Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Getting "Buy In"

As my companies grow, I am finding that leading depends greatly depending upon who you are leading. My experience in the Marine Corps should help in this area, and it does to some extent. However, in the Marines, you generally are dealing with willing and motivated individuals. Marines are not paid very much, so it isn't the pay. While they have little choice in what unit or job they are in, they tend to go about their work with a certain gusto that is sometimes lacking in the civilian world.

The main difference between Marines and civilians is "buy-in". It has a lot to do with the training. Many people believe that Marines are trained to blindly obey orders. That is not really the case. In fact, when orders are unlawful, the Marines are encouraged to disobey. The big difference between Marines and civilians is that Marines know and recognize leadership. They are more willing to follow because they have better faith that their leaders are going to look out for them.

In my own experience, getting "buy-in" or agreement to a plan is far more difficult in the civilian world. To civilians, disagreeing with their leaders seems to be a positive trait. Of course, civilians can always quit their job if they truly don't believe in their leadership. Marines have no such option.

I have found that the only way to get agreement and buy-in in a civilian setting is to first establish that the leader is capable of leadership. Once people have faith in your ability to lead (by lead, I mean make the right decisions at the right time to achieve the right result), then they are far more willing to "buy-in" to your plans. Without faith in your leadership first, your plans fall on deaf ears and your decisions are always questioned.

Before anyone starts to call me an autocratic power monger, remember that my goals are all based upon the singular principal of serving the needs of the customer. My plans that I try to get buy-in over generally have to do with details that affect the customer's relationship with my companies.

Oh yeah, for all of those out there who stereotype Marine leadership as a mixture of yelling and screaming, you should visit a Marine base and watch some of the finest leaders care for, worry over and guide their young Marines through the most difficult days of their lives. Yelling and screaming is limited to the movies and bootcamp.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Unknown

In any business, the real stress comes from the unknown. We spend a great deal of time planning, scheming, studying and measuring in order to try to eliminate uncertainty, but the truth is that no one can be 100% sure of what is going to happen.

Will this make money? Will we cover our costs? Will there be sales in the next month? All of these things are the basis of my stress. If the future was certain, then business would be easy.

Take RentQuick for instance. Our main business is in renting audio visual equipment to people who then use the equipment for meetings. I cannot be certain how many meetings will take place in a given month. Nor can I be sure of how many people will actually rent their equipment from me. Every month is somewhat of a surprise.

Yes, I can look at what we did the year before. I can look at what we did the month before. I can see what that particular customer has done on average over time, but none of these things are accurate predictors of the future.

Business people try to make themselves believe that they have some control over their sales. When in fact, they have very little control over sales. The only person with the control over whether or not we get business is the customer. The customer may choose to buy their equipment, they might cancel the meeting, or they might hold the meeting in a field using pine cones instead of projectors. None of these things are under my control. I lie to myself every day and say that I have control over what the future revenues will be. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I am scared to death that the phone won't ring.

Anyone in business would lie if they said they weren't concerned about sales. When sales are bad, then you worry. When sales are good, you worry. In fact, I worry more when sales are great because it means I am investing more money into equipment and people in hopes that sales stay good.

Everything I do is easy compared to generating revenue. Revenue generation is by far the most difficult function business must undertake. Oh, and don't look to to consultants or ad sales reps to give you the answers. They are both in the business of selling something, however, neither has the magic wand that will make your business grow.

Ultimately, you must have faith. Not the religious faith. But instead faith that if you treat each client with respect and serve their needs as best as you can, they will be back. You must believe that by treating the customer with utmost respect that they will not only purchase from you again, but that they will encourage others to do the same.