First Who, Then What…

For anyone who has read Good to Great by Jim Collins, this will be a familiar refrain. Sometimes, I sing this phrase like a Shakespearean couplet. Why is this on my mind as I reflect on the value of the MBA program, you might ask? Well, the most common answer that I get when I meet a business owner is that their people are their most valuable asset. And guess what – they mislead. Perhaps not the nasty lie that comes from getting ones hand caught in the cookie jar, but a more subtle form of self deception.

If people are your most valuable asset, then why do the following questions get met with so little clarity.

1. Have you ever hired an employee that you later regretted the decision?
2. What specific process do you follow to make sure your people are the best available and an ideal fit for your company and the needs of the role that you will be asking them to play?
3. In accounting, an asset is found on the balance sheet, and an expense is found on the income statement. Business nurture their assets through maintenance and upkeep, for example. In what was do you upgrade your people assets to ensure that they deliver increasing value?

Some businesses figure this out. How do we know this? Quite simply by the experience we enjoy when frequenting their business because it is as pleasing as it is dependable. Have you ever wondered how they do it? As business owners, we fish from the same pond of candidates, yet a small, select group of companies find the best fish.

I started by writing on the topic of WHY, this is a topic of HOW. Small businesses have no margin for error in the decision to hire a new employee, yet have no defined process to make the best choices. Remember the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again hoping for a different result. The HOW in addressing this insanity can be found in the experiences of your MBA group/cohort. Who has time to spend getting better? Or better yet, who should invest time in getting better? Only the person who has no time because they have to make up for the deficiencies of their hiring process.

As a student of the Loyola MBA Program, you can see your business differently simply by investing your time to “sharpen the saw.” And that will be a topic for another post.

What do you see?

How many legs does this elephant have?

How many issues does your business face?

I was having a conversation with a client of mine the other day and he was visited by a friend who had a successful general contracting business for many years. Unfortunately, he recently closed his doors due to the rapidly declining business climate. “I never saw it coming” was his very sad commentary. Well it has been over three years since the global financial meltdown and the worst slowdown since the great depression. Should he and we have seen that coming? Hindsight is 20/20, right? A sad reality of many small to mid-size businesses is that the owner and their key leadership often fall victim to using the same solutions to new problems. Worse, their vision of their surroundings and business climate seem to be the same until massive shifts cause major impact.

A quick glance at the elephant and you might see 4 legs. A studied look might see as many as seven.

In the end, it might not be as important to see four or seven as it is to look carefully.

In my experience, one of the great benefits to the Loyola Executive MBA program was the lack of familiarity of our industry (insurance) and certainly our business. As our company became a case study for each class, I was forced to see the company through a different lens than the one we used internally. It was, at times, painful, but in retrospect, it was incredibly valuable. Asking the right questions begins with asking lots of questions. Knowing what questions to ask began with seeing things from a different perspective. For me, it was the eyes of 20+ highly successful business leaders from outside our industry. That is a difficult environment to replicate anywhere else.

WHAT IS YOUR WHY?

MY OPINION:  No one makes serious progress without a big WHY.

This is the first of what I hope to be a series of posts.  I was asked to focus my messages on why someone from a small, locally owned business would be willing to invest both the time and money in an executive education.  We will get to that, but first I had a few opening thoughts.

First, why me?   That might be the best question of all.  I believe I was asked to share my thoughts because my experience represents the best the program has to offer.  That is partly my doing yet largely the focus of the program.  I started the program as a second generation family member who had the responsibility of sustaining a successful business in this community.  My undergraduate degree was in accounting and finance and with many years to reflect, my education was largely useless as related the responsibilities that lay before me.  We are all driven by something.  Perhaps for some, it is fear – maybe a fear of failure or of success.  In my case, I was concerned that my skills and education were wanting relative to the challenges that I was facing.  A Chinese proverb suggests the following – shirt sleeve to shirt sleeve in three generations. (Mom & Dad start the business and grandson loses it)  I was the generation in the middle.  Was my legacy going to break the cycle or start the downward spiral?  For months, perhaps longer, a small voice inside of me was asking this question and I knew I did not have the best answers.

I will offer greater insight into our business as these posts continue, but for not, suffice it to say that our company is a customer accumulation business.  We had a 38 year history of success.  Almost continuous and sustained growth.  How would I  keep it going?  All businesses face the reality that competition increases, especially as rewards grow.  If you want to play in the NFL, you better have the talent, plus something more.  My WHY was to find that something more.  These posts are intended to speak to anyone who has an intuitive sense that there is something more out there and I might be able to help you find it – because I did – at Loyola University of Maryland. 

You must first decide if you are looking, and I mean really looking.