Reduce And Improve

January 28th, 2010 by admin

In a competitive environment, it’s important to know how to out-value your competition. I’ve discovered that one of the best ways is to reduce your transactional costs. While producing motherboards at Mitsubishi Electric, we went through a phase when customers wanted, more than ever, the latest technology possible. Mitsubishi knew that in order to be competitive, it had to either keep up with the latest technology or find another niche. We also found that if we did it right, we could reduce our costs and undermine the competition.

At the time, specialty equipment such as medical devices, gaming machines and ATMs faced a problem with the motherboards used in their machines. Federal regulations mandated that an entire machine be approved through an often 12- or 18-month process before it could be used. In the sector that Mitsubishi and its competitors dealt with, keeping up with the latest technology meant a constant swapping in and out of motherboard components. (Obviously, that made us money.)

But these sectors—medicine, gaming, and banking— could not simply swap out a motherboard. For example, any changes at all in an X-ray machine required that the whole product be re-approved. Twelve-month delays for every innovation obviously would not work. As a result, these industries had taken to hiring their own teams of engineers to build motherboards that were more stable. They did not meet the performance of outside motherboards, but there seemed to be no other way to meet the need for stability.

This is where we came in with Mitsubishi. Seeing an opportunity, we began producing a line of motherboards that would outperform the ones these industries had created while still providing the needed stability that kept the approval process from having to be repeated.

Suddenly, these industries were able to cut their transactional costs by laying off engineers and opting for better-performing motherboards in their equipment. At the same time, Mitsubishi could optimize its profit by entering an arena where we could undercut the cost of a 10-person engineer team but make a massive profit relative to the other motherboard sectors we were engaged in. By reducing transactional costs and improving the product and product environment, this one sector opened up a profitable new market.

An even clearer example comes from my 2001 trek through the Himalayas. While hiking in Nepal, I met a young man from the village of Namche Bazaar. Some time before, he had decided to try breaking into the Internet market in his village. Nestled high in the beautiful, snow-capped Himalayas, Namche Bazaar is a frequent traveling stop for trekkers. As hikers pass through this village, it is their last chance to check email, make a quick call home, or get in touch with business contacts.

For a long time, the only telephone option was through expensive satellite communications. So, while trekkers could touch base with home, it was at a cost of several dollars a minute. Doing so took a small fortune, but given that this was the only option, nobody questioned the price—until this young man set up his Internet café.

His desire to break into the Internet market had led him to the United States, where he quickly landed a job at McDonald’s. Saving as much money as he could, he eventually bought four used desktop computers that he brought back to Nepal. Once there, he had to hike up the Himalayas to Namche Bazaar with his computers strapped to his back.

I met him after he had set up shop. His resolve and tenacity had given him a toehold in the Internet café business, but it had also whetted his appetite for something more. You see, while in the U.S., he had learned about Voice-Over IP technology. This piqued his interest as a cheaper option than satellite phone calls (and he knew would expand the potential of his business plan), but he did not know how to set it up. He asked if I did—and I did.

I helped this young man set up his VOIP phone call business and, suddenly, he had not just a toe, but his whole foot, leg, arm, and body thrown right into the middle of the market. The high cost of satellite communication meant that his competitors could not drop their prices without losing their profit margin; for him, though, VOIP cost mere cents each minute. By charging little more than a dollar a minute to the trekkers, his profit margin was insanely higher than his competitors’, and the price tag to the trekkers was insanely lower. Considering the low average daily wage in Nepal, this was almost like me renting out my restroom for five hundred dollars an hour!

I am certain it was harder for him to reduce costs and thereby increase margins than it will be for you. Still, if you do your prep work to cut your transactional costs, you will be able to reduce, improve, and profit.

There are thousands of ways to reduce. Whether through applying technology, finding your niche, or just behaving small (see chapter 14), you can find a way to reduce your transactional costs without traveling the world and hiking the Himalayas. If you can do it cheaper than the competition and protect that price-enabling innovation, you will have flexibility with pricing, marketing strategies, and customer relationships. You simply need to be aware of the competition, the customer’s wants and needs, and the best use of your imagination.

When you do all of this, you will be far more profitable, acquire more customers, and outpace your competition. Dance with the devil for the judges and the audience, yes; but, most important, dance with the devil for yourself and your business.

