gone from poor to just a little less poor.  My immense effort went largely unrewarded.  That’s what happens when the talent doesn’t match the task.

The truth is, many of us have been sold a bill of goods.  It started with Napoleon Hill when he said, “Anything the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”  Which is just plain nonsense.  Think about this:  I can conceive of playing in the NBA, and with enough self-delusion I might even be able to believe it.  But I won’t achieve it because you can’t coach tall … or fast.  In other words, I don’t have the talent.

Talent is the capacity for near perfect performance.  It’s something you’re born with or that develops very early in life.  Talent can be cultivated, but it probably can’t be created.  The good news is, everyone has talent of some kind.  But each of us also has some non-talents – some things we just don’t do very well and probably won’t ever do very well.  (My list of non-talents includes anything requiring a power tool, math past the 8th grade level and throwing the shot put.)

If you want exceptional performance in your company (and who doesn’t?) there are two crucial activities that you and all your managers must engage in.

#1 – Identify the talent of each of your people

#2 – Match that talent with a task that needs to be accomplished

Identifying the talent of subordinates and matching that talent with a task that needs to be accomplished just might be the most important contribution to organizational success a manager can make. A wonderful, if somewhat awkward, question is:

Who Does What Well Around Here?

That question focuses on the right thing – it focuses on talent, on what a person can do.  Far too often, managers are in “cop mode”.  They’re on the lookout for what’s wrong.  Certainly there are times when a manager needs to take corrective action.  But great managers spend a lot of time looking for what’s right with people.  To find out more about what great managers do, spend a few minutes with our free online management development course, The Foundation of Management.

When I was researching the book, Breaking Through the Barrrier: What Companies That Grow Do Differently, I would often ask business owners,

Do you want to grow your business?

While I received a range of answers, the typical response was some variant of, “Well, yeah, sure.”  When I probed a bit deeper, asking how much do you want to grow your business, I’d usually get an answer that involved traditional metrics such as market share, annual revenue or head count.  But these traditional metrics ignore one profound truth:

In a privately owned business, the owner’s life should be better because he or she owns the business.

Better is, obviously, a subjective term.  For some owners, better might mean more money – for others, more time off.  A better life could also mean doing work that makes the world a better place.  The problem with traditional metrics is that they don’t address the owner’s quality of life.

So it might be productive to look at business and growth through a slightly different lens.  It’s a lens that helps an owner consider how he or she wants to be involved in the business – a lens that helps clarify what activity the owner wants to engage in on a day-to-day basis – a lens that illuminates how the owner wants to live his or her life.

There are, essentially, four business structures:

  1. Hands-On: The owner does some or all of the work.
  2. Owner-Operated: The owner supervises the line level employees.
  3. Managed: The owner manages the managers.
  4. Enterprise: The owner is largely removed from day-to-day operations.

While to some extent revenue dictates the structure of the business, revenue isn’t the only determinant.  Let me use a couple of my friends to illustrate.  Mike Pasley owns Central Packaging.  Danny O’Neill owns The Roasterie.  These businesses have a similar revenue, cost of goods sold and overhead structure.  Mike operates in the Owner-Operated structure and Danny operates in the Enterprise structure.  Mike has a high need for control and is committed to a methodical approach.  Danny lives at 30,000 feet and abhors operational details.

Both of these guys have profitable, growing businesses and from what I can tell, both guys are happy.  But if for some reason they had to switch places, they’d both be miserable.  It’s not about revenue or market share or profit – it’s about how they live their lives.

How big your business should be depends on how you want to live your life.  If you’re happy in the owner-operated structure, will you be as happy when growth forces you into the managed structure?  Can you accept the loss of control that inevitably comes with growth?  Is your life really going to be better if your business is bigger?