Category Archives: Responsibility

Responsibility and Execution

As we move up through management it is our expectation that our responsibilities will increase. We have demonstrated that we can not only handle the responsibilities of our current assignments, but that we can actually handle more. There is also a second axis that is applied along with the responsibility axis when it comes time for personal analysis: the execution axis. Being able to handle increased responsibility, but not being able to execute those responsibilities at an equally high level, or being able to execute at a high level, but not being able to handle the increased responsibilities, will provide you the opportunity to remain where you are and address those aspects of your performance that need work. It is only when both Responsibility and Execution are present at high levels that you get to move on.

I talked last time about Adversity and how my son has dealt with and overcame his Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis a year ago. Now I’m going to look at how he has done it, and what I have learned from watching him.

Most of us get to grow into our responsibilities and learn how to properly execute on them. Admittedly, some are faster learners than others. My son didn’t get the benefit of a learning curve. He didn’t get to grow into his Diabetic responsibilities. One day he is a normal eighteen year old, finishing his last year in high school. The next he is a Type 1 Diabetic, with a daily set of responsibilities, the execution of which affect both his quality of life, as well as his life expectancy.

Talk about having to grow into your responsibilities and learning to execute fast.

Prior to his diagnosis, Diabetes was sort of an abstract concept to me. I knew about it. I even knew a few people that lived with it. When it became real in a personal way, I too had to learn about it.

In business, few of us get to start at the top, with all the responsibilities and the requirement for continuous high quality execution. I suppose there are a few, particularly in privately held organizations, but I think even these have a sort of apprenticeship that comes from being “in the family” and growing up with the transition to be expected.

For most of us we start at relatively junior levels, learn, grow and prove ourselves over time. Situations, environments and even a certain amount of luck come into play. You may be highly skilled but in a mature to stagnant organization or industry that provides a relatively limited number of advancement opportunities. On the other hand, you may be in a growing industry where the opportunities are plentiful.

Good performance and learning the desired behaviors and execution can provide the opportunity for increased responsibility. This increased responsibility is usually built on, or an expansion of the previous role’s responsibilities. This means that you at least usually have a pretty good idea of how to execute on a portion of your new responsibilities.

This is the usual progression. In a new role, build on what you know and have already learned, and leverage it for the new responsibilities and execution of them. If you show the desire, willingness and ability to do this within reasonable time frames and expectations, then future expanded responsibility roles can be available.

Jesse Owens, the four-time Olympic Gold Medalist in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin Germany, said:

“We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.”

I think it is safe to say that those games were not his first competition. He trained for a long time. There is no question that he worked hard. He learned and worked his way up through many smaller, and then increasing larger competitions, before achieving his most notable success.

I don’t think there are any smaller competitions, or learning opportunities for my son, or other Diabetics for that matter. One day you are fine. The next you have Diabetes and now are responsible for potentially life altering decisions, usually multiple times a day. There is no previous assignment to lean on or utilize as a jumping off point for your new role in life. It truly is a sink or swim moment.

If you provide your body too much insulin, it can result in Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

“Low blood sugar levels can cause a variety of problems within your central nervous system. Early symptoms include weakness, lightheadedness, and dizziness. … Severe low blood sugar is sometimes called insulin shock. Untreated, it can be very dangerous, resulting in seizures, loss of consciousness, or death”

If you don’t provide your body with enough insulin, it can result in Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).

“Hyperglycemia is a defining characteristic of diabetes—when the blood glucose level is too high because the body isn’t properly using or doesn’t make the hormone insulin….You get glucose from the foods you eat. Carbohydrates, such as fruit, milk, potatoes, bread, and rice, are the biggest source of glucose in a typical diet….If you have type 1 diabetes, it is important to recognize and treat hyperglycemia because if left untreated it can lead to ketoacidosis. This happens because without glucose, the body’s cells must use ketones (toxic acids) as a source of energy. Ketoacidosis develops when ketones build up in the blood. It can become serious and lead to diabetic coma or even death.”

In business if we do not live up to and execute on our responsibilities, we may end up having some of them taken away from us. If my son provided too much or too little insulin as part of his responsibilities, he could die.

Talk about a negatively reinforced incentive plan.

Normally incentive plans are structured to inspire better performance. To strive. To achieve. We focus on the upside and the opportunity.

His incentive plan has no upside. He will always have Diabetes, regardless of how well he manages it. Or at least he will have it if and until ever a cure is found. On the downside, as I just noted, failure to either execute or accept this responsibility, has a significantly more impactful, and detrimental result.

I have commented on the fact that matrix organizations can have a separation of responsibility, accountability and authority. Accountability and authority reside with the person that is answerable to the task in question. Responsibility resides with the person that must actually accomplish the task. A very simple example of this structure would be when Captain Kirk on Star Trek decides on a course for the Enterprise to take (the accountable authority), and then assigns plotting, navigation and implementation of the course to the navigator (usually Mr. Zulu – the responsible party).

I am not sure of who the appropriate parties would be in this example with Star Trek: The Next Generation, or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, or any of the other spin-offs. I don’t think I ever really watched them.

In dealing with his Diabetes, my son is responsible, accountable and the authority. He decides what he eats. He tests his blood glucose levels. He decides on and administers the appropriate amount of insulin.

There is no question. He has the responsibility, and must execute at a high level, for the rest of his life. He started in the role, and will remain with it.

Fortunately, he has accepted the responsibility. He doesn’t complain about others with less, or different responsibilities. He knows what he has to do, and isn’t shying away from it. It comes with his new role in life.

He is also executing, continuously at a very high level. His blood tests and doctor’s visits all indicate he has his disease well under control. He is healthy and continues to thrive, much like any other nineteen year old without diabetes. He doesn’t use it as an excuse, or ask for any special treatment (although he is entitled to under the American Disabilities Act).

He just works hard at the tasks he has in front of him and adds the responsibility and execution of his diabetic requirements to his daily agenda.

He has accepted these new responsibilities (even though he definitely did not ask for them), and he is executing on them to the best of his ability. I think his best has far exceeded our hopes and expectations. I am confident that he has learned how to cope with this and any potential future increases in responsibility, and that he will execute on them with the same focus and high levels that he has handled these.

I am immensely proud of the way he has handled it. I don’t know if I could do as well at his age, or any age for that matter.

I continue to watch and learn from him.

The RACI Matrix

As the Project oriented view of the business world continues to flourish in the business organization, we have seen the rise in importance of something called the “RACI Matrix”. Sometimes it is pronounced “RAY-see”, and sometimes it is pronounced “RACK-ee”, depending on whether or not the hard or soft pronunciation of the letter “C” is chosen. I think that I have heard the second, hard “C” pronunciation more lately, as it appears that no one wants to be associated with anything that could potentially be considered racy in the working environment.

