Category Archives: People and Talent

The Unvarnished Truth

One of my undeniable truths of business ownership is #69: The moment you hire your first employee is the moment at which you stop knowing about everything in your business.

Most owners really like to know what’s going on in their business and all owners need to know what’s going on in their business, but most do not know – and they don’t know how to get to the full truth from their employees. From my own personal experience, I’ve had employees lie directly to my face about important facts which, had I known them would have altered decisions I made.

When an owner makes a decision based on information given to him/her by employees who are lying to save face, then the owner has multiple problems to content with:

  1. Lying employee
  2. Making a decision based on false information
  3. You don’t know what you don’t know
  4. You find out it was the wrong decision long after the damage has been done

Proverbs 16.13 says this: “Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth”.

If you’re not getting the full, unvarnished truth from your staff, you need to ask yourself “why?” Why do they not tell you the full truth? Let me offer several suggestions for your consideration.

First, the problem might be you. Most entrepreneurs are highly talented people who are highly competent at something. Often, they wrongly assume that their competence in their given area extends to all areas of the business, including people management, marketing, sales and so forth. I’ve met more than a few owners who beat up their staff verbally, discount new or conflicting ideas and essentially killing collaboration and teamwork in their business. Perhaps you become angry or irritated with new ideas, thinking that since you’re the owner, all new ideas should come from you. Obviously, these owners are totally unaware of the negative effects of their arrogance, but if check yourself on this: if people rarely or never give you ideas on how to improve operations, sales, marketing and so forth, then ask yourself “why?”. You might find that you are your largest obstacle to getting the full truth.

Second, the problem is they don’t think to tell you because you don’t ask. There’s a phrase “what gets measured is what gets done.” If you’re not measuring it (whatever “it” is) or if you’re not asking about it, then they might think you’re not interested, so they can let it slide.

Thirdly, the problem is you don’t have system in place to surface dysfunction in your business. I see this more often than I care to talk about: business owners whose world is only what they can see and touch. While they are highly interested in their product or service, they lack curiosity about the business aspects of their business. Besides, most of them are too cheap (not frugal – there is a difference) to spend adequate money on infrastructure systems. As long as they can live the lifestyle they want, they really don’t care all that much about the health of their business.

Fourthly, the problem is they confuse accounting reports with an accounting system. I can’t tell you how many businesses simply send their bank statements and receipts to an accountant who magically transforms their data into a monthly income statement with a balance sheet. I can’t begin to tell you how short-sighted this is (sorry to all you CPAs out there) because A) the owner really doesn’t read the statements and B) taillights information only goes so far. Without an accounting system, an owner can’t go in to look at the current numbers. The owner can’t slice and dice the numbers to see where they are really at. And in these scenarios, you can forget cash management. As long as they have money in the checking account, they’re fine.

Lastly, the problem is they trust their employees too much. I see this often as well: owners who don’t check in with their employees because they don’t want to micromanage, so they rarely, if ever, hold the employee accountable for anything. They employee creates his or her own little kingdom within the company and doesn’t share information as s/he should, so the flow of critical information becomes constipated.

Nearly all of this can be mitigated by a few simple, but profound actions on the part of the owner:

  1. The owner should become curious about his or her business and stay in touch with the critical systems of the business
  2. The owner should have systems in place to surface health or dysfunction across the core processes and accounting practices
  3. The owner should have clear, outcome-based expectations for his senior leadership team and hold them to achieving those outcomes on a regular basis
  4. The owner should have a balance between trusting his employees and verifying their work product

Owners who don’t get the unvarnished truth are often the reason for it. Most employees are not nefarious. They simply meld into the culture and processes of the organization. They next time you don’t have all the information you need to make a good decision, ask yourself the question “why?” and then see if you need to change your behavior first before trying to change the behavior of others in your company.

Bill English, Founder
Bible and Business

Using Social Media in the Hiring Process

The question is this: “Is it ethical to search for data about a candidate on Facebook, Twitter and other sources? We’ll assume the candidate has not submitted this digital information about themselves.