Porter’s Points – Reduce and Improve

  • In order to respond to your competition, examine product innovation, longevity, and quality, as well as associated services, legal and technical requirements, and market trends for places where you can start cutting. Reduce your transactional costs by cutting out the middleman.
  • Don’t just cut costs. When you scale something back, take the opportunity to improve the product, the marketing, and all other aspects of your reduction. When you can hit a market niche with lower costs to you, be sure to hit it with the highest profit margin that you can.

Know Your Competition

January 26th, 2010 by admin

Now is a good time to pull out the model we talked about in “Power Tools.” You remember: the Competitive Matrix Model. Draw a matrix comparing your and the competition’s price, products, and cost. Where do your competitors map to? How about you? Are you right on top of them, or are you in one of the gaps in the market? This exercise will show you how likely you are to be in their crosshairs, how aggressive you need to be with pricing, whether or not you can ride in their wake, and how much you need to compete or cooperate.

I don’t know if Ray Noorda at Novell coined this one or not, but the first time I ever heard the word “co-opetition” was from his mouth. The idea is exactly how it sounds: compete, but cooperate. Competitive relationships can and should be fun, lively, and challenging. Hate relationships (like those unfortunately existing between many competitors) are not a place you want to go. Haters are annoying. They just waste energy.

The amount of energy you can expend in a fit of anger or jealousy can be significant, and even if it was motivated by an idea that popped into your head, that idea is usually gone once the tirade is over. New developments inspired by competitive camaraderie are often longer lasting and more respected. Some try to argue the value of a good dose of angry, negative competition, but it is just a short-lived dead end.

As much as you would like to engage in “coopetition,” you still need to know when your customers or affiliates don’t feel the same way. Some years ago, Ron experienced the tip of this negatively competitive iceberg when caught between two companies that seemed to love hating each other. Here is how he learned about hateful competition:

While employed at a large software company in the early ’90s, I had the direct responsibility to sponsor a customer feedback forum. The forum was held at a location that was neutral to all our customers, as we wanted uninfluenced and uninhibited feedback on how we were doing as a service organization. These customers made up our Customer Advisory Council, and their input was critical to our success. In many cases, they had spent millions of dollars on our software and services. They were highly respected in their particular markets and industries.

About midway through the first day of meetings, break time came around. One of our customers, a representative from a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of soft drinks, made his way to the refreshment table. I was standing nearby, visiting with another customer, when I heard a loud expletive. Turning my head to see what was up, he locked on my eyes and exclaimed something to the effect of, “I see our competitor’s products all over this table, but not a single one of ours. Would someone like to explain to me why the %&*@ that is and what the %*#& I’m supposed to drink?!”

Not knowing the intensity of the competition had led us to commit a cardinal sin. As soon as our customers returned to the meetings, we cleaned out every bit of his competitor’s products and replaced them with his company’s brands.

This kind of competition is abundant. You need to do your homework to be sure that you know what kind of competition to expect. Don’t believe it? Well, of a hundred more that I could pen, here comes another example of a rivalry so intense that the companies did stupid, self-defeating things. Once again, it comes from Ron’s bank of stories. Read it, believe that competition can get brutal, and resolve to do better.

When Ron was building the professional services team for a startup software company, his field sales engineer (FSE) was invited to present at a large hardware and software business based in Texas. He was equipped with the latest laptop technology—albeit from a competing hardware manufacturer—and was prepared to give a sterling presentation. This was a presentation that was important not just for the startup company, but for the long-term IT strategy of the Texas company as well.

The FSE was invited into the conference room and settled in for the presentation. One of the potential client’s high-ranking employees watched the FSE set up for the meeting—laptop out, wires hooked to the projector, everything ready for the dog-and-pony show. The employee waited until the presentation was ready to begin and then stood up, walked around the table, stopped in front of the engineer, and told him to unwire
his laptop, pick it up, and follow him.

He led the FSE out of the room and into the hallway. There he “invited” him to stow his laptop in his bag and hand it to him. He then walked the laptop over to an administrative assistant and instructed her to return the laptop to the FSE after the meeting. Returning to the engineer, he said, “Don’t ever come into our complex again with our competitor’s laptops or any of their products. You will do the presentation without our competitor’s gear or not at all. What’s it going to be?”

Never underestimate or misunderstand how your competitor feels about you. You need to know the appropriate amount of sharing and communicating to do. If you can stay away from this kind of brutality, it will be better for all of you. In some cases, however, it’s best to leave the relationship alone completely. If you run up against negative competition, don’t touch it. This is for the good of both companies and anyone
else foolish enough to wander into the crossfire.

