5 Reasons CEOS Wait Too Long to Address Problems

The worst cases in my career in the turnaround industry are when I work with businesses that could have been saved. If only we had been called in earlier. Those are the ones that really bother me, because these business failures didn’t have to happen. Had we been brought in earlier, we could have determined where the problems were and had many more options to fix them.

But often we are like firefighters who are called in after a home is in ashes, rather than at the first sign of smoke. Then all we can do is sift through the ashes.

Sometimes the best we can do is to get the most for a business in bankruptcy or through a fire sale, pun intended. And I always think, “If only they had called us earlier.”

The saying we have is “If the alligators are snapping, it’s too late to drain the swamp.” You have to pay attention when things are going wrong and fix them early on, before they become larger problems later, possibly even insurmountable.

If you catch a problem early, you have options. You can drain the swamp. But if you wait too late and the alligators have moved in, well, now you have to face them head on. Those alligators aren’t going to just relocate and find food elsewhere.

So why do CEOs and business owners wait until it’s too late to ask for help? Here are five reasons:

  1. Hoping the situation will change

Your sales manager isn’t meeting his quota and he is experiencing a lot of turnover in his department. He keeps promising he’ll hire more sales reps and “we’ll exceed our quota next month!” But he doesn’t and the competition is taking over your accounts. He should have been fired or refocused and now your competition is taking your accounts.

  1. Thinking you can fix it yourself

When I get time, I can focus on the problems in our accounting system, you think. It’s not working correctly and you aren’t getting the financial information you need to make the best decisions for your company. If you could only take a day to focus on where the problem is and what you need to do to solve it. Every day comes and goes, each with its own set of priorities, and you never do get around to focusing on the issues with accounting. And your business is suffering.

  1. Not wanting to admit mistakes

Sometimes with big jobs comes big egos. And an unwillingness to admit that you’ve made a mistake. Larry, the CEO of seminar company, hated change and would not admit to mistakes. He firmly believed that people were more likely to respond to the hundreds of thousands of mailings he sent if they were posted from their home states. So he had trucks driving hundreds of miles so mailings would carry a local postmark, to the cost of around $400,000 a year.

Fortunately, I was called into this company in time, and despite the fact their EBITDA was -$4 million, I was able to pull off a successful turnaround.

  1. Reluctance to ask for help

Some people see it as a sign of weakness to ask for help. As reported in the article “Why is Asking for Help So Difficult” in the New York Time, “There is a tendency to act as if it’s a deficiency,” said Garret Keizer, author of ‘Help: The Original Human Dilemma.’ “That is exacerbated if a business environment is highly competitive within as well as without. There is an understandable fear that if you let your guard down, you’ll get hurt, or that this information you don’t know how to do will be used against you.”

  1. Denial of the problems

It’s the head-in-the-sand tendency. “Calvin and Hobbes” creator Bill Watterson said, “It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept.”

The sooner you accept your reality, the quicker you can get help. You don’t want to come face to face with those alligators.

5 Business Lessons from Olympic Athletes

Earlier this week Bill Murray tweeted “Every Olympic event should include one average person competing for reference.” It’s true – when those divers leap off the diving board, gymnasts fly through the air or rowers zip through the water, they make it look almost effortless.

If you take a closer look or read their stories you’ll see how much work, sacrifice and mental energy went to achieving that level of success. Although we may never compete in the Olympics ourselves, here are a few lessons we can learn from these top athletes.

  1. You have to set goals and be focused on them.

No one achieves a high level of success without setting a lot of goals for themselves, both short-term and long-term. That’s how seven-time gymnastics Olympic gold medalist Shannon Miller claimed she reached her ultimate goal of competing in the Olympics. “It’s great to have the ultimate goal, but regardless of what that long-term goal is, you have to set short-term goals. Think about what you can do each and every day to make that long-range goal happen.

As Usain Bolt, three-time Olympic gold medalist and fastest person ever said, “Dreams are free. Goals have a cost. Time, effort, sacrifice, and sweat. How will you pay for your goals?”

  1. You have to surround yourself with people who make you better.

Top athletes are smart enough to hire the best coaches. Look at the women gymnasts. They nicknamed themselves the “Final Five” in tribute to their coach, Martha Karolyi. She and her husband have been training gymnasts for five decades on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, Texas.

As I mention in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” I hire people who are smarter than me. Many business people like to think they know it all. No one does. When you need help, reach out to others to provide that help.

