Monday Morning Notes

December 13, 2021
Complacency The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word complacency as self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies. They must have had business owners in mind when they wrote that. After the long run of good fortune that many small businesses have enjoyed, I continue to warn against falling victim to our own success by becoming complacent. The enemy of success in business isn’t failure, it’s COMPLACENCY. It’s when we get soft or lose our drive or competitive edge that we get into trouble. It seems the more successful we become, the more guarded we need to be about becoming complacent. To make matters worse, complacency rarely announces itself. Instead, it very subtly inserts itself when we’re not paying attention. And one of the most troubling forms of it is the complacency of thought. We stop challenging ourselves to think differently, to explore the personal and professional weaknesses that make us uncomfortable, to look for blind spots, or to question our assumptions about our success. Complacency with our success or with the status quo can easily lead to three other conditions that can set a company on the path to stalling: lack of innovation, lack of market
November 29, 2021
CON ARTISTS When thinking of the term con artist, famous ones probably come to mind, like Bernie Madoff, the American financier who bilked billions of dollars from unsuspecting investors in the late 90s and early 2000s. Or Frank Abagnale, the check forger and scamb artist made famous in the 2002 movie Catch Me if You Can. But con artists aren’t a recent phenomena; they go back centuries. In the early 1900s there was Victor Lustig from Austria-Hungary who sold the Eiffel Tower−twice! Or the Italian swindler from the 1920s whose greatest claim to fame isn’t the money he stole from trusting investors or the headlines he made when he was caught. Rather it’s that history has immortalized him by lending his name to the entire genre of cons that made him famous—the Ponzi scheme, named after Charles Ponzi. Even men of the cloth aren’t exempt from the temptation of conning trusting souls, as is evidenced by televangelist Jim Bakker who spent nearly five years in federal prison for his misdeeds. But there’s a type of con that doesn’t get much attention, probably because it’s so commonplace and doesn’t involve violence, politics, or crime. It’s the con game many of us
November 15, 2021
SEAT 24-B One of the real beauties of having earbuds or earphones on an airplane is that they help you avoid tiresome conversations with people who seem to use talking to alleviate their anxiety about flying. They must think that as long as they’re talking to the person next to them, the pilot’s going to do a better job flying the plane. I’m sure there’s research somewhere either confirming or disproving this theory, but I haven’t seen it. On a recent flight, I was occupying seat 24-A, the window seat in my row. When jocular Greg sat down in 24-C, the aisle seat, and immediately struck up a conversation, I reflexively reached for my earbuds. Greg seemed like a nice enough guy, but this was a two-and-a-half-hour flight, I was tired from presenting most of that day, had work I still needed to get done, and the passengers hadn’t even finished boarding yet! As it turned out, the earbuds weren’t what saved me. It was Keshab, a 22-year-old, impossibly thin, Nepalis man in middle seat 24-B who saved the day. As Keshab wedged his ceremonially gowned self between us, Greg instantly shifted his conversation from me to him. I wasted
November 1, 2021
JOE BAGADONUTS My brother-in-law Larry is a college professor who teaches aspiring nursing students. Having spent most of his career as a floor nurse and then nursing supervisor at a local hospital, he knows a thing or two about a critical part of nursing—understanding your patients. Larry was telling me about one of the techniques he uses to help his students better understand the concerns of the patient from their perspective, and I thought it had a direct application to many of us in business. Some time ago, Larry created a character he calls Joe Bagadonuts. Joe’s a simple guy who doesn’t always understand the terms or science behind his medical treatments. It’s easy for him to feel frightened and confused by medical professionals who use big words, theories, and data to describe the procedures or outcomes he can expect. He sometimes feels like an outsider in a foreign country where everyone speaks a different language. Joe may not understand that language, but he does understand compassion. When he takes on Joe’s persona, Larry asks his students simple questions that he knows their patients will want to ask but might not feel comfortable asking. “How will this procedure affect the
October 20, 2021