Porter’s Points – Know Your Competition

  • After you draw up your Competitive Matrix Model, determine when and how best to approach each of your competitors and then do it. “Co-opetition” does not always mean that you cuddle up with everyone in your market. Be especially careful with the timing of your market entry.
  • For those competitors who react harshly to your friendly overtures, figure out how best to observe their work from a distance and then stay away. As a startup, the last thing you need is for an established business to come gunning for you.
  • Whenever you interact with competitors or customers, think through every detail— technology, refreshments, location, and especially culture. If there is anything that could offend, eliminate it. In such situations, it’s much easier to be a friend up front than to ask forgiveness later.

Do Your Homework

January 21st, 2010 by admin

Think for a moment about your business idea— product, services, market, scope. Now create a list of all the competitors that occupy the same space. Did you write any names down? If so, you are further along than many first-time entrepreneurs. Lots of novice entrepreneurs don’t recognize the value of this type of list. They don’t understand the power that comes from knowing about who’s out there for them to go head-to-head with.

Make a concerted effort to create your list. Search online. Go to the mall. Attend conferences or seminars dealing with your market space. Pay attention to advertising you see throughout the day—commercials, newspaper and magazine ads, billboards, anything.

List in hand, it’s time to get to know the guys across the street. What are they doing right? What are they doing wrong? Who are they selling to? Who is their biggest customer? What is their best-selling product? This may require a little espionage. Go stand in line at one of their stores. Eat their food! Call the companies and engage their administrative assistant in an informational conversation. Tell them that you’re doing research and ask about the company’s goals, mottos, and customers. You will be amazed at what you can find out by asking the right questions to the right people.

Open up a line of communication with the owners of the company. Take them out to lunch and have an honest conversation. Make sure you approach this from the right angle, though. For instance, you could say, “I admire you company’s history. I’m interested in a similar industry, and as someone just starting, I wanted to know if I could ask you a few questions.” This comes across much better than, “Tell me what you guys do, because I plan to leave you in the dust in six months’ time.” Be polite and ask honest questions. You’ll get answers.

Just because you know this information about your competitors, you do not necessarily need to model their businesses’ look, feel, and function. If you see weaknesses, for example, you certainly don’t want to let them slide into your company. Don’t just look for holes, though; there may be a thing or two you find valuable and decide to borrow. We’ll go back to Schoolhouse Rock! and affirm that, indeed, “knowledge is power!” Specifically, it is the power to emulate the good, improve the bad, and sail past your competitor on the dance floor.

Porter’s Points – Do Your Homework

  • In the planning stage, list all aspects of your business that might run up against competition. Starting with Internet searches and moving into actual legwork (malls, phone books, industry directories, etc.), make a list of all your competitors.
  • Draft a series of questions and talking points to use when approaching your competitors’ administrative assistant, managers, and owners. Don’t put them in the awkward position of disclosing proprietary information, but focus instead on their product ideas, customer relationships, advertising techniques, and other useful information.
  • Always be courteous when courting your competitors. Don’t push if they refuse some answers. If it really is important, you can find out some other way.

Competition Is Good

January 19th, 2010 by admin

Whatever the competitive landscape in your market, you must accept it as the only landscape worth traversing. Competition can become the lifeblood of your business, inspiring change, freshness, and innovation. Ignoring your competitors, by contrast, will drain the life out of you—often without you even knowing it.

Where do you and your competition stand? If, upon concluding your market analysis, you find that you have no competitors, think twice about your business idea. Why isn’t anyone else doing it? Are you really so smart that no one else could have possibly come up with the same idea? Dig deeper. Perhaps someone has already tried your idea and it didn’t fly. Be cautious and intelligent about when you enter what landscape. If you dive in anyway and then get asked to tango on a trampoline, it’s hard to back down.

One drawback to entering a sparse environment of competition is the need for a longer, more expensive ramp-up phase. You have to break your own trail. You will have no competitor to help you advertise your product. There will not be an established channel of marketing and consumption specific to your brand-spanking-new idea. Building new channels and pioneering marketing campaigns can be done, but you need to recognize the associated costs.

On the other hand, having a competitor or two gives you access to banks of information. You will not likely get direct access to your competitors’ databases of customers, cost structures, or product development secrets, but for every company you compete with, you will find administrative assistants, other customer facing employees, and both happy and dissatisfied customers—all who will be willing to talk.

Most people are excited to chat about what they do. They like to brag about their company’s innovative products and who their big-name customers are. Use this knowledge to build a better mousetrap. What about your competitors’ product or service is broken? How can you take advantage of what has already been done? Being willing to follow the lead is often more profitable than leading out.