  1. You always have to be on the lookout for competition.

No matter how successful you are or how unique your product may be, you will face competition. Failure to take competition into account can be disastrous. In my book I talk about what happened with Q-Zar, initially a huge success in the laser tag field. But the company didn’t pay attention to the competition that came in the form of big-box stores selling laser tag sets for home use. That failure, coupled with massive fraud in the company, led to its demise.

You don’t have to wait for competition to come to you. The late Norwegian marathon runner Grete Waitz said, “You’ve got to look for tough competition. You’ve got to want to beat the best.”

  1. You have to persevere when the unexpected occurs.

It was heartbreaking to see Annemiek van Vlueten, the woman cyclist from the Netherlands, who was minutes away from winning a gold medal, crash on the wet pavement, and rather than taking her place on the podium, wound up in the hospital.

You’ve worked hard for years, your business is doing well, then bang. Something unexpected and unpredictable happens to derail you. You uncover massive fraud in your company. Or as happened with one of my clients, your biggest client asks to revamp your manufacturing capabilities. You spend millions to do so, then one day, the client cancels the order.

What do you do? You keep going. Olympic track athlete Brenda Martinez knows how to keep going. During the Olympic trials for her best event, a runner behind her tripped and knocked into her, throwing her off and killing her chances of getting an Olympic slot in that event. She just focused on her next event, and came in third, securing that coveted spot on the team. “The track doesn’t care about your feelings,” she said. “You’ve just got to move forward.”

  1. You have to keep your cool under pressure.

It’s hard to imagine the level of pressure these athletes feel. Many of them are just teenagers, but are carrying the weight of the expectations of their families, teammates and their entire countries as they perform superhuman feats. They have all found a way to deal with it. Gymnast Gabby Douglas said, “For the most part, I’m kind of used to it, because it has been a part of me for my whole life. I’m trained to deal under those circumstances—at the gym we do pressure sets.”

CEOs and business owners have to learn to deal with and perform under extreme pressure as well. As Mike Myatt wrote in “6 Ways to Conquer Leadership Pressure,” “How leaders deal with pressure is often the difference between catapulting an organization towards success, and contributing to its demise.”

3 Reasons You Want Employees to Take Vacation

In France, taking days off is considered a national birthright. The standard for an average worker is 30 days paid leave a year. One company, the utility EDF, has a policy that if you work more than 35 hours a week, you get an additional 23 days off every year. That’s on top of the company’s standard 27 days. Yes, that means 50 days of vacation a year – 10 weeks.

Pretty much the entire country takes two to three weeks off in July or August. In fact, the French people are divided into two camps and they even have names for them: Those who vacation in July are called Juillettists and those who chose August are called Aoûtiens.

In case you are wondering, yes, there is a massive traffic jam every year around the last weekend in July when the Juillettists are returning home as the Aoûtiens are just setting out. There’s even a name for that too: it’s known as the chassé-croisé. So here’s your warning: don’t try to travel on the highways in France that weekend.

We do take vacation in the U.S. although the average worker gets just 15 days a year. And even with that amount, some people have to be forced out of the office. But CEOs and business owners would be wise to make people take time off. Here are three reasons why:

  1. It’s better for their health
  2. It makes employees more productive
  3. It can give you a chance to detect fraud

For more on the topic, please refer to “Why You Want Your Employees to Take Vacation.”

4 Ways to Attract Millennials to Your Company

 

Today I am happy to introduce a guest blogger. Chris Butsch is a Millennial Happiness Expert, speaker and the author of the upcoming book The Millennials Guide to Making Happiness.

Millennials now outnumber Gen Xers and Boomers in the workplace, and with the improving economy, they have unprecedented choosiness in who they’d like to work for. And make no mistake, Millennials like to shop around. The average job tenure in 2014 was around 4.5 years, the lowest since the 1970s. For Millennials, it’s less than half that. And as the Boomers and Xers retire, a company’s survival will depend on its ability to attract America’s next working generation.

While interviewing dozens of young professionals for my upcoming book The Millennial’s Guide to Making Happiness, I took the time to understand why they love their current employers, or what they’re looking for in their next venture. What’s the #1 most-desired perk? What are the red flags? Around 65 percent of employers report struggling to hire and retain Millennial talent, so here are 4 ways to join the 35 percent.

1)   Have a Clear Purpose and Mission Statement

As children of the digital age, we Millennials are obsessed with Impression Management. Our jobs become part of our identity, so we’re naturally attracted to companies with missions we can get behind. Ninety-five percent of us say a company’s reputation matters strongly to us, so it’s unlikely we’ll work for a company whose Google search reveals images of Communism on the first page, like Comcast.

Having a clear, concise mission statement not only helps Millennials understand your company’s goals, it gets us excited to help you. Ensure your mission statement is broadcasted everywhere, not just your website. Which brings us to tip #2.