In the apparently now outdated but venerable “General Manager” model, there was no question of where the responsibility and accountability for getting things done resided. Leaders led their teams and the buck stopped there. They were responsible and held their teams accountable. However, as this management structure appears to continue to wither away, the matrixed and project based organization model with the RACI Matrix have proportionately grown in both their application and need, as a way to keep track of these new project oriented and structured roles and responsibilities.

As usual, first a little definition work:

RACI is an acronym that stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. A RACI chart is a matrix of all the activities or decision making authorities undertaken in an organization set against all the people or roles. (….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..1.4.606…0i131k1.0.-TcIxdozKYA)

The most important aspect (I believe) here is the potential organizational division of Responsibility and Accountability. When a Matrix organizational structure is employed, there is the potential for people to be held responsible for a deliverable, but they may not have anyone who directly reports to them that is assigned to the deliverable. In situations such as this, there is the need for some sort of tracking and governing document. Hence the RACI Matrix.

Now a little more definition work:


  • having an obligation to do something, or having control over or care for someone, as part of one’s job or role.

synonyms: in charge of, in control of, at the helm of, accountable for, liable for

  • being the primary cause of something and so able to be blamed or credited for it.

synonyms: accountable, answerable, to blame, guilty, culpable, blameworthy, at fault, in the wrong

  • (of a job or position) involving important duties, independent decision-making, or control over others.

synonyms: important, powerful, executive

Okay….but I’m not so sure I am comfortable with having the word Accountable used in the definition of Responsible. After all, according the RACI Matrix these two items, Responsible and Accountable are supposed to be separate.


  • (of a person, organization, or institution) required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible.

“government must be accountable to its citizens”
synonyms: responsible, liable, answerable; to blame

  • explicable; understandable.

“the delayed introduction of characters’ names is accountable, if we consider that names have a low priority”
synonyms: explicable, explainable; understandable, comprehensible

Alright. I’m still not entirely comfortable with the difference between Responsible and Accountable. I guess a little more research is still required.

The accountable person is the individual who is ultimately answerable for the activity or decision. This includes “yes” or “no” authority and veto power. Only one accountable person can be assigned to an action.

The responsible person is the individual(s) who actually complete the task. The responsible person is responsible for action/implementation. Responsibility can be shared. The degree of responsibility is determined by the individual with the “accountability.” (

Now I think we are getting somewhere.

The Accountable person is the one who must see to it that something gets done.
The Responsible person is the one who must actually do it.

The basic difference between responsibility and accountability is that the former is assumed whereas the latter is imposed. While responsibility is understood as an obligation to perform a particular task, accountability denotes answerability, for the completion of the task assigned by the senior. (

That seemed like an awful lot of work just to determine what the definitions are for a couple of the columns in the project work and responsibility matrix.

I don’t think I am going to bother going through the Consulted and Informed portion of the RACI Matrix. I think those terms are a little bit more self-explanatory and have less direct effect on the outcome of any discussion or project.

What I am getting at here is that as business moves to more of a matrix oriented business structure where the lines of responsibility, accountability and authority no longer remain within a single business organizational structure, a set of rules was needed to be put in place to define and govern these new cross organizational roles and relationships.

All this incremental work, definition and process was put in place in the interest of increasing speed and efficiency, reducing costs and assuring improved project implementation.

To be fair, what has really occurred is the codification of the inherent rules associated with the general management model so that they can be applied in the matrix structure.  In the GM model the leader was accountable and assigned responsibility to the various members of his team in order to get things done. It is when the solid reporting lines become dotted, that the rule book had to be created so that all can now operate appropriately.

This again assumes that an organizational discipline driven structure is more efficient than an organizational interest driven one.

When an organization is aligned along business disciplines (Project Management, Marketing, Operations, etc.) instead of aligning along business interests (specific products, specific global regions, etc.) companies are relying on the hopefully increased specific disciplinary economies of scale to outweigh the lost economies of scale associated with the specific business product or region interests.

In short many companies now believe that having a shared cadre of say, Project Managers, that every business unit within the organization can access and use, is more efficient than each business unit having their own dedicated group of Project Managers. For smaller organizations this might be the case as having a shared group would obviously reduce the opportunity for “down” time where a PM may not have a project to manage or be fully utilized.

However, for larger organizations, it would seem that having dedicated PMs, with their increased specific product, or region specific, etc. knowledge within the specific business interest might be a more efficient model, with less documentation and process overhead needed to govern the inter-group relationships. It would almost seem to be a foregone conclusion that any time you must create a process, with a rule book and a division of responsibilities matrix, just to conduct existing business within a new business structure, there might be an opportunity for confusion and a reduction in speed.

There can be real benefits derived for the organization from the matrix model. I think it requires a real understanding of what capabilities can be centralized and homogenized, and which might ought to remain within the specific business interest’s organization. I think this is a decision pendulum that will continue to swing one way and then the other as market, and management conditions continue to change.

Either way, it’s always a good idea to understand who is responsible, and who is accountable, as well as the other items in a RACI Matrix, because now a days it’s quite possible that the people who are identified with these responsibilities (and accountabilities) are no longer in the same organization.

Hard Work

Perhaps I am getting a little too retrospective, or was it introspective. I forget which.

I think it is interesting how my concept of “Hard Work” has changed over time. I used to think of it as moving rocks and landscaping timbers around our yard for my mother when I was younger. Hours in the heat with all that physical exertion. Then I remember that I was also a competitive tennis player back then, and that also entailed hours in the heat with significant physical exertion. That didn’t seem to be as hard work, at least back then.

Now both yard work and tennis in the heat of a Texas summer seem somewhat equally uninviting. Right now, both seem like pretty hard work.
I think I would like to look at what hard work was, what it is today, and possibly more importantly, what it may become in the future.

I seem to recall that I also had a distinct dislike for reading text books and studying (on my own time, after school, when I wanted to do other stuff, of all things). It was hard work to both get myself to do it, and to maintain the focus on topic so I could learn and master the required topics. Now I find myself reading recreationally on those same topics, as well as many others related to my professional disciplines, and actually enjoying it. Now it doesn’t seem like hard work at all.

Using these examples, it seems that hard work is the work that we don’t want to do, but are somehow compelled to do. It may be best described as doing something which you have not fully bought into doing. Something you have to do, instead of something you want to do. I think I’ll go with that definition for now.

I had bought into the idea of spending hours in the heat practicing the various aspects of my tennis game. Initially not so much on the yard work for the then family home. Later with my own home and family, I enjoyed both the tennis and the yard work. Now, in the triple digit heat of a Texas summer, I do my best to refrain from both.

As an aside, I didn’t require my kids to join me working in the yard, as I was compelled to do. I don’t know at this point if I did them a disservice.

So far, neither of them has complained about not being required to do yard work in the heat. Go figure.

For some reason, I find myself quoting Mark Twain, a lot. I don’t know if it is just happenstance, or if there is some other type of connection. Either way, he seemed to say many things that can still be considered truisms today. He said:

“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

But I am actually not so sure that is the case. I think it may be more along the lines of: If you do something that you buy into doing, it means that you will not consider it “hard work”.