This concept fits with the section on “abundance mentality” found in chapter 12, “The Heart and Head of the Entrepreneur.” Recognize—and, if necessary, make yourself understand—that there is plenty to go around. At times, it’s even a good move to let your competitors get to market first to make the mistakes for you. Learn from those mistakes and clean up! This is the idea of drafting—like how geese draft off the ones in front, or how the second- and third-place race cars draft off the leader.

Our latest venture places us in the highly competitive and rapidly changing online search engine world. This market is complex enough that no one individual or company can keep up with the ever-changing landscape. Success requires a level of openness and sharing within the industry brain trust. There are several individuals in our industry that thrive on discovering amazing new strategies. We directly benefit from drafting off the learning and creativity of our competitors.

You too can take the more profitable tack of learning from other companies’ mistakes and taking a more profitable slice of the pie. Some argue that beating everybody else to market is absolutely critical. If you are going to get to the market first, simply prepare yourself to adjust, improve, and change as your competitors begin to poke into your market share.

Porter’s Points – Competition Is Good

  • If nobody is in your market, ask yourself if there really is a demand for your product. Is the demand sufficient to give life to your business? How will you create a market that doesn’t exist? What other products and services can you offer? Do some careful investigation before diving headfirst into an empty pool.
  • The way to your competitors’ customers is through the employees who interact with the customers and through the customers themselves. Contact these people and ask them about what they do. Take careful notes on how you can improve.
  • Reread the section on having an “abundance mentality” from chapter 12. Really commit yourself to believe that the market is big enough for you and the competition. Let others test the waters a little, and always, always learn from your and their mistakes. Use those mistakes to look for openings and then take them!

Porter’s Preface: Dancing With The Devil

January 14th, 2010 by admin

Chapter 18 of Bootstrap Business begins today with not-so-common advice:  Dance with the devil!

As a teenager, I played on a football team in Flagstaff, Arizona. Once, we played an away game against a team that didn’t seem at all motivated. The game turned out to be an easy win, and one of my teammates quipped, “I bet if we hadn’t shown up, they still would have lost!” He didn’t know how true his statement was. In order to truly test yourself and your new business idea, you need competition; you can’t win without it.

Several years ago, Rich and I both worked for Novell, a networking company that at one point controlled 80-plus percent of the market. In other words, it had no competition. Then Novell became complacent. And when the serious competition did show up, the company was far from prepared to take it on.

Most people are timid about interacting with competitors; even worse, many business owners think that they don’t have or even want any competition. If you use it to your advantage, competition keeps you hungry, honest, and forward-moving.

As the saying goes, “High tides float all boats.” When your competitors advertise their products, your business benefits from getting the byproduct of unexpected marketing. If you’ve positioned yourself correctly, when people look for your competitor’s product, they will likely also find yours. More than just benefiting from happy accidents, though, you must know your competitors’ strategies, their position in your market, and their weaknesses. Competition is a healthy part of the entrepreneur’s diet.

Rich thrives on embracing and enjoying competition. It shows up in all aspects of his life—from golf to work to siblings. He has mastered how to let it keep him sharp and focused. He also knows that when you dance with the devil of competition, even one misstep will allow it to dance all over you. You may think that you are dancing the tango only to suddenly watch your competitors cha-cha on by. You want to win, but you cannot win unless you compete and do it well.

The Big Red Door

January 12th, 2010 by admin

Many people shy away from accountability because of fear. Fear of what? The unknown outcome of what is on the other side of accepting accountability.

Back in the days of the early Roman Empire, when prisoners were captured and forced to fight to their death, the fighters would often be given a choice. They could either face the lions or walk through the big red door. Almost every single prisoner chose to face the lions. Why? Because of uncertainty and fear of the unknown. The unknown is often worse than the known, no matter what the “unknown” might turn out to be. What was behind the big red door? Freedom.

In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt:

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

You can’t allow yourself to be bullied away from venturing into the unknown simply because you fear the accountability that will result. It is tough and it is scary, but accountability often is what stands between you and freedom. Sometimes the curve ball will curve, and sometimes it’ll hit you smack in the nose. Either way, savor the accountability resulting from your choice to “stay in.”

Porter’s Points – The Big Red Door

  • Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from accepting accountability.
  • Make a list of the reasons you want to become an entrepreneur. As you review your list, analyze the trade-offs. Is what you want a fair exchange for the amount of accountability you are willing to assume?

