Charting the Course

“Controlling your direction is better than being controlled by it.” Jack Welch

An entrepreneurs’ journey is riddled with potholes and unexpected events at every turn. Controlling your direction is not as easy as charting a plan and then sticking to it irrespective of what happens along the path. However, having a clear idea about the direction you are going in and why, is mandatory.

It is critical on this path that the entrepreneur is adept and adaptable enough to be able to maneuver the direction of this ship. The word “pivot”  is fast becoming a word with over usage in startups. Many of them seem to be controlled by events, the reason for this is, I believe, that they are not certain about why they are on the journey in the first place.

There are two factors entrepreneurs need to be aware of, understand and have down pat before they head out on this journey:

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Culture & Performance

A recent article in Fortune by Jack and Suzy Welch in which they say:

“Soft culture matters as much as hard numbers. And if your company’s culture is to mean anything, you have to hang — publicly — those in your midst who would destroy it. It’s a grim image, we know. But the fact is, creating a healthy, high-integrity organizational culture is not puppies and rainbows. And yet, for some reason, too many leaders think a company’s values can be relegated to a five-minute conversation between HR and a new employee. Or they think culture is about picking which words — do we “honor” our customers or “respect” them? — to engrave on a plaque in the lobby. What nonsense.

“An organization’s culture is not about words at all. It’s about behavior — and consequences. It’s about every single individual who manages people knowing that his or her key role is that of chief values officer, with Sarbanes-Oxley-like enforcement powers to match. It’s about knowing that at every performance review, employees are evaluated for both their numbers and their values.”

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Performance Optimization

Great leaders have an inherent ability to distill complexity into simplicity. A great story which reflects this talent is attributed to steel magnate Charles M. Schwab. One day one of his floor managers came to him complaining about varied schemes he had attempted in order to increase the average output per shift, without any luck. After having listened to his strategies Mr. Schwab simply asked him one question “How many heats has the day shift completed?”. When he got “6” as the answer he simply took a piece of chalk and wrote a big “6” on the entrance door!

When the night shift workers came in and enquired about the significance of the number “6”, they were told that the boss had enquired about the output of the earlier shift and had written that on the wall. That night, the night shift beat the day shift and demonstrated this by erasing the number “6” and writing “7” there instead. Over the next couple of weeks output from each shift surged.

Stimulating competition has a powerful effect in getting individuals to push themselves harder. To get optimal results, it is important that performance tracking is not only tracked on an individual basis, but also done in relative terms to others in the group. By using relative performance gauges we are able to push ourselves further or then simply acknowledge another’s edge by bowing out when we think we are out of a given league.