A Word to the Wise and Anyone Else Who Might Be Listening

Lecture for business people

I just had my 40th high school reunion and recently the 28th anniversary of starting my business.  These numbers are sounding really big.

At my reunion, I heard people talking about being grandparents.  I immediately reached out to my children to “check in.”  While I may be ready to be a grandma, I’m not ready to be called “Grandma.”

Meeting young(er) entrepreneurs and watching them start their businesses makes me reminisce.  (Sidetrack…for those who know me well, reminiscing is unusual because I have a terrible memory.)

Therefore, I have words of wisdom (28 years of it) that I thought may be relevant to those that are just starting out.

Do what you like….The money will come.  I am a big believer in this one.  I think that if you enjoy what you are doing, it is easier to get passionate about it.  Passion is usually one of the key ingredients in helping me run my business.  If I didn’t believe in what we do and our results, I wouldn’t have been able to maneuver through the many ups and downs of my business.

Find your passion  motivation phrase handwriting on label with

Don’t listen to naysayers.   I can’t tell you how often in the 28 years of my business that I have been told that I should change my model or that “I’ll never succeed”.  Yet, I live by my favorite movie line, “I triple dog dare you.”  I’m very competitive so if someone has told me that what I’m doing won’t work, I translate that into a triple dog dare you moment.  I dig my feet in deep and take whatever action I believe is needed to “prove them wrong.”  Some may say that’s “demented.”  Could be, but it has worked for me ever since I started this business.  I believe in it in and will do what I need to succeed.  We are a multimillion dollar business.  Just remember that sometimes people find judging others easier than doing it themselves.

Don’t start unless you have the passion for it.  See #1.

Define what you are willing to give up before you are forced to give it up.   I wrote a blog awhile back about changing the phrase “having it all” to “having your all.” I knew this was important enough for me to start my own business but I had just had my first child and wanted to be around while the kids were small.  So I created a work model that would give me what I wanted…setting the infrastructure for a new consulting firm  while being the room parent for my children’s class (as many years as I didn’t have to duke it out with another Mom).  Balancing was tough.  My kids were little and my company was beginning to grow from a single contributor to a growing staff.    I couldn’t “have it all,” so I prioritized.  I made sure that my mental list of what I wanted was prioritized, and that those priorities were met…first and foremost.   I chose to have someone come in the home to watch my children even though there were times that my income went straight to the nanny. I don’t regret it.  Those things that were not prioritized were delegated. Success by my book!

Children absorb as much from your example as they do from your words.  At the time that I started my business and had my first child, I lived in a bedroom community.  At that time, there were few women in my neighborhood that worked, let alone owned a business.  I had no role models and no one in my family had worked in business.  I had to learn on my own.  This took tons of trial and error and the entire time I was trying, I felt guilt.  And here’s what all that guilt produced.  I have two daughters that are smart, independent young women with (and working on) secondary college degrees.  Whether I believed it at the time or not, I was their role model. The only thing that I wanted for both of them was to be happy in what they do and to be self-reliant.

Note: This is important for any parent that might wonder if they will screw up their kids if they go back to work.  There is no guarantee in life but showing them that there are options for them in life is a viable model.  That was one of my highest prioritized items.

Busy mom.

Many will tell you better ways to do something.  You are the only one dealing with the consequences of your actions.  Earlier in my career, I was so unsure of myself that I consistently told anyone that would listen about my current situation.  I wanted their advice or some kind of confirmation that I made the right choice.  I’ve learned through my many years in business that everyone will be free with an opinion if you give them the opportunity.  Some opinions may even be worth your consideration….trusted advisors, mentors, family.  What I often have to remind myself is that in the end, I am the only one that has to live with the consequences of my decision.  So if you end up taking only one piece of advice away from this article, it’s don’t listen to anyone’s advice in the end (this blog being the exception).  You can gather up any opinions you need to make a decision but remember that you are the only one that has to live with the result of that decision.

In the end, listen to your own voice.  It is the only one that matters.

Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire – Laura Dribin

Give a man a fire and he’s warm for the day. But set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life. Terry Pratchett

Everyone wants to be a hero.  Children dream of joining the fire department to fight fires or police department to save a life.  We love heroes.  We give them awards, we sing their praises. 

Even when a business runs into problems, they look for some employee(s) to be heroic and save the day.  And often this is how large strategic initiatives are pulled out of the flames.  In fact, some companies are always in firefighting mode using their heroic employee(s) to “fix” the fires. 