You Are Accountable

January 7th, 2010 by admin

Have you ever found yourself trying to deflect accountability? If you’re honest with yourself, you will likely answer, “Yes, I have.” And the fact is, it never feels good. The first time you slink around accountability, your conscience seems to shout back at you, “Not good!”

And yet the more you shrink from it, the easier it becomes. The voice inside gets softer and softer until you fool yourself into thinking that not being accountable is okay—or, worse yet, that you’re doing all that could be expected of you. The result is that you replace the exhilarating sensation of accountability with the uninspiring sense of apathy. As a business owner and leader, you must not allow yourself to be fooled. You must learn how to be accountable yourself and how to hold your employees, partners, and vendors accountable.

One of my favorite, real-life examples of taking personal accountability comes out of the aviation industry. This story depicts one CEO who stayed in, took the curve ball on the nose, and exemplified accountability to self, company, stockholders, and customers.

In February of 1999 David Neeleman founded JetBlue Airways with the intent “to bring humanity back to air travel.” Further elaborating on its commitment to customer service, Neeleman later said,

It’s a new kind of low-fare airline. JetBlue will offer wider seats, more legroom, and more overhead storage space than any other airline in its class and, with 24 channels of live in-flight television, you’ll never have to miss your favorite show on the road. What’s more, our aircraft are some of the world’s quietest, most emission-friendly passenger jets.

In an ad specific to the citizens of New York City, he committed to the following:

We want to be New York’s new low-fare, hometown airline. JetBlue will bring to the city a superior product…

What happened on and around February 14, 2007, was anything but a sweetheart customer service story. Here are a few less-than-stellar low points, as reported by a variety of news agencies:

  • Over 500 JetBlue passengers were stranded on the tarmac at John F. Kennedy International Airport for six-plus hours.
  • During the ensuing six-day meltdown, over 1,000 JetBlue flights were canceled.
  • By that Sunday, hundreds of bags belonging to JetBlue customers who had checked into flights that were eventually canceled were stacked outside JetBlue’s Baggage Services office.
  • Hundreds of JetBlue flights were delayed. Passengers were frustrated and shocked by the extent of the delays

Bringing humanity back to the air travel?  The business impact was, to say the least, expensive. The company’s stock fell five percent. During ensuing interviews, Neeleman acknowledged weaknesses in the company’s communications and flight reservation system and vowed to invest the millions of dollars necessary to bring the airline up to speed.

Put yourself in Neeleman’s shoes. What would you have done as the CEO in this situation? Do you send the public relations folks in to handle the mess? Does the VP of customer service get called upon to shield you from the wrath of the irate customers? Do you ignore the fiasco and hope it goes away? Do you point fingers at operations and lop off a few heads along the way?

Here’s what David Neeleman did;

Dear JetBlue Customers,

We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry.

Last week was the worst operational week in JetBlue’s seven-year history. Many of you were either stranded, delayed or had flights canceled following the severe winter ice storm in the Northeast. The storm disrupted the movement of aircraft, and, more importantly, disrupted the movement of JetBlue’s pilot and in-flight crewmembers who were depending on those planes to get them to the airports where they were scheduled to serve you. With the busy President’s Day weekend upon us, rebooking opportunities were scarce and hold times at 1-800-JETBLUE were unusually long or not even available, further hindering our recovery efforts.

Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the anxiety, frustration and inconvenience that you, your family, friends and colleagues experienced. This is especially saddening because JetBlue was founded on the promise of bringing humanity back to air travel, and making the experience of flying happier and easier for everyone who chooses to fly with us. We know we failed to deliver on this promise last week.

We are committed to you, our valued customers, and are taking immediate corrective steps to regain your confidence in us. We have begun putting a comprehensive plan in place to provide better and more timely information to you, more tools and resources for our crewmembers and improved procedures for handling operational difficulties. Most importantly, we have published the JetBlue Airways Customer Bill of Rights—our official commitment to you of how we will handle operational interruptions going forward—including details of compensation. We invite you to learn more at jetblue.com/promise.

You deserved better – a lot better – from us last week and we let you down. Nothing is more important than regaining your trust and all of us here hope you will give us the opportunity to once again welcome you onboard and provide you the positive JetBlue Experience you have come to expect from us.

Sincerely,
David Neeleman
Founder and CEO

And, to top it off, Neeleman followed up his heartfelt apology with pocket-felt actions. He announced what he estimated would cost between twenty and thirty million dollars to revamp procedures for handling interruptions in service. Before the month was out JetBlue Airways voluntarily offered forty million dollars in refunds and vouchers to impacted passengers and gave wings to JetBlue’s “Customer Bill of Rights.”