2)   Know Where Millennials Are Looking Online, and Be There

While Millennials spend less time researching each employer (12.4 hours compared to the 25.9 older generations spend), we tend to look in more places and for different things. Most companies have online information ready for the scrutinizing Boomer (i.e. health plan and 401k), but few are truly prepared for the investigative Millennial.

We’ll go to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see if you’re there, and if you are, what kind of content you post. These platforms are a way for companies to show off their work culture, and companies who post a couple of times a week content like updates, employee praise, or helpful articles, win Millennials. For good accounts to model after, visit the Facebook pages of The Nashville Entrepreneur Center and Carvana.

Millennials will also see what former employees are saying about you, and our forum of choice is Glassdoor. We make up just over a third of the workforce, yet account for nearly half of Glassdoor’s traffic. We’re reading and writing thousands of reviews for each other, and Millennials considering one company as an employer are sure to come across this one:

Good reviews on Glassdoor are crucial to recruiting Millennials.

Good reviews on Glassdoor are crucial to recruiting Millennials.

When I interviewed for my first job at Epic Health Systems as a Project Manager, I felt nervous about the alarming number of Glassdoor reviews citing poor work-life balance. I actually printed some off and showed them to my interviewers to ask their honest opinions, which they graciously offered. I got the job, but had Epic scored lower than a 2.5 on Glassdoor, I honestly wouldn’t have flown up for the interview.

If your company has no Glassdoor reviews, consider reaching out to former employers who are likely to leave you positive words.

3)   Update Your Technology

Millennials live on the cutting edge, constantly optimizing our lives with apps, trackers and gadgets. We’re the most likely to order an Uber on a SmartWatch and get excited when a wall socket has a USB outlet.

“Millennials don’t think of technology as an extra,” writes Art Papas in Forbes. “They expect to be able to use it in all aspects of their lives.” As such, we love employers who also keep up. Productivity software, the latest Microsoft Office, and fast internet beckon tech-savvy Millennials, while aging beige monitors and fax machines make us question the company’s forward momentum. But above all, Millennials love laptops at work because they often come paired with another item on our workplace wish-list: flexibility.

4)   Pay in Dollars and Freedom

On average, Millennials get married seven years later than our parents did in the ‘70s. We place huge value on international travel, and are the least likely to own a car or a house. Surely part of our changing mindset is due to our tepid economic predicament, but mostly we wait to “settle down” because we value our freedom.

According to Fast Company, Millennials place more emphasis on work-life balance than other working generations, and Bentley University found that 77 percent of Millennials believe flexible work schedules boost our productivity. We’re not asking to work less; rather, we just want to get more done in the same time or the same done in less time.

And according to Ellen Ernst Kossek, author of CEO of Me: Creating a Life that Works in the Flexible Job Age, we might be right. “Research shows that employees are healthier, experience less stress, and are more productive and engaged when they effectively make choices about how, where and when they work.” Which explains why more Millennials look at the 9-to-5 and ask: why?

As for vacation, my friend from Switzerland once asked me, “How much vacation do you have?” When I told her 10 days, she balked. “Only 10 days left? Wow, where all have you been traveling this year?” Thanks to globalization, more and more Millennials are picking up on our country’s deplorable standards for time off. And since we highly value freedom and travel, we’ll work hard for companies with forward-thinking strategies.

Virgin, Best Buy, and Netflix offer unlimited vacation time, while startup powerhouse Evernote offers a bonus to employees who take at least an entire week off. While these policies sacrifice in-office time, they boost retention and employee happiness, creating a clear return on investment.  Research shows that prolonged work-a-thons atrophy our productivity and ability to cope with stress, so Millennials especially are more likely to burn out of jobs that don’t provide adequate time off.

Plus, affording your employees more vacation time and flexible work hours creates a quieter office, so you’ll kill two birds with one stone.

Want People to Work for You? Make Them Feel Heard

They have 14,000 employees. And more clamoring to come on board.

Under Armour was recently included on LinkedIn’s U.S. list of Top Attractors, the top 40 companies at attracting and keeping the best employees. In an article referencing the inclusion, “To Thrive at Under Armour, You Have to Answer Kevin Plank’s Three Questions,” I found out one of the reasons why more people want to join the ranks at the sports clothing and accessories company with close to $4 billion in revenue.

The three questions management is encouraged to ask after every meeting or conversation are:

  • This is what I heard
  • This is what I think
  • This is what we are going to do

The goal of the questions, Kevin said, is to make sure you heard and understood what people said. With this method you don’t waste time on miscommunication, you facilitate buy-in and people feel their ideas have been heard, a huge factor in employee morale and retention.