CHIEF “NO” OFFICER, Part II The concept of knowing when to say no to a new idea reminds me of an experience I had years ago when working with a client to draft their business plan. I was meeting with the senior management team when the sales manager blurted out, “Let’s just double sales next year and stop messing around with incremental growth.” The startled look on the faces of the owner and other managers conveyed their concern. The operations manager didn’t think he could hire, equip, and train people fast enough. The accountant was wondering where the bucket of money was hiding that would fund all that growth. And the HR person just shook her head. Fortunately, the owner served as his own Chief No Officer, bringing his level thinking to the discussion. A considerably more measured growth strategy was agreed on by all, but the lesson was learned. Any suggestion or decision, regardless of size, should be tested against the company’s current strategy, capacity, and alignment. Strategy.  A basic Google search defines business strategy as “an outline of the actions and decisions a company plans to take to reach its goals and objectives. A business strategy defines what the
October 4, 2021
CHIEF “NO” OFFICER, Part I This is the time of year when many businesses begin to take stock of the things they’ve accomplished over the past year and turn their attention to the things they want to accomplish in the coming year. At VMA we see this firsthand as we help companies prepare for attending one of our annual Business Planning Retreats. One of the things we notice is that regardless of how a company performed in the previous year, whether it fell short of expectations or wildly exceeded plans, the owner usually comes up with a very ambitious list of things they want to still do before the current year expires or to accomplish in the approaching year. As with so many other facets of business, this “goal enthusiasm” can be a double-edged sword. Naturally, one of the objectives of most businesses is to grow. This is good, but along with that growth inevitably comes additional tasks, projects, and to-do items that someone in the organization is responsible to complete; something they didn’t already have on their list. In our quest for growth, too often we overlook the demands these additional burdens place on our people and other resources.
September 20, 2021
38-YEAR-OLD ROOKIE MISTAKE Every now and then I’m handed a gift regarding a topic for a Monday Morning Note. This time it arrived in the form of an unfortunate experience with a local contractor; an experience I’m sure many of you have had yourselves. It serves as a powerful lesson for any business that’s been enjoying a long winning streak. My wife and I recently spent a beautiful late-summer weekend removing planks from our deck and paneling from our family room to prepare for a contractor who was expected to start work “bright and early” Monday morning. This project was originally scheduled for October, but a phone call from the contractor on Friday asking if they could start Monday prompted me to say yes. Preparing for their arrival would disrupt our weekend plans, but we were happy to oblige them in anticipation of assuring the project would be done before the snow flies. The contractor didn’t arrive bright and early or even bright and late, nor did we receive a phone call explaining the delay. Eventually I called the company to see how soon I could expect someone. “Sorry” was the response. The employee supposed to perform the work had
September 6, 2021
DISTANCE RUNNING As hard as it may be to believe, there was a time in my life when this body looked like a chiseled block of granite! Obviously that time is not right now, but in my younger years, I ran distance both in high school and in college. I learned a lot of lessons about life and business running long distances, whether it was on a team or as an individual. One of the first lessons I learned was that I couldn’t blame the outcome of my race on anyone other than myself. I was the only one responsible for always doing my best. If I didn’t perform as well as I should, it was all on me. Even today, I vividly remember being repeatedly taught that lesson by my college track coach … at the top of his lungs as he stood about six inches from my face! I can assure you, he was not practicing social distancing or kumbaya coaching as he gave me my lesson. At one time or another most of us learn the same lesson in business, although hopefully not by having someone shouting at us. Our customers let us know we’re not performing
August 9, 2021
Transitions, Part IV
TRANSITIONS, Part IV There is no more frightening time for a CEO than when it’s time to transition out of the business they’ve spent so much of their life building. It’s more frightening than the launch phase where changes can happen quickly, every decision seems like a life-or-death choice for the company, and where cash is always in short supply. It’s greater than during the growth years where the company’s and its leader’s growth move in lockstep and the focus shifts to attracting, keeping, and trusting competent people to help grow the business, essentially moving from one size boat to another. Most business owners understand the physical aspects of selling their business. Somebody writes a check, and somebody receives one. One day they’re shouldering the responsibilities of their company and the next day they’re not. But too often former owners overlook the emotional elements of selling their company and the transition they’ll experience as they leave one phase of their career and settle into a new one. If the intent is to set up the company for an outright sale, then ensuring its health and navigating the changes and transitions that are necessary to do so go a long way