Jim’s Top Five Business Rules.
We all like lists. Here’s mine. The top five rules I use to run a business. Interestingly, they haven’t changed much in the last several years, though I’ve done drastically different things.
- The welcome consequence of consistency is the formation of trust. I wish I could say that was mine. It isn’t. It was a part of a business book I got as a gag gift about 15 years ago. The first sentence in the third paragraph of what was otherwise a completely unremarkable book. I’ve always loved that statement though. Consistency is about knowing who you are and what you’re about. It is never being too high or too low. It is always understanding the priorities and making every decision in the same way. Consistency may sound boring, but as a manager I’ve found that if I am consistent my team knows where I stand. They don’t have to ask me what to do. They know. That saves me time and builds their morale. It also helps us all get through the bigger challenges.
- If there is a choice between something being good and something being bad it’s going to be bad. Hope is a powerful motivator and I never want to rain on hope, but I always want to be prepared for that wicked left hand turn. Anticipating what is bad means I’m never surprised when that’s what happens. I have a plan. I’m acting on it. If it turns out to be good the exercise is still worthwhile. Knowing how you will deal with the worst builds confidence even when you experience the best.
- No one ever remembers what you said before you said “but.” I learned that in Dr. Mark Mallinger’s undergraduate organizational behavior class at Pepperdine in 1989. It changed the way I communicate. We have this terrible habit of always saying something good when we need to say something bad. “That’s a nice shirt, but you need to brush your teeth before you come to work.” It won’t take any time at all for you to come up with other examples. Here’s the thing. As Dr Mallinger taught me so well so many years ago, not only will no one remember what you said before you said, BUT, they will wonder if you meant it. Ever since then I’ve led with the worst. “Your performance sucks, how are you going to fix it?” Guess what? It works!
- The big picture matters more. It is so easy to get stuck in the tyranny of the urgent. The problem that is right in front of us always feels like our biggest priority. The larger the problem, the more it consumes us. Here’s the challenge. The most immediate problem is rarely the biggest one. When we spend all of our time focused on it the bigger issues continue to grow. Usually, the problem right in front of you is a distraction. Always take the time to look forward. Get your head up. Take stock of the surroundings. Figure out what the real priority might be and focus your attention on that.
- The only thing special about my position is that if something goes wrong it’s my fault. I read so many things about what people think about CEOs. Most of it is crap. My job is to make sure the people who work here understand their priorities. Then my job is to make sure it’s possible for them to achieve them. I serve them. Three years out of college I wrote an essay called, ‘Management from the Bottom of the Heap.” Even way back then I understood that the collegiate view of management, as the guy sitting on top of the pyramid, was upside down. We don’t sit on the top. We’re on the bottom, looking up, trying to anticipate what’s going to fall next and be there to catch it when it does. We’re there to clean up the mess. A failure in any area of the company is our (my) responsibility. I didn’t properly train, anticipate or prepare.
These rules apply no matter how big or small a business is. Perhaps they’ll work for yours.