From where I sit, this is not an ethical problem.  If they freely post information about themselves and don’t privatize it using the tools within Facebook or other social platforms, then I think it is safe to assume that they intend for non-friends and non-family to view their information.  If they didn’t know or didn’t think about setting privacy features in these platforms, then that alone might give me pause about their candidacy.

In the old days, we asked for references and talked with those references about the candidate.  Those references were supplied by the candidate, but were also prescreened (presumably), so I always wondered if I got the real truth when talking with a reference.

Today, we can bypass references (I find they are not that helpful, frankly) and I can learn more about a person just be looking through social media than I can by talking with references.  Again, these posts are voluntary and are in the public domain.  Seems to me that if one’s trash is public information, then one’s posts on social media are as well.

Now, having said all this, the book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age  makes the argument (among several) that it is not a social good for us to have a medium where our past follows us perfectly (an argument with which I agree):

“Since the beginning of time, for us humans, forgetting has been the norm and remembering the exception. Because of digital technology and global networks, however, this balance has shifted. Today, with the help of widespread technology, forgetting has become the exception, and remembering the default…Do we want a future that is forever unforgiving because it is unforgetting? “Now a stupid adolescent mistake can take on major implications and go on their records for the rest of their lives,” comments Catherine Davis, a PTA co-president. If we had to worry that any information about us would be remembered for longer than we live, would we still express our views on matters of trivial gossip, share personal experiences, make various political comments, or would we self-censor? The chilling effect of perfect memory alters our behavior…the demise of forgetting has consequences much wider and more troubling than a frontal onslaught on how humans have constructed and maintained their reputation over time. If all our past activities, transgressions or not, are always present, how can we disentangle ourselves from them in our thinking and decision-making? Might perfect remembering make us as unforgiving to ourselves as to others? (Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor. Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.)

These are important questions because the opportunity to “start over” – create a “clean slate” or “rebrand” yourself is far more difficult in a world where memory is perfect, searchable and just a click away.  Those who browse through a candidates’ posts should browse through their own first just to remind themselves of the (probable) double standard they are likely to employ:  “I’ll be hard on this guy but would expect others to be forgiving of my past”.

I get posts now in Facebook with pictures I’ve long forgotten were there.  I’m honestly thinking of killing my FaceBook and Twitter accounts because of the perfect memory of the internet.  Why have that sitting around?  It does me little good. This is why many politicians just kill their social media accounts – too dangerous to have out there in the wild internet and have past posts and pictures used against them.

Mayer goes on to write:

“Google knows for each one of us what we searched for and when, and what search results we found promising enough that we clicked on them. Google knows about the big changes in our lives—that you shopped for a house in 2000 after your wedding, had a health scare in 2003, and a new baby the year later. But Google also knows minute details about us. Details we have long forgotten, discarded from our mind as irrelevant, but which nevertheless shed light on our past: perhaps that we once searched for an employment attorney when we considered legal action against a former employer, researched a mental health issue, looked for a steamy novel, or booked ourselves into a secluded motel room to meet a date while still in another relationship. Each of these information bits we have put out of our mind, but chances are Google hasn’t. Quite literally, Google knows more about us than we can remember ourselves. (Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor. Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.)

Everytime you go online, every time you search, every time you do anything on the internet – someone isn’t just watching, they are recording what you’re doing.  Is this not the thrust of the argument against our Federal Government when Greenwald writes in his book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State in his chapter the Harm of Surveillance: 

