Off The Leash Reprise

By Chuck Violand

May 21, 2018

This sentence from your Monday Morning Note, “Off The Leash,” brought a lot home to me: “Letting go involves many of the soft skills that entrepreneurs are notorious for undervaluing; things like communication, openness, trust, and accountability.”

This past week, I spent time with one of our larger, more successful business owners. It seems that many of our other owners had noticed that this particular operation drives a lot of business, despite being located in a less-populated area of the country. “How does he do it?” they wanted to know.

I thought I’d speak directly with the source to find out the secret to his success. Guess what? The answers were not all that different from the four points in the sentence you wrote. And, after studying it further, I saw an acronym just sitting there: COAT.

Communication. This owner commits to spending at least 30 minutes a week with the various departments to ensure that everyone (including him) is aware of any pending issues and to make corrective action plans for things that come up. This helps the teams to understand the owner’s philosophy, and he gets key interaction with the team members.

Don’t be afraid to expose weaknesses that may pop up from time to time. Let people express their points of view. Remember that ideas flow both ways, so be open to them.

Accountability. The old Harry Truman mantra that “the buck stops here” is alive and well in this organization. They build and maintain plans that include “appropriate” accountabilities. I have seen a lot of businesses put in place metrics to track progress or measure outputs, but then never really check to see if they’re getting the results they want. Sometimes, I feel the belief is that if we are measuring something, the results need to be good. I have seen the broad stroked “you are accountable for profits” as probably the biggest offense. Well yes, everyone in an operation, theoretically, is accountable for profits in some way, but is that the best way to motivate a technician? Probably not. Accountabilities need to be specific and appropriate to the job, even though some owners and managers might have a tough time simplifying them to a level that is easy to understand and track. Remember to review accountabilities and adjust as needed. If missed, look for solutions, not blame.

Since your article was about parenting, let me relate accountability to that. As parents, my wife and I were accountable for how our kids behaved when they were small. We started with little things: sharing; saying “yes sir” or “no ma’am;” “please” and “thank you.” The accountability shifted over time from us to them as they learned right from wrong, good from bad, how to treat people with respect, how to politely drive a vehicle in heavy traffic, etc. Fortunately, most of our training stuck. Now we have a couple of “mini me’s” doing the same with their own kids.

Trust. This is something earned by treating others with respect and dignity. The owner’s turnover is low, despite being in an area where unemployment runs well below the national average. He has set goals for his company to be highly customer-focused and a preferred provider, along with a preferred employer. He shows his people that he cares about them. He takes time to explain why some things must be done a certain way, not just “because I said so.” These things have resulted in long-term employees with little turnover.

As a business owner, you can throw the COAT to the ground, or wear the COAT proudly. You can either take these suggestions and try to fit them into your business, or you can continue to make excuses for the lack of success on some sort of nebulous factors. Wearing the COAT proudly is one way to help a business grow.