You may be fully engaged. You may get to the office early. You may stay late. If you are bought in, and are committed to the deliverable, none of what you are doing is going to feel like hard work. You are getting satisfaction and fulfillment from the effort, and probably feel you are providing value in what you are doing.

I have found when I am engaged and committed I have internalized the assignment or objective, and I want to deliver and excel. I suspect that I am not too different from the majority of people out there. Given the opportunity, I think most everyone wants to be engaged, and to have internalized their work goals. What I have learned over time is that people probably cannot be trained or managed into this type of commitment. They need to be led to it.

I think the ability to do this is probably a learned capability.

I think back to the periods in time when my views about what was and wasn’t hard work changed. When the drudge work of studying for an exam was supplanted by the desire to walk into the exam confident in the knowledge and command of the material. Some kids seem to get this early in their educational career. Let’s just say that it was quite a way into my educational journey before I learned it. Much the same feeling as when the drudge work of the preparing for the customer (or even internal) presentation changed to ownership and the confidence that went with it, although that one came much quicker in my professional career.

People buy into ownership and leadership. If they are given a responsibility and are shown how their role plays into the greater good, the process of getting them to buy in has started. But that is normally not enough. People want to contribute. This is where the pride of ownership comes in.

Communicating the “what” part of what needs to be accomplished is only part of the process. It is the “how” part of the objective, as in how is the goal to be achieved that will either get internalization and buy-in, or probably get the function labeled as “hard work”.

If people are told what they must do, and how they must do it, there is very little for them to contribute to the function, other than being the vessel that performs the assigned tasks in the prescribed manner. They may have no pride of ownership. Without it, almost everything, regardless of how simple or easily achieved has the potential to be considered hard work.

As I said, we all have goals that we need to achieve for the greater good of the business, but I can’t help feeling that being told what to do and how to do it sounds like a definition of hard work.

Even with all of that preamble, I believe that the working environment, and for that matter all work, not just hard work is going to change. I have talked about the application of process as a substitute for judgement in business before. Good judgement is a necessary leadership characteristic. There are those that seem to innately have good judgement, and there are those that have acquired it as a result of their experiences.

Randy Pausch in his book “The Last Lecture” said:

“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”

This is a pretty well known, and surprisingly accurate assessment of the world. What may not be as well known, is the second line from this quote. It goes:

“And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.”

But as business continues its journey from process to automation and beyond (Artificial Intelligence?), getting experience, that most valuable thing, the basis for good judgement (at least for most of us) is going to be a more and more difficult thing to obtain.

Career progressions that were once based on the recognition of an underlying business issue, and the creation and implementation of solutions to rectify them, will no longer be the norm. It will become more along the lines of being compelled to follow the steps in the existing process. As experience is gained in one step, there may then be the potential opportunity to manage multiple steps, or entire processes, or potentially multiple processes. Work will change from the creation of a solution to a problem, to the management of the existing process.

One of the issues that we seem to be facing today is that we no longer appear to be accepting, let alone rewarding the individual who does what we used to call “Thinking Outside the Box”.

That does sound pretty trite to me, but unfortunately also pretty applicable.

Process minimizes the risk of poor judgment and the variability of results. But as business appears to be creating more processes, as a substitute for judgement, that compel people to remain in the process box, it also makes the opportunity for business (or process) improvement that much more difficult to achieve.

I guess this can be an acceptable situation if you are confident that the process in place is optimal. But again, we have all seen and have grown accustomed to the idea that the rate of change in business is continuing to accelerate. The progression of work from on shore, to off shore, to automation, to the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) should underscore this. So even if a process was optimal at one time, it does not appear that it can remain optimal in the face of accelerating change.

I think the future of hard work will lie in compelling people to continue to use more or less fixed processes in the face of ongoing, rapid change. The process structure by its nature is resistant to change with its multiple parties, stakeholders and check points and desire for predictability, and that does not bode well for it going forward in a continually more unpredictable environment.

Perhaps the new business leaders of the future will be the ones that instead of just recognizing and solving an issue, also master the means of rapidly modifying and adapting existing processes to the changing environment. That will probably require a fundamental change in how processes are created and managed. The proverb states that “Necessity is the mother of invention”. I think that is the case here. Otherwise I think there is going to be an awful lot of hard work for everyone in the future.

The Illusion of Choice

I find it rather interesting that I read a many different articles and books from many different sources, that become the genesis of many of my own articles. This fact isn’t really that interesting, unless you consider it interesting that I read things that consist of more than one hundred and forty characters, require a certain amount grammar and literacy capability, and don’t use emojis to convey how the author feels about the topic they are covering. What is probably a little more interesting is that I like to write about business, sales and leadership, and that I rarely find the inspiration for my articles in literary sources that are purporting to be specifically about business, sales and leadership. I seem to find my thought applications from other sources that resonate at a little more elemental and hopefully timeless level.

Such is the case today.

By and large I have found most business articles to be somewhat bland and derivative of other previously written sources. They are also somewhat ephemeral and short lived. There was “The One Minute Manager” and then “The Fifty-Nine Second Employee”. Really. They all seem to be related to the idea of “get rich” or “get successful” quick sort of scheme. After all, if someone actually wrote the definitive text for how to successfully run a business or organization and get rich and successful quick, what would all the other authors have to write about?

Some of my preferred sources can go back hundreds or even thousands of years. I think I have mentioned “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, “The Prince” by Machiavelli, “The Book of Five Rings” by Musashi and the “The Art of Worldly Wisdom” by Gracion on multiple occasions. Fortunately, my inspiration today was not from these sources, although, come to think of it some of what Sun Tzu said could apply…. I’ll leave it to those that have read both sources to comment.

Today my ideas sprung from a few words by the man who was the coach of the team that lost, yes lost, the last national collegiate championship game for American football this year. For those of you that missed it, it was on TV. I bet you can find it on YouTube. Clemson scored on the last play of the game to defeat Alabama. (I make sure to define it as American football, as I do have friends in the rest of the world where “football” is something entirely different. It is what we in the states would call “soccer”. I don’t know why.)

You would think that there would be far more to learn from the Clemson coach, the winner of the championship, than from the Alabama coach, the man whose team lost it. After all, it was an upset. Alabama was favored and was supposed to win, and it fact, almost did. There may be much to learn from the Clemson coach, but those lessons may not apply to business, sales and leadership as well as what the leader of the Alabama team had to say. At least for me in this instance.

Coach Nick Saban, of the University of Alabama has enjoyed sustained success in his field, the likes of which has probably not been seen in decades. He is successful. He has already won a total of five national championships (across 2 different schools) and is annually expected to be a contender for the next championship playoff. He is the example and standard of what every other coach, school and leader wants to be and do.

But he still lost, last year.

When he was asked what he is going to change, and how much he was going to do different next year in order to win the championship, he responded with what can best be described as an old school response.