My favorite method for clear communication is the whiteboard. I’m a huge fan of the whiteboard, even writing a whole chapter on its use in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes.”

For more reasons I love the whiteboard, please read my post “The Value of the Low-Tech Whiteboard in a High-Tech World.” Good luck with your new and improved communication.

 

Qualities of Millennials and How to Work with Them, Part Two

This is the second of a two-part series on working with millennials. The first post introduced three qualities of millennials in the workplace. Part two will examine how to embrace these qualities and use them to retain quality employees and contribute to the success of your company.

Building a motivated, dedicated workforce. That’s one of the most critical components to the success of your business, as I mentioned in part one. As Principal of GlassRatner in our restructuring and bankruptcy practice, I see so many instances where a company may have many of the basics covered, like having a good product and effective distribution channels, but are struggling due to a high rate of turnover and the lack of a productive workforce.

Qualities of millennials include being tech savvy, not being motivated only by money and being used to working in teams to find creative solutions. Here are some ways to embrace these qualities to enhance the success of your business and retain those employees:

1. Leverage their knowledge of tech by instituting a form of reverse mentoring.

While older generations may have decades of knowledge in their field, millennials tend to keep up more with social media and changes in technology. They are the first generation to grow up immersed in tech. So ask their advice, give them a seat at the table if you’re discussing how to incorporate social media into building your brand. They will feel appreciated and valued, and your business will benefit.

The Wall Street Journal article “Mentor Your Boss” mentions a website founder who made a 21-year-old intern their expert for social media. Stacy DeBroff said, “There are so many changes and so many technologies coming alive, and twentysomethings, who have ‘grown up’ using social-media sites, tend to find solutions quickly.”

2. Make their work feel meaningful.

More than once I’ve had employees leave, either with no other job or with one that paid significantly less. And it’s not just happening to me.

A 2012 survey showed 56 percent of millennials would take a pay cut to to work somewhere that is changing the world for the better. Think about that for a second. More than half your workers may leave, for less money, if they felt they’d found a more meaningful place to work. And 91% say that a company’s social impact efforts are important when they are considering which companies to work for, according to the article “Study: Millennials’ Work Ethic Is In The Eye Of The Beholder.”

So take a look at your business. How is it helping people and helping the world? Focus on that narrative about your business and share it. Make your millennial workers feel proud to work for your business because they are working to make the world a better place.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal in “Helping Bosses Decode Millennials—for $20,000 an Hour,” the consultant Lisa McLeod helps companies “set a ‘noble purpose’ to strengthen young employees’ connection to their work.” And share stories of how your company benefits the world with stories rather than statistics, as they find those more compelling.

chart13. Incorporate more brainstorming and teamwork into your business.

In a 2013 survey conducted by IdeaPaint on millennial workplace trends, millennials were asked to complete the statement, “My favorite place to generate big ideas is ….” More than 86 percent responded by saying either collaborating with a small group of colleagues (2-3) or brainstorming with a large group of people.

Millennials feed off the energy of others in the workplace. Give them the opportunity to work collaboratively by forming teams and holding brainstorming meetings during which they are encouraged to share their ideas and they feel their opinions are valued. Create collaborative working spaces.

Making changes in your workplace to embrace the differences that millennials bring will pay off. As this article in Fortune, “How tech-savvy millennials humanize your workplace” pointed out, “The so-called “millennial” has become more than a demographic age group; it is a mindset. A way of looking at the world and, regardless of age, declaring, ‘there has to be a better way.’”

You want that mindset working for you and your business.

Tips for Hiring from Top CEOs

Hiring the right people. We all know how important it is for CEOs and business owners to build the right team. One of the questions I enjoy the most from the “Corner Office” column in the Sunday New York Times is “What qualities do you look for in new hires?” I learn a lot about that business leader and that business from that one question.

A few weeks ago, Amy Pressman, the Co-Founder and President of Medallia, a provider of customer service technology was featured. She said in part, “I listen really carefully when I interview people for whether their narrative is: ‘Life happens to me’ or ‘I make life happen’; ‘I am owning this situation’ or ‘I am a victim.'”

She says she wants to know through what lens people look at the world – through a lens of ownership or victimization. “In any given situation, you have neither zero percent nor 100 percent control. But whatever control you have, even if it’s just 5 percent, you need to make the most of it,” she said.

For more wisdom from CEOs, read my previous post “Tips on Hiring from the Corner Office.” For example, find out what the former CEO of Marriott International says are the four most important words when hiring and another CEO’s favorite three-word question.