“When Google CEO Eric Schmidt was asked in a 2009 CNBC interview about concerns over his company’s retention of user data, he infamously replied: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” With equal dismissiveness, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a 2010 interview that “people have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people.” Privacy in the digital age is no longer a “social norm,” he claimed, a notion that handily serves the interests of a tech company trading on personal information…A comprehensive experiment conducted in 1975 by Stanford University psychologists Gregory White and Philip Zimbardo, entitled “The Chilling Effects of Surveillance,” sought to assess whether being watched had an impact on the expression of controversial political opinions. The impetus for the study was Americans’ concerns about surveillance by the government: The Watergate scandal, revelations of White House bugging, and Congressional investigations of domestic spying by the Central Intelligence Agency have served to underscore the developing paranoid theme of American life: Big Brother may be watching you! Proposals for national data banks, uses of surveillance helicopters by urban police forces, the presence of observation cameras in banks and supermarkets, and airport security searches of person and property are but some of the signs that our private lives are under such increasing scrutiny. The participants were placed under varying levels of surveillance and asked to give their views on the legalization of marijuana. It turned out that “threatened” subjects—those who were told that their statements would be shared with the police “for training purposes”—were more likely to condemn marijuana usage and to use second- and third-person pronouns (“you,” “they,” “people”) in their language. Only 44 percent of subjects under surveillance advocated for legalization, compared to 77 percent of those not so “threatened.” Tellingly, percent of the participants being monitored spontaneously sought approval from the researchers (asking, for example, “Is that all right?”), whereas only 7 percent of the other group did so. Participants who were “threatened” also scored significantly higher on feelings of anxiety and inhibition. White and Zimbardo noted in their conclusion that the “threat or actuality of government surveillance may psychologically inhibit freedom of speech.” They added that while their “research design did not allow for the possibility of ‘avoiding assembly,'” they expected that “the anxiety generated by the threat of surveillance would cause many people to totally avoid situations” in which they might be monitored. “Since such assumptions are limited only by one’s imagination and are encouraged daily by revelations of government and institutional invasion of privacy,” they wrote, “the boundaries between paranoid delusions and justified cautions indeed become tenuous.” (Greenwald, Glenn. No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.)

Once a person truly understands what they are doing when they post in social media and how the internet *never* forgives and can make an action 10 years old current simply by referencing what is held in storage on some hard drive, then it becomes easy to see why people are starting to get off social media or carefully choreograph their social interactions.

An Important Truth for First Generations to Learn in Family Businesses

When an entrepreneur starts his own business, from an ownership perspective, one of the key hurdles to overcome is securing enough capital to survive, then thrive. The principle sources of this capital are usually the savings and assets of the owner plus “sweat equity” invested by the owner and perhaps family and friends. The owner usually makes significant, personal sacrifices which help him and his family survive while their business is being built into a thriving, growing entity.

When ownership is passed to the second generation and the entrepreneur decides to share ownership between his children, the complexities at the ownership level increase exponentially. This complexity is a key hurdle for the second generation to overcome. Whereas the entrepreneur had sole control and could offer clarity in direction and decision, now that the ownership is shared, roles must be established and siblings must negotiate how they will cooperate in a shared power, shared authority model.

This complexity only increases if the entrepreneur decides to stay involved in the business without a clearly defined role. If he is vague about when full control will be passed to his children or if he is prone to take a extended time away from the business only to come back and start ordering his old staff and his children around, he will effectively create such havoc that his children may decide the family business isn’t worth their effort and time.

After passing control to his children, you might hear him talk about the old days – the work and sacrifice that was needed to get the business off the ground and make it successful. What’s ironic is that he’ll likely talk in such a way as to indicate that his children have no idea how much he has sacrificed and how they really don’t understand just how much has been given to them. In short, he’ll likely talk with an attitude of “they just don’t appreciate what they have”.

In this scenario, what isn’t appreciated is the comparison of apples to oranges. Yes, the entrepreneur sacrificed much to get the business to a thriving, sustainable state. But what he is passing to his children is not only a thriving business, but a set of complex, emotionally-charged elements that affect both their business and their families. He never had to negotiate power, control and the dual (sometimes triple) relationships that his children are negotiating. In short, he doesn’t appreciate what he is passing on and the potentialities for failure that could destroy his children’s and grand-children’s family relationships. Not only does a family business have the potential unify and support an extended family and their community, but a family business also has the potential to divide and destroy an extended family and damage the broader community in which they live.