He said that he understood all the new offenses, defenses, systems and processes that are out there, but that he was not going to overhaul a system just because he had lost in this year’s championship game. He came in second out of three hundred and seventy-five schools, which when thought of in that way, wasn’t really too bad. Yes, the loss hurt, but there are literally hundreds of other schools and coaches that would have wanted to be there in his place. He understood what it took to get there, and he also understood what it would take to get back next year.

It was at this point that he made the comments that resonated so strongly with me. He discussed that having learned what it took to be successful, he learned that there are no short cuts. He referred to it as “the illusion of choice”. He said that so many people want to make the easy decision, or take the supposed easier road to success. A new process, or a new system were the quick cure. He said this was an illusion. If you wanted to be successful (in his profession) there really were no choices.

It required the recruiting of the best talent available. Alabama’s recruiting classes of new freshmen out of high school are routinely viewed as some of the best in the country. Think about the fact that every three to four years, he (like every other college football coach) has close to one hundred percent turnover of his team. But every year he contends for a championship.

It requires a work ethic that is second to none on his part, and it has to be transferred and translated to the rest of his staff and the players on the team. There can be no illusion that talent is enough. It takes hard work and dedication. There is a base line process and preparation that needs to be adhered to.

Many have heard me discuss my aversion to the perceived over-utilization of process that seems to be plaguing businesses today. Yet here I am praising it. Here process is used to prepare the team. They have practiced and been trained on how each individual need to prepare, perform and act as part of the greater team. A process is not used during the game or against the competition. If so the competition would quickly adapt and defeat it. There is a game-plan, but not a game process.

He assembled the best staff possible, that he vested with the authority to get things done and that he held accountable for those various aspects of the team (Offense, Defense, Special Teams, etc.) he had assigned. However he only held himself responsible for the outcome. He never blamed anyone else. It was his responsibility.

It was this litany of decidedly unglamorous basics that he pointed out were responsible for getting him and his teams (multiple, different teams) to arguably the acme of his profession. He pointed out and reiterated that there really was not choice if you wanted to be successful. It took talent, it took outworking the competition, it took everybody’s commitment and buy-in for the team succeed. There were no “get rich” or “get successful” quick schemes.

That didn’t mean that he wouldn’t change and adapt. He is also recognized as one of the best leaders at innovating and modifying his game plans when his team’s talent, or the competition called for it. He has noted that the basics of the game have not changed, but how you apply them can vary greatly in each situation.

As I noted, by design his team membership turns over every four years. He also turns over his leadership (coaching) staff with significant regularity. His assistant coaches are in high demand to become the leaders at competing college programs because of their success and what they have learned. No less than seventeen of his assistants have gone on to lead their own programs.

It looks like the players are not the only ones that are mentored, taught and become leaders.

Sun Tzu, from almost twenty-five hundred years ago, also talks about talent selection, training and preparation as immutable keys to an organization’s success. He is also quick to point out that flexibility and the ability to adapt to new and different situations, and to be able to take advantage of them while either in or on the field are also the keys to success.

It looks like the idea of putting well trained teams in the field and letting their leaders lead them is in fact an idea that has been around for over two millennia. It sounds to me like Nick Saban may be right when he says that if you want to be successful, and enjoy a sustained success, it really is an illusion of choice. While a new process or system may come into vogue, success is really built on the basics of talent, hard work, and planning, and then letting your leaders lead, and not relying on the illusion that some other process or system can be a substitute for one of those basic building blocks of success.


Before I dive head first into the metaphorically shallow waters associated with this topic, I guess it would be best to find an acceptable definition of exactly what micromanagement is. We are all pretty comfortable with what a microprocessor is. I am particularly well versed in what a microbrewery is and the delicious products that they produce. I am even familiar with the show “Tiny House Nation” on the FYI channel. (I couldn’t think of another micro-something, so I had to settle for a tiny-something. It’s the same thing really.) But I think everyone has a different view or definition of micromanagement.

Webster’s dictionary defines micromanagement as:
verb (used with object), micromanaged, micromanaging.
1. to manage or control with excessive attention to minor details.

That’s a pretty good start, but I don’t feel that it entirely captures the full annoyance factor that can be associated with this management practice. I have found that attention to detail is sometimes a necessity and not a particularly negative connotation item the way micromanagement is. I think we can all reminisce back to past assignments, lives and times in our respective business careers when we each may have been members of teams that were led by individuals that might possibly have been defined as micromanagers.

A cold chill just ran down my spine. I think I will go and get one of those previously mentioned microbrews to try and soften that specific micromanager memory.

The definition of a micromanager that I will start with is someone who not only tells you what to do (which is the role of just about any standard run of the mill manager) but also tells you how to do it.

Remember, a leader is someone who tells you what has to get done and then supports you when you work out the part that you need to do, and how you plan to go about doing it. Leaders inspire and groom future leaders by challenging them to perform the radical business process commonly known as thinking.

Micromanagers seem to believe that they should do all the thinking. If something needs to get done, they will tell you what you need to do, how you need to do it and when you need to do it. Your responsibility will simply be to follow the instructions. That is unless you have been told to do the wrong thing. Then it will most likely be your fault for not recognizing it was the wrong thing that you were told to do, and instead doing the right thing.

I have heard of many micromanagers being described as “control freaks”. Again I think this description has a little bit too much of a negative connotation that I don’t wish to be fully associated with. I think I would prefer to refer to them as “control enthusiasts”. Some of them can be so enthusiastic about it that at times they can become difficult to tolerate.

So now that we have hopefully adequately defined what a micromanager is, the question that is engendered is: Why do people become micromanagers?

The simple answer to this one is: I have no idea.

If I were going to guess, I would guess that during their formative years in business they were once given an assignment and for whatever reason they created and implemented an ultra-detailed plan, and it worked. This possibly reinforced what here to fore might have been a latent behavior and voila, and a future micromanager was born. Perhaps during the same formative period the future micromanager reported to a current micromanager and the micromanagement DNA was passed down to the future management generation through some sort of micromanagement osmosis.

It might be as simple as a personality defect.

Whatever the cause micromanagement is in and of itself a self limiting management style. As a manager matriculates up the management structure they take on more responsibilities. This means that there are more and more items for the micromanager to try and keep track of and manage. There are only so many hours in a day. Sooner or later the micromanager is going to run out of time to micromanage all that they have on their plate.

One of two things will then happen. The pace of the business will either slow down to accommodate the micromanager’s business technique, or the micromanager will learn to let go of some of the control that they are so enthusiastic about in order to keep pace with the demands of the business. If the business is slowed by the management process, it will fall behind the market, which will not slow down in order to accommodate the micromanager’s technique and it will soon find itself in a recovery mode.

Either way the level of micromanagement will have reached its limit.

During a discussion some time ago I was asked if there was ever a time where micromanagement was called for.