Superhero Business Woman with tablet

Fighting fires is no way to run a business.  Putting out a fire is way more expensive than implementing safe consistent practices that utilize fire alarms and fire extinguishers to minimize risk.  Putting out fires is tremendously disruptive and the after affects can linger long after the fire is extinguished. 

Let’s use a scenario.  You have a wood burning fireplace in your house.  There is no covering over your fireplace to keep the cinders contained. One cold night, you decide to enjoy the warm, cozy fire, but you leave your house to grab some brandy for a hot toddy. While you are out, the cinders spread, start a fire and burn down your house.  Fire fighters come and put out the fire. There is quite a bit of damage.  No worries, your insurance help you to rebuild.  So you build a new house with a new wood burning fireplace. Do you use a cover to protect your house?  What about fire extinguishers or smoke alarms or escape plans for your family?  Or do you rely on your heroes, home insurance and fire department, to mitigate all risks?  It doesn’t make sense, right? So what sense does it make for a business to consistently rely on heroes to save the day?

I looked up the job description for a fire fighter and what I found was extremely interesting.  Out of 10 task descriptions, only 1 actually forces them into extinguishing a fire.  The remaining nine descriptions involve best practices, governance, continuing improvements and education.  http://hiring.monster.com/hr/hr-best-practices/recruiting-hiring-advice/job-descriptions/firefighter-job-description.aspx  

Firefighter and Lieutenant helmets

So why do so many companies rely on heroes to fix their problems? I know that every now and then, there is a fire in a company that needs everyone to scramble and may need that hero to successfully complete that task. But too many businesses make this the norm.  I believe that heroes become a crutch for businesses and a symptom of an organization in a reactive mode (of firefighting) rather than a proactive mode of driving the company’s direction. 

As I speak with my clients and potential clients, I am no longer surprised when someone conveys to me that their best project manager is hero-like.  I am often pointed to the heroes that seem to excel at getting the job done right.  The project they are running has a big issue that may result in the project failing and the “heroic” project manager ends up pulling the project out of the burning building. 

I am not a believer in heroes in business.  Too often I find that the “hero” might have saved the project from failure but what isn’t addressed is that they also may have caused the fire in the first place.  Leadership sees that the hero knocked down walls and moved mountains to fix the problem and saved the day.  Yet, at the time that the hero is saving the day, no one is realizing that if the hero had worked through their preventative process (better planning process and methodology), the problem might not have occurred.  (Remember, fire fighters have 9 process improvement tasks and only one firefighting task.)  When heroes are fighting fires, often someone will get burned.  Long hours, stressful periods of time, finger pointing….

One of the largest programs that I ever worked on earlier in my career was an eye opener.  The program was huge and budgeted at $100 million.  We worked hard to properly plan and then proceeded to a risk management plan.  We came up with contingency plans for the risks that seemed most likely.  We even put cut-over dates in our plans for the contingency plans.  Fast forward, this huge complicated program had some smoke alarms going off but any major fire was prevented by switching directly to the contingency plan with little fanfare.  If something happened, we already had worked through how we would deal with it.  (This versus the hero mode of something happening and then all hands on deck to try and figure out how to address it while the fire was burning.  )   In the end, one of the key stakeholders said that this program was so easy.  They didn’t see why they needed a program manager.  This effort was non heroic in their eyes because fire prevention is less visible than firefighting.

A well run organization should not be in a constant need for heroic actions.  It should be striving for a process that minimizes the need for heroes.  Consistency in how a company delivers.  Governance, process, thoughtful strategic execution.

So long story short, I challenge all C-Level executives out there to make a resolution for 2017 that you will focus more on creating best practices around how you deliver value.  You may be surprised as to your value proposition at the end of the year. Think of your business mascot as Smokey the Bear and remember, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!”

Better a thousand times careful than once dead.   Proverb

 

 

Welcome

After frequent humiliation from my colleagues’ statements that I’m not hip enough because I don’t blog, tweet or participate (much) on social networking sites, I’ve decided to create a blog. On this page I will be sharing my perspective on everyday events, both work and personal; the lessons I learn from my observations; and how at times, those work and personal observations go hand in hand. This page will be a mash up — please note my appropriate and hip use of this term — of Seinfeld, CNN News and Dilbert. I think that I can be funny and make people laugh with me (or at me for that matter) … but you be the judge.

On second thought, don’t be the judge and let me think I’m funny. I look forward to and welcome your comments, feedback and suggestions. I may not be hip but at least I’ll have a blog. Welcome to my corner.

Laura

Cartoon © John Atkinson, Wrong Hands. Used by permission. (Thank you, John!)

Cartoon © John Atkinson, Wrong Hands. Used by permission. (Thank you, John!)