This important truth sometimes is not appreciated by the members of the first generation. This is why clarity and intentionality in a succession plan is so important. If the children of the entrepreneur seemed to have harmonious relationships while growing up, one cannot assume that they will be free of conflict in their business roles. On multiple occasions where siblings who grew up together in happy, harmonious relationships, I have seen siblings never talking again in life because conflicts in the business drove a deep wedge between them.

So, what can be done? Here are several ideas:

First, the entrepreneur should have his children assessed for their real strengths and passions. Just because they inherited his DNA doesn’t mean they are the right people to lead his business moving forward. I’m not talking about just a matrix of psychological tests, which can be helpful. Instead, I’m referring to having his children work for someone else for at least five years, preferably ten, to have an objective, real-world assessment of their abilities, talents, passions and interests. Incidentally, this has the added benefit of giving them an opportunity to observe and learn from managers other than their father.

Secondly, don’t assume children in the second generation are the right people to lead the company moving forward. There are a number of family owned businesses that fail who could have succeeded had they decided to have nonfamily leadership run their family business. In a nutshell: be willing to be “family owned”, but not “family operated”.

Thirdly, give the children a “trial” period of running the family business before passing legal ownership to them – say two or three years. See how they interact. See who emerges as a peacemaker or a troublemaker. See if running the business changes their relationships. Then assess and make a decision about passing ownership to the next generation. The entrepreneur may be surprised by the decisions he ends up making.

Appreciating the key hurdles that the second generation will face and helping them over those hurdles will be one of the greatest, most enduring acts of love and kindness an entrepreneur will ever accomplish.

Bill English

Blowing Off Steam

Have you ever “vented” or “blown off some steam” to another person about your frustrations and ended up saying something that, after you calmed down, you disagreed with yourself? Because of the intensity of your frustration and some temporary lack of self-control, you said something that you knew wasn’t true: it simply represented how frustrated you were.

We all get frustrated at times. We all need someone to “unload” on who will listen, understand and perhaps empathize. We’ve all done it. And if there is one characteristic about venting, it is this: when we vent, we do it all the way – 100% – totally unvarnished – we just “let it fly”. People who are good at sarcasm can be funny when they are venting, but most of us are not and we say things that is not intended for public consumption.

But what do you do when you, a Christian Business Owner, overhear your employees venting about you, their boss? That 100%, totally unvarnished talk may hurt you deeply. You may not like it, but there is probably some truth in what they are saying, even if it is wrapped in a thick layer of sarcasm, hurt and/or anger.

If you’re like most bosses, you’ll swiftly acquire an air of superiority and self-righteousness. You may confront that employee directly or you may go away and sulk, promising to get revenge later is some passive way (we call this passive-aggressive). But if you’re mature, you’ll realize that your employee is just venting and that after a day or two, his old, likable self will come back.

The Bible speaks to this in Ecclesiastes 7.21-22:

“Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you – for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others”.

Well, now.

What Solomon is saying is that we should overlook the offense – let it go. Why? Because we have done it ourselves and so who are we to suddenly correct another person for doing what we have done many times? At this point, something about taking the log out of your own eye before taking the spec out of another’s eye comes to mind.

Your employees will blow off steam about you. Get over it. As a business owner – even a Christian one – you’re not universally liked. Not everyone has an enthusiastic opinion of you or your work product. And sometimes, you do and say things that are worthy of a venting session among your employees. Solomon’s advice is sound: if you hear about an employee or another person venting about you, your policies, your processes, your decisions and so forth – let it go because you yourself have done this many times too.

Bill English

Sorry, Christians Don’t Get to Retire

I have referenced how I believe that we will need to work well into our 70’s because I simply don’t believe that most have saved enough to be independently wealthy and whatever safety nets that are provided by the Federal Government will have negligible effect in 15 or 20 years.