I had to sit quietly and think about that one for a moment. With the entire myriad of business structures and environments there probably was at least one that called for this approach. After careful consideration I had my settled on my response.

I said “no”.

I have mentioned many times that people and teams want a leader not a manager, and certainly not a micromanager. A leader does not tell all members of the team what they are to do. Team members have their respective responsibilities. It is up to the leader to define and communicate the goal and then enable the team to achieve it.

If a team truly requires micromanagement attention in order for them to achieve their goals again one of two things has happened. They have either been so conditioned that their individual input is not appreciated or utilized and have adapted their behavior to that desired by the micromanager, or they truly cannot or do not know what to do.

In the first instance, a management or management style change may be able to return that micromanagement conditioned employee to a business condition where they can contribute more fully to the success of the business. Instead of being an “order follower” they can become a solution creator in their own right.

In the second instance the team either needs to be better trained or replaced. If the team is incapable of performing except under constant management supervision they may be trying to do work that they are not qualified or capable of completing. If the team members are in fact capable and qualified to do the work, yet still require micromanagement in order for them to achieve their goals then they may be candidates for roles in other organizations where micromanagement is the preferred form of management.

Offhand, I can’t think of many of those types of organizations.

Micromanagement is a centralized decision making management structure. One person, the micromanager tries to make the decisions for everyone else in the organization. As organizations become more culturally diverse and geographically dispersed this structure rapidly becomes a limiting factor instead of a performance enabler. The speed and flexibility of response that an organization needs to be successful in today’s business environment is lost when micromanagement is in play.

People will respond to the guidance provided by leaders by making good business decisions and will be fully vested and committed to the outcome. The only response people will have to micromanagement direction will be to make no decision, only to comply rather than commit to the desired outcome, and just follow orders.

As leaders we need to focus on what needs to get done, and rely on the talents of our team members to help us come up with the best ways to get it done. By definition they are closer to the issues than we are. It only goes that they should have some good ideas on what needs to be done and how they can best do it. It is up to the leader to best utilize all the ideas that are available, not just their own.


What is the first question that gets asked when something goes wrong? This should be an easy one for everybody. The first question that is asked after something goes wrong, or not according to plan is: Who is to blame? It seems to be built into our DNA that we look for someone to blame. This process has evolved into an art form in recent times. It is now even the subject for tongue in cheek commercials, which in my book means blaming someone else for our own performance (good or bad) is now part of our social, and business fabric.

If we happen to fall off a ladder, we blame the ladder manufacturer for not putting a warning label of some sort on the ladder that clearly states that ladders are in fact dangerous pieces of equipment and that the scaling of them should not be attempted by the uncoordinated, clumsy or stupid. Going even further, the epitome of this blaming cultural art form has to be the getting burned by spilling hot coffee in our laps and then blaming the provider of the hot coffee for providing coffee that is too hot. The fact that “spilling” the coffee was involved seems to have been left out of this picture.

I have digressed, but I think you get the picture. Since childhood we have been conditioned to create excuses or blame others for our behaviors. “The dog ate my homework” has moved into our cultural lexicon, as a method of blaming an unexpected external event for not having an assignment completed. “The sun was in my eyes” likewise has evolved into a catch-all method of blaming external factors for not being able to perform an expected function. The bottom line here is that we like to blame other people, issues, factors and things for when we fail to meet expectations. The fact that the dog may have been around for years or that the sun has been around since well before the dawn of man and is a known source of glare, both of which could have and should have been taken into account during preparations, is conveniently not mentioned.

All of this evolution and history of the culture and art of passing the blame for our inability to achieve our objectives or to succeed in completing our tasks brings us to business. I think we have all been around people who are never at fault for missing their goals. They are artful. They are glib. They are eloquent. But they are not leaders. They usually elicit looks from their peers that are normally reserved for politicians, used car salesmen and poorly trained puppies that may have tried their best but just couldn’t seem to go on the paper.

The simple fact is that sometimes in business things do not go the way we hoped, expected or planned. It can be for reasons that are outside of our control or within our control. It doesn’t matter. For whatever reason the job didn’t get done. It happens. I will now impart to you the best phrase to use when creating excuses and placing blame when this type of situation occurs:

“It was my responsibility.”

Stand up. Look in the mirror and recognize the person responsible. Regardless of what happened you shouldn’t get to blame anyone else. Leaders understand this.

It may not have been their fault that the objective was not achieved, but it was their responsibility to achieve the objective.

Other leaders recognize this. It is the leader’s responsibility to put the team in a position to succeed. That means they need to provide the appropriate resources (time, money, people, there really are no other resources than these) to get the job done. If the team doesn’t succeed you cannot blame the team. It is the leader’s responsibility to put the team in a position to succeed.

It is the leader’s responsibility to put the right people on the team. If the right people are not on the team it is not the team’s fault. The team will do the best that it can with the people that are selected for it. It is the leader’s responsibility to foresee the potential issues and roadblocks to the team’s success. It is not the team’s fault that the unexpected occurred. The team is in place at the direction of the leader. A leader needs to be prepared with alternative and back-up plans in case the unexpected does unexpectedly occur.

In business as with falling off a ladder, we seem all too prepared to place the blame for any missed achievements on others. We are all too willing to place the blame elsewhere for our own lack of performance. We also seem to be all too willing to allow others to exhibit the same blame shifting behavior. The blaming art form has given rise to a new activity and the creation of a new word to deal with the blame generation process:

“Blamestorming”: The Oxford Dictionary defines blamestorming as: Group discussion regarding the assigning of responsibility for a failure or mistake. The Urban Dictionary defines it as: Sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and identifying a scapegoat. Check out:–BLAMESTORMING

No team is mistake free when it comes to the execution of their responsibilities. No team achieves one hundred percent of their objectives one hundred percent of the time. No team should be blamed for this fact. Just as the leader should acknowledge and attribute all team successes to the team, the leader should NOT blame the team for any failures associated with the team’s performance. Just as the leader receives their credit for the team’s performance from the fact that they enabled the team to be successful, so should they take responsibility for not enabling the team’s success.

Blame is a funny thing to me. I think it openly diminishes the one doing the blaming. However it also seems to unavoidably diminish the one being blamed. Once the accusation is made or the blame assigned, at least some of the stigma associated with that event will remain, regardless if the accusation or blame is proved to be unfounded. That to me is a lose – lose proposition. There is no benefit to be gained by anyone by trying to assign blame anywhere.

The leader that stands up and takes responsibility, and does not look to attribute blame to anyone else, will again be the leader that is looked up to by their team and will be respected by their peers. Just as the leader receives some of the credit even though they attribute the success to the performance of their team, they will also not receive all the blame by taking responsibility for the issues associated with the missed achievements by the team.

I know it goes against just about everything we have seen and been taught to this point of our lives, and it also seems to go against what is now accepted as the cultural norm but when it comes to issues in business I just can’t see the value in someone uttering the professional equivalent of “The dog ate my presentation” or “the fluorescent lights were in my eyes” when not taking responsibility for their performance.

