Is Your Ego Still in the Way of Your Success?

One of my secrets to success is my ability to set aside my ego when I go into a new company. It’s true that I do have an ego. I couldn’t be the Turnaround Authority without one. But it’s my ability to check that ego at the door when I start a new job that lends to my success.

The first thing I do when I get into a new company is sit down and talk to my team. I tell them that I’m not going to come into their company and pretend like I understand what they do better than they do. I tell them that I’m going to need their help. I have no pride of authorship.

The overall message is that we need to be a team, and that I need them to question me and talk to me about everything they do and know. I have an open door policy, and my team gets full access.

If they don’t tell me what they know when I take a particular direction with the business, then we could lose the company. I need to know everything that they know.

There are a lot of CEOs who can’t just set their egos aside to successfully run their businesses. Half the time that’s why I end up running their businesses in place of them (read #3 on my list of 5 Foolish Faux Pas CEOs Make in Crisis).

The Lake at Rotama Park

For example, at Rotama Park, a horse-racing track that I turned around, there was a big lake in the middle of the track. When I got there the lake was empty.

As it happens, they’d already spent a quarter million dollars filling it up with millions of gallons of water – but it all leaked out. The problem was that during simulcast racing, when our track was being broadcast into every betting parlor in the country, our track looked terrible. There was a big, empty hole in the middle of it!

I needed to fill up the lake.

One guy said that there was an aquifer nearby, and we could fill the lake up and it would all be good. I couldn’t see a reason not to, so I got ready to do just that.

Boy was it a good thing I had my open door policy in place.

Someone else came sheepishly into my office and, scared of my reaction, said if I filled the lake up, all the water would leak out again. He said the wrong type of clay had been used on the base of the lake. Because I had two people with a difference of opinion, I brought in an engineering firm to assess the situation. They confirmed that the base had been laid incorrectly, and that I’d need to redo it for a half million dollars.

If the second guy hadn’t told me that I was wrong to fill the lake up, I would have wasted another $250,000. My team had to know that I had an open door policy and to challenge me at all times if they thought I was wrong. You have to set your ego aside to do that successfully.

The Gyroscopes in South GA

Another time I had a manufacturing company in south Georgia that made gyroscopes for missiles and rocket ships. The company was running three shifts, yet the cost of goods was going up, prices were staying steady, and we couldn’t figure out why. Where was the profit going?

Somebody came to me, again because of my open door policy, and shared with me that there was a new competitor that had bid on a government contract, and the government had awarded that company 25% of its gyroscope needs. Apparently, the nightshift manager on the third shift was a silent partner in this other company, and as it happens he was stealing from us and giving the “scraps” to his other company.

He could compete because his stuff was free and our costs were going up because a higher percentage of our supplies was scrap. I would never have known this without an open door policy.

Make sure to set aside your ego and let people know that you want to know what they know – even if that information is bad news. I say it’s a secret to success, but on some level it’s also just common sense.

Is your ego still holding you up? Why or why not?

The Wonderful Ways of the Whiteboard in Business, Part 1

I love my white board, and quite frankly, I don’t think I could do business as successfully without it. A white board lends clarity to complex situations and helps viewers logically analyze the many issues surrounding a case or problem.

The white board also allows you to see the holes in your logic – and therefore solidify your case by dealing with those holes.

Other white board fleshings reveal that you had the wrong fact in place. Many times I find that people are operating under the pretense of erroneous information, but by sharing their thoughts on a white board, they allow others to see their wrong facts and correct them.

In short, white boards get everyone on the same page.

Whiteboard Timelines

I find that timelines are one of the most useful ways to employ a white board. With one client we strategized a Chapter 11 case and created a timeline that included everything from the details of the date of filing to the date of exiting, thinking the whole process would take 9 months (ambitious, I know).

As we made the timeline we assigned specific tasks and responsibilities to people, and we also added our goals. By placing our goals at appropriate time intervals and getting buy-in from everyone involved, we could see how missed deadlines would affect our actual timing throughout the process.

And timelines aren’t just for bankruptcies. They work with any task: moving production lines, BK plans, relocating your offices, planning a wedding or whatever else.

With a timeline visualized on a white board you can get buy in, understand milestones and see how adjustments need to be made. This also reinforces people doing their jobs on time because their screw ups or lapses are tied into everyone else’s success and the overall feasibility of the timeline and the plan. This creates a great deal of personal responsibility and the consequences become very palpable.

This can all be especially effective if you add a budget to your whiteboard timeline.

An Example – With Horses!

Rotama Park, which I’ll discuss more thoroughly another time, was a race track that took 100 million dollars to build over 18 months – and 30 days to run out of cash.

I wanted to get them out of bankruptcy in 12 months. With my initial filing I also needed marketing plans, PR and other “why we’ll survive” materials. There was an opening period to fine-tune operations for profitability and positive cash flow, restructure debt equity and maintain a line of credit – and by day 300 we needed the disclosure statement hearing and approval so that by day 360 we were out of bankruptcy.

People said it couldn’t be done, but after putting the timeline on the whiteboard so that they could visualize the process, we were able to get buy in by asking each person involved what he needed to complete his responsibilities on time.

Without a whiteboard workout this turnaround never would have happened. Only by mapping everything out for all involved was I able to get buy-in and approval.

Use the whiteboard to your advantage and see where it can take you.

Do you use white boards? How do they help you?