But I’ve not dealt with retirement, as a concept, directly until now. So let me be direct and blunt:

The Scriptures do not support the notion of retirement.

Retirement implies stagnation, non-productivity and ceasing of growth. It has been retired. It is no longer useful. No longer helpful. No longer “part of the game”.

Sorry, Christians don’t get to become useless, unhelpful, irrelevant and unproductive. It’s not part of God’s plan and it’s not part of His will.

Work is a gift from God. Work existed before the Fall, so work is not a result of the fall nor is work part of the curse that God placed on Adam. I can find no place in the Bible where there is even a hint of support for our American concept of retirement – sitting back, relaxing every day, being non-productive and living off the money we have saved or inherited.

What I do find are passages like this:

Isaiah 60.21-22:

They are the shoot I have planted,

the work of my hands,

for the display of my splendor.

The least of you will become a thousand,

the smallest a mighty nation.

In Psalm 1.3, the Godly person is one who:

…is like a tree planted by streams of water,

which yields its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither—

whatever they do prospers

In 1 Corinthians 3.6, Paul uses the imagery of growth when he talks about him planting a seed, Apollos water but giving glory to God because He is the one who causes a person to grow.

One can even point to Philippians 1.3-5, where Paul writes:

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

The idea is that God never stops working in us to grow the “good work” and that He does so until the “day of Christ Jesus”.

The passages I have cited at the tip of the iceberg. There are literally dozens of passages that indicate that God is creative and that He wants us to work and grow until we reach heaven.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t sell your business as you get older, but it does mean that as a Christian, you’re not allowed to sit back and do nothing. You must be growing – developing – learning – becoming – until the day you see Christ face to face.

Sorry, Christians don’t get to retire.

Kano Model and Christian Business Ownership

The Kano model is a theory of product development and customer satisfaction developed in the 1980s by Professor Noriaki Kano, which classifies customer preferences into several categories. The core idea is that customers come to a purchase decision with certain expectations about the mix of price, feature and quality. Depending on what they find, they might become delighted, discouraged or have a neutral, “ho-hum” experience.

Fundamental (green line)

These attributes are taken for granted when fulfilled but result in dissatisfaction when not fulfilled. An example of this would be a new flat-screen TV that doesn’t contain a remote. When I was growing up, a remote was a big deal – it was an innovation that customers found exciting and new. Today, it is an expected part of the TV package. Lack of a remote will result in dissatisfaction.

Linear (light blue line)

These attributes result in satisfaction when fulfilled and dissatisfaction when not fulfilled. In the TV example, this means enjoying the latest in pixilation for High Definition. You’ll enjoy it when it’s there, but will be dissatisfied if it’s not what you expected.

Exciter (red line)

These attributes provide satisfaction when achieved fully, but do not cause dissatisfaction when not fulfilled. In the TV example, perhaps it has additional inputs that you weren’t expecting or the remote also has the feature of running your other media devices. Generally speaking, you would not have been dissatisfied if these features were not present, but you’re additionally happy if they are.

Christian Business Ownership and the Kano Model

When it comes to a customer’s perception of your business, we would suggest that when the business fulfills God’s four purposes for business (Products, Passions, Profits and Philanthrophy), that your customers will find themselves rating your business on the Delighter line rather than the other two lines. In addition, we would suggest that this “delightful innovation” would not be something that diminishes over time. Instead, their delight will remain constant because, at our base, we’re always attracted to that which God has created us for, even if we don’t know it. People will naturally be attracted to a company that balances and fulfills these four purposes because we’re always looking for that which achieves at a high level and yet doesn’t fade or spoil.

As a Christian business owner, you won’t achieve a Delighted customer base with high loyalty only through persistent innovation, as important as this is. You see, product innovation is the fulfillment of only one of the four principles. Instead, you’ll need to be succeeding on the other three as well and doing it with authenticity and transparency. Once your there, those on the outside will want to align with your company, either as customers or partners and over time, you’ll develop a strong base of Delighted supporters who are, sometimes, also customers.

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