Every Day

I read an article about Jerry Seinfeld the other day. In it he was discussing some of the secrets to his success. Now obviously they can’t be secrets if he is openly discussing them, so maybe we should refer to them as some of the tenets he adhered to in the pursuit of his goals. Perhaps tenets would be considered too strong a word for describing his approach to applying himself to his comedy craft. However you would like to describe what he did along his road to success, he boiled it down to a simple phrase. He did something every day.

The example he used related to his writing. Whether he was writing for his stand up routines or the ubiquitous “Seinfeld” show, he wrote every day. That was his goal. He didn’t set the goal to write a joke, or even a good joke. He didn’t need to pound out a chapter in his book, or a scene for the show. He didn’t even need to make sure that what he wrote was good or used in any of his multiplicity of ventures. He just needed to write.

He knew that by getting started his ability and talent would take over. Some days would be better than others and the output of a higher quality. He knew that by the continued application of his effort he would continue to improve across the board. Eventually the output from his bad days would be better than the output of his earlier good days. The objective was the activity, not some specific amount of output. He knew the output would come if he achieved his goal of doing something.

I thought this was an interesting approach to doing ones work.

I, like many others am something of a goal oriented worker. I like to set the bar at a specific and acknowledged height and then either leap over it, or find an equally impressive way to limbo under it. One day it might be a graceful hurdle that takes me to the other side of the bar and the next might be a skidding face-plant that takes me sliding under it. Others are more process oriented where they can look to a prescribed set of steps that they can embark on that should result in them getting to the other side of the bar. The Seinfeld approach did not seem to fit into either of these categories. To extend this example it would almost be described as “start moving in the direction of the bar” and eventually you will be on the other side of it.

I think I like this approach because of the daily activity goal. It seems that we spend more and more of our time on conference calls and in meetings and in other activities that might be considered to have questionable value-add in the conduct of our business responsibilities. We seem to have reached a point where we have to consider the output of these conference calls and meetings as part of our business responsibilities, even though we seem to achieve very little in the way of definable progress in them.

It would be at times like these where I would start to apply the “Every Day” business scenario. The idea here would be that leaders in the various disciplines that they are responsible for, would need to set a goal of doing some work in their discipline that is additive in moving that discipline forward.

For example, research and development leaders would need to make sure that every day they do something that furthers the research and development of the business. That does not mean reporting on their team’s progress, nor does it mean explaining to management what the latest development release is looking like. It means doing something directly associated with furthering an aspect of a products research or development. Sales leaders would need to spend time each day actually selling, not reporting or tracking, etc. Operations leaders would need to set time every day to work on how to improve their business’ efficiency.

This is obviously pretty simple stuff, but business in its proper form in not necessarily complex. After all, how many times have we heard people say that they are so busy that they don’t seem to be able to get their real work done? What Seinfeld seemed to have found was that the focus should not be on getting the real work done, but rather getting started on the real work. He realized that the getting done part of it would actually take care of itself.

On the surface this seems a little counter-intuitive to me, but the more I think about it, the more comfortable I get with it.

It seems that leadership roles have a tendency to attract a significant number of non-productive and “office-trappings” types of responsibilities. These functions usually take the form of making and presenting status reports, attending peer team meetings and calls to assure coordination, reviewing, approving or denying requests, and other similar such activities. I am hard pressed to find a way to associate these responsibilities with leadership, other than in how fast one can discharge and complete them and get back to the real functionality and responsibility of the business at hand.

Unfortunately it seems that as leaders matriculate up the corporate chain they may be judged more on how well they perform these attracted functions, and less on how well they actually perform their Research and Development, Sales or Operational responsibilities, to extend the previous example.

This is where “Every Day” would come in to play.

We should all look to find a way to make sure we perform some of the specific activities that are required to further the goals of the business, every day. This does not mean that we should be happy with making progress on the charts for the next business review. It does mean that we should work on something that would eventually need to be reported on in your business review.

Put simply “Every Day” means to me that we don’t need to report on something every day. Every day we need to do something that may need to be reported.

It may end up that it does not need to be reported. It may not provide the expected or desired impact. On the other hand, it might eventually turn out to be a game changing improvement to the business. The point is that none of those things will happen unless you are applying yourself to the objective.

Seinfeld knew that not everything that he wrote was going to be used, or maybe even good. He did however recognize that he would never have anything much less know what was good or not unless he wrote. He saw that the goal should not have been to only write good content, because he could not clearly discern the good from the not so good unless he had them both available to compare. Hence his objective was simply to write.

The analog to this approach that I would choose for leaders in business would be to focus some time every day on the non-administrative work that you and your team are responsible for accomplishing. I know this sounds silly to the point of almost being inane, but
having been through the days where it seemed that the administrivia and process ruled over work and performance, I think it bears repeating: It is easy to get lost in the busy of busy-work and forget to try and accomplish some real work. And it is the real work that needs to get accomplished, every day.

Learning Opportunities

Normally when I get started on a new post I have an idea as to what the title should be. I sat here and knew what the topic was that I wanted to cover, but try as I might I could not come up with a title that satisfied me. I had a few but when they sound trite to even my own ear, they don’t make it to the post. Hopefully an idea for the title will present itself during the course of the post. Interesting, I normally don’t have a problem titling a post.

Over the course of my career I have learned that I am a positive reinforcement type of individual. I tend to focus on what I need to do to get better, as well as what the team needs to do to improve. That does not mean that I ignore my own or others mistakes. It does mean that I have found that going back and beating myself up, or beating up others for past mistakes does not normally provide a constructive solution. Since there is no way to go back and modify a behavior or decision that has already occurred, it seems to me that the best approach is to acknowledge the issue, understand what caused it, and take the appropriate steps to first solve it and then make sure that you have learned enough so that you don’t repeat the same issue in the future. Pretty simple, but it seems to have worked very well for me.

Too often it seems that issue resolution loses its way and becomes more of a historical re-visitation of the issue in order to make sure that blame is appropriately assigned. While culpability will be a topic of concern in the longer term, the immediate topic needs to remain on the issue resolution. Besides, I have also found that by the time the issue has manifested itself, those ultimately responsible for the issue are either abundantly aware of their own actions that were the genesis of the issue, or long gone from the scene.

No one likes to be wrong and no one likes to make mistakes. However once the mistake has been made there is the immediate need to rectify the situation. Corrective actions need to be scoped out and implemented. Once that is done and the solution is in process, then the learning opportunity can be examined on both an individual and business level. Again the focus needs to be on what has to be done on order to achieve the desired results or conversely what needs to be done to avoid the undesirable results.

It may be a subtle difference but it can and will set the entire tone for the team going forward in how it behaves and works. Looking at what needed to be done right in order to achieve the desired goals will automatically create a learning experience when people compare it with what was actually done. Looking at what was done has the potential to be perceived as more of a blaming experience than a learning experience.