We’re going to offer something that no other airline will offer customers… We’re going to be held accountable with laser beam focus… we want to do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Now that is accountability. No hiding, no transparency, not waffling, no pointing fingers—just plain old refreshing, effective, personal accountability. Thank you, David Neeleman!

Porter’s Points – You Are Accountable

  • The first time you shoulder accountability, it may seem difficult. But the more you accept it, the easier it becomes to accept.
  • Stay in and, if necessary, take the curve ball on the nose.
  • Be accountable—and then some. Exceed what those you are accountable to expect from you.

Porter’s Preface: Embrace Accountability

January 5th, 2010 by admin

Today we begin Chapter 17 of Bootstrap Business, Embrace Accountability.

Why do you want to be an entrepreneur? If you answered, “To be my own boss,” or “to be able to do things my way,” that’s okay, but you need to remember that this kind of freedom comes with a price. In short, personal ownership equals personal accountability. Accountability means not affixing blame and finding solutions instead. It is doing the right thing because it’s the right thing. It is taking ownership of your choices and all of the resulting consequences. There’s no “pick and choose” here.

I am—and Rich is—fascinated by people who, without concern for the outcome, just do the right thing. I am also intrigued by those who, in an effort to avoid being held accountable, do whatever (right or wrong) it takes to avoid accountability. It is our belief that many people choose to not be accountable because they fear the unknown. If you fear accountability, it follows that you will fear entrepreneurship.

In the beginning, entrepreneurship can seem like a deep, dark pit of accountability. There aren’t very many sure bets to be had when starting your own venture, but there is always this one: for better or for worse, you are responsible for whatever happens. Among the things you’ll put on the line are your money, your reputation, and your motivation. Some, after embarking on their own entrepreneurial journey, look accountability in the face and turn tail and run back to the comfortable, secure corporate world.

For some, accountability is an acquired taste. To really enjoy it, you must learn to trust yourself, your judgment, your partners, and your venture. When you get the mixture just right, it can be quite sweet, even exhilarating. You’ll learn to savor the thrill of making decisions and standing behind them, knowing that you’re personally accountable. You might just decide you wouldn’t have it any other way.

The tendency for far too many individuals is to avoid accountability rather than embrace it. Following are some examples of avoiding and embracing accountability Rich and I have witnessed during our personal experience in the corporate world. As you review these, consider which side of the ledger you find yourself on. What about your employees? What about your vendors or partners? Do you avoid or embrace accountability? What about those you rely on? Here’s the bottom line: make accountability personal to you and those  you deal with. Here are some clear indicators that will help you identify when accountability is being embraced and when it’s not.

Avoiding Accountability

  1. “That’s not my job.”
  2. “I can’t find anything to do.”
  3. “Why do we need a self-improvement class at work?”
  4. “When is upper management going to get it right?”
  5. “I’ve been working here a year, and I still don’t have a job description – what am I supposed to be doing anyway?”
  6. “Whose stupid idea was this team-building activity?”
  7. And even: “No, don’t bother me about that until tomorrow. I go home too soon to worry about it right now.

Embracing Accountability

  1. “I’d love to help, what do you need me to do?”
  2. “I did it because it needed doing.”
  3. “I’m glad the company is providing us the opportunity to learn and apply self-improvement techniques.”
  4. “Maybe upper management hasn’t made the right choice because they don’t have enough data. How can we help them get that data?”
  5. “No, I don’t have a job description. I’ve just observed and determined where we needed help and jumped in.”
  6. “Yes, I’d love to participate in a team-building activity!”

I remember a great teaching moment that occurred at one of my son’s baseball games. Jory was in the batter’s box, waiting for the pitch. The pitcher let the ball go, and it headed straight for Jory’s head. Jory thought, “curve ball,” and stayed in the box. At the last second, the ball didn’t curve! He took the ball in the face, which broke his nose. As my son and I sat in the emergency room, I tried to make him feel better, “That was a really good job, son.” Jory, peering at me quizzically, remarked, “Dad, I got hit in the face with the ball!” “Yeah,” I told him. “But you stayed in the box!”

Accountability can sometimes feel like a curve ball to the face. Or, more accurately, a failed curve ball. It might hurt, but the satisfaction of “staying in” is far greater than the fleeting feeling of safety as you jump out of the way of accountability.