Focusing on the positive aspect of what needs / needed to be done instead of focusing on the specific activity that generated the issue is one of the best ways to keep an issue that currently just needs resolution from devolving into what can be perceived as almost solely a blame assignment exercise. It is critical to understand this from a team leadership point of view, otherwise you can run the risk of having the team disengage from the resolution process.

By keeping a focus on what needed to be done you can retain the team’s capability to make aggressive decisions and take decisive actions. If everyone understands that issues will be resolved and reviewed from the point of view what needed to be done as opposed to the perception of holding any individual or team’s mistakes up for analysis, you will continue to encourage the team to make those types of decisions or to take those kinds of actions.

If your post issue actions become not much more than an analysis of the incorrect decision or action, you will begin to incite those individuals or teams to not “risk” making those decisions or to take those actions, as no one like to have the mistakes specifically and publically aired. By focusing on the negative you are encouraging the team to avoid the negative reinforcement.

You would hope that avoiding this negative reinforcement would result in more positive result generating decisions and actions. What I have found is that it normally results in fewer decisions or unilateral actions of any kind as people withdraw from risking the negative exposure.

Let me repeat that. Negative reinforcement or even the perception of negative reinforcement will result in fewer mistakes and issues because people will stop making decisions or taking actions. The only way to assure that you are never wrong is to not make the decision or take the action.

By looking at what needed to be done instead of what was done the business leader can communicate the same learning experience to the team or individual without the perception of it being an analysis of what that team or individual did wrong. Everyone makes mistakes. The objective is to keep everyone striving to do more, but with fewer mistakes. If people only recognize the downside of the mistake, the analysis of what they did wrong, they may choose to reduce the potentiality of repeating that uncomfortable event by becoming just that much more conservative in their approach to business.

In the times of that much more aggressive competition and the various drives to reduce costs and improve margins, it will not be the fully conservative approach that will carry the day. It will be new and innovative ideas, decisions and actions that move organizations and businesses forward.

Not everything new and innovative will work. However I think we are all in reasonable agreement that many of the current methods and directions associated with businesses (and government for that matter) today will not take us where we need or desire to go.

If we focus on the mistakes that get made instead of taking action to correct them and focusing on what the proper course of action is for future events we are encouraging people to not make mistakes. This on the surface is good. The only problem is as I have already said; the only way that I know of to assure that you don’t make a mistake is to not do anything. In taking the mistake focused approach, this is invariably what you get – fewer mistakes because there are much fewer decisions and actions taken.

I still don’t have a title for this post that I am fully happy with. That means that I will have to go with instinct on this one. If it’s wrong, I guess I’ll just have to look at it as another learning opportunity for me.

Thick Skin

A new year always brings many opportunities with it. The opportunity for both business and personal growth. The opportunity to break eighty on the golf course. The opportunity to break seventy on the golf course. The opportunity for our elected officials to step up, tell the public the truth and most importantly, solve some problems.

Some of these opportunities are more likely to occur than others, and are listed in no particular order of increasing improbability of happening.

The beginning of a new year also means that it is time to review the last year’s performance. That usually translates to year end performance reviews. I have discussed the need for, and various approaches to giving performance reviews in the past. Most of these approaches usually reduce down to: Be professional, be factual, be balanced (what was good and what could be improved) and most importantly, be brief.

Chances are that the person you are conducting the review with is probably enjoying the review at least as much as you are.

This time though, I’m going to take a little bit of a different approach to the joys of year end reviews and approach them from the point of view of the person being reviewed. We all essentially report to someone, and that someone is responsible for conducting our year end review.

I have tried several times to conduct year end reviews with my wife, but for some reason it seems that these meetings end up becoming her yearend reviews of me. Go figure.

I have had many different types of managers in my career. There have been those that clearly were uncomfortable with the review responsibility and only provided the most cursory of reviews. There were those managers that took their review responsibility way too seriously and scheduled two to three hour reviews in an effort to make sure that I obtained the maximum benefit of the considered and judicious input they had regarding not only my performance, but just about any other topic in life that came to mind while they were talking to me. And there have been those that did the bare minimum just so they could say they performed the review if they were asked.

There was a manager that once handed me his manager’s year end review form that he was supposed to fill out on me, and asked me to fill it out for him so that he could then turn around and conduct my year end review with it. This was interesting the first year it happened, and I tried to be pretty honest with him and myself regarding my performance. The face to face meeting was obviously pretty brief. The second year it happened, there wasn’t even a face to face meeting. The third year that it occurred seemed to me to be a call to action.

As in the previous years I filled out the form, but this time I added a “new” objective to the list. This new objective was that I be able to “walk on water”. In order to exceed this objective I would need to be able to walk on the air above the water. In order to achieve this objective I would need to actually walk on water (not during the winter on ice – frozen water, as this would meet the goal, but wouldn’t be note worthy). Anything else would be a “needs improvement” rating.

In this instance I rated myself as an “achieved – with an asterisk” in that I noted that I was not able to figure out how to walk on the water, but I was able to part the water and walk across the bottom without getting wet, which was almost as good. The only difference was that my shoes got a little muddy.

He never said a thing to me about it. I don’t think he even read it. I still smile every time I think back to that form and realize that it is a duly signed review archived somewhere in the human resource records of a major corporation.

Occasionally however, I have had the good fortune to work for a leader that took his responsibility seriously, and put the time in to conduct a considered and accurate review of me. They usually took the approach that we all want to do well, but that invariably there were areas where we all could do better.

I have discussed in the past the necessity that we all conduct “difficult conversations” with our team member when the time or situation calls for it. Now it is time to understand how to handle having an uncomfortable or difficult conversation conducted with you.

Being told what you didn’t get done, or what you need to do better is going to happen. You need to understand and accept this. It might not have been your fault or responsibility. It might have been unavoidable. It is conceivable that you might have actually not performed up to your usual high levels. There may in fact be no one on the planet that could have performed better than you under these circumstances. It doesn’t matter. Regardless, it is the start of a new year and you are going to be reviewed on last year’s performance.

The first thing to understand and acknowledge when being reviewed is your area of responsibility. The issues and the decisions that spawned them may have taken place elsewhere or in the past, but you are there now and for better or for worse you own the situation now. You are now the responsible party.

Don’t dodge it. Don’t blame it on past administrations. We have enough politicians doing this. Stand up and note what your area of responsibility is. Chances are that it is already recognized where the issues arose. There will be those issues that are not attributable to you and those that are.

Also remember that this is a review, not a “blame-storming” session. It is always difficult to not be defensive in a situation where those things that have not gone as well as anyone would like are being reviewed. As strange as it may seem, I have found that the less defensive that I am about difficult issues, the less accusatory sounding people are when they discuss the various points to be covered. I have also found that sometimes there is truly valid input available on what and how I can do better.

Always remember in a review that facts are your friends. Discuss the facts and how they may be interpreted. Do not try to modify or discuss opinion, yours or anyone else’s. Trying to modify or discuss opinion is called an argument. Having an argument as the result of a yearend review is definitely the definition of a lose – lose situation. Without the facts to support a different performance perception, a yearend review argument will generate a negative outcome on this year’s review, and a poor expectation will be set for next year’s performance and review as well.

No one likes to be the recipient of a difficult discussion or review. The natural reaction is to try and justify or argue the position. This approach invariably fails unless there are facts available to both parties that can modify opinions. And even then there is only so much that you can say or do. It is a very fine line.

When I have conducted difficult conversations or reviews I have been careful to address the behavior or performance and not the person. It is business and we are professionals. No matter what it feels like, it should not feel like a personal attack. I did not enjoy the conversation, but it was my responsibility to conduct it.

The same rules seem to apply when you find yourself on the other side of a difficult conversation or review. Do not allow it to become personal. It is business and you are a professional. It is difficult to do, but it is a must. Be professional, be factual, and be balanced as to what you can do to improve the situation. If it was felt that the issue needed to be addressed with you in the first place, there needs to be some sort of response provided that the message being sent was acknowledged and received. I said acknowledged. I didn’t say agreed.

Sometimes it takes thick skin to accept the responsibilities that go along with being a leader. There are very few who can say that they have not erred or that their performance could not be improved. Sometimes i
t is not fun to be told this by someone else, but it does go with the position.

Bad Deals

I started off my business career in sales. I admit it. It’s not something I am particularly proud of…come to think of it, it is something that I am particularly proud of. I can honestly say that I spent time in one of the most difficult professional disciplines around, the professional discipline of trying to get someone to give you their money. I learned a lot in sales about dealing with customers. I also learned a lot about dealing with the internal mechanisms of the company that I worked for as well. I thought that any customer that I could make a deal with and get an order from was a good customer. As I have progressed through my career I have learned that not all deals and customers are good.

For the average salesperson an order is an order. The more of them you get, the more commissions you get. The more commissions you get the more money and personal esteem you acquire. Along with this comes better houses, cars, big screen TVs and along with the laws of natural selection an increased opportunity to pass your sales DNA along to future generations of sales people. In case you missed it, sales is a jungle.

The ideal sales deal is that you provide your customer with something they need, a product or a service, and they provide you with something you need, primarily money. As long as everyone keeps this sort of exchange arrangement in mind things normally go well, and for the most part they usually do.

Occasionally however there have been recorded instances where things didn’t go well. Many of these sorts of instances are attributable to honest mistakes or misunderstandings and the preponderance of them can be cleared up by honest and diligent work by both parties associated with the deal.

Then there are the outliers. Those deals that you have entered into that despite the fact that you’re doing everything right, either one or both of the parties to the deal are unhappy. Either the customer is not getting what they wanted, or you are not getting paid. Sometimes both. What do you do?

The first step is to find the nearest Home Depot store. Go there and go into their Bathroom / Plumbing section and find a really nice mirror. Buy that mirror, take it to your office, hang it on your wall and spend some time looking at and questioning the person in that mirror to make absolutely sure that you are in fact living up to your end of the deal. Try to look at the person in that mirror from the customer’s point of view. Have you told the customer everything the need to know? Have you done everything you need to do? Start with you.

If you have completed step one and are reasonably confident that you and your team are providing all the entitled goods and services to both the letter and the spirit of the contract then the issue may in fact lie on the other side of the deal, with the customer. This is usually a pretty rare, but not an unheard of event. You may have a customer that through either the normal or abnormal conduct of their business is difficult to deal with.

I have not had to deal with this sort of situation very often thank goodness, but when I have it has normally fallen into one of two categories: it is either a very small customer that for whatever reason has been forced into a position where they cannot adhere to the deal they made, or a very large customer who feels that they are either such a desirable customer or so dominant in their market that they do not feel that they have to adhere to the deal they have made.

Of the two scenarios, I prefer the first one. A company that can’t honor the deal for the most part will be willing to work with you. There may be a solution out there where the deliverables of the deal can be altered to where both parties can be addressed. A small customer company by its nature can be a fragile enterprise. There are risks associated with dealing with them. They will however usually try to work with you.

On the other side of the spectrum is the large company. These are companies that understand the role and position in the market and use it as leverage against all of their suppliers. If you want their business then they feel that you will have to play their game. Most customers want their partners to make a reasonable profit. This usually assures them of a continued available supply of the good or service that they want or need. Some however just want the deal now and will not care if you are around for the next one or not. They know there will be someone else there if you are not.

The usual response to this tactic is for the organization to agree to the terms because the organization decides that it wants the business bad enough, and the size of the business is large enough to warrant an agreement. There will usually be pressure from the sales team trying to convince everyone of the strategic nature of both the business and the customer in question, and how the profit will be made up on the next deal.

It never happens that way, and there is nothing strategic about unprofitable business. I have addressed this topic specifically in the past. You can talk yourself into just about any kind of business, but you cannot talk yourself into profitability.

Once you are into one of these types of deals where the customer is obviously leveraging you there are only a limited number of things you can do: You can look for a legal way out, or look for a way to minimize the damage and exposure while you meet your end of the agreement. After all, you signed it.

Exiting a deal because you don’t like the terms of a contract you signed is usually only an option of last resort. Unless you have been demonstrably misled by the customer, this really isn’t an option. But it is also a financial decision as well. If the fines and penalties for leaving the contract are less that than the losses expected from continuing, it needs to be reviewed.

That usually leaves buckling down, trying to reduce all costs associated with the deal in question, and then getting out at the earliest legal time. Issue the exit / cancelation notification and don’t take any argument from the sales team or customer. These are the teams that were responsible for the deal in the first place. Don’t allow them to prolong the inevitable.

Be polite. Be firm. Be gone.

Sometimes bad contracts are expensive opportunities to learn lessons. Other times they can just be plain expensive. They can be lessons about markets. They can be lessons about sales teams and their compensation incentives. They can be lessons about specific customers. The important point is that they need to be lessons that are learned.

If you have only a contract or two that fall into this category then they could be an anomaly. If you have multiple bad deals in a specific market or with a specific customer, you need to learn how to de-risk those types of deals, or avoid those specific markets or customers.

If you have multiple bad deals across multiple markets and customers, then you have a sales force issue, where their objectives and incentives are not aligned with the profitability objectives and requirements of the company. This is a key point. If you have a number of bad deals you have an issue with your sales team and their compensation plan. You probably need to make sure that the sales team has some sort of margin or profitability goal associated with their compensation in order to avoid this situation.

Regardless, the only person responsible for a bad deal is the one that agreed to it. Don’t sign a bad deal hoping you can make it better. Don’t specifically blame the customer, but if they are unwilling to create an agreement that is at least fair to both parties you need to remember and learn from it. Learn from it and put the processes in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Bad deals happen only because you agree to them.