Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What A Jet Crash Can Teach A Business Owner - Piloting Your Company

You’d be surprised by the number of similarities between the most common causes of military jet crashes and those of business failures. I have a unique perspective on both having served on accident investigation teams for the USN and Boeing and, for the last 13 years, come to the aid of business owners of start-ups and established businesses alike, striving to place their company on a sustainable growth path.

As a former Flight Safety Engineer for Boeing, one of my responsibilities was to support accident investigations involving our military jet fighters. As you might expect, the U.S. spends considerable resources analyzing aircraft accidents and sharing the findings. The reasoning is that if you can identify the causes and share the results you can drastically reduce the chance of the accident from happening again. The same should hold true for businesses. Right?

Let’s explore an accident I helped to investigate. It involved an F/A-18 at an air show. The pilot was demonstrating the aircraft’s maneuverability by performing a square loop. He crashed at the bottom of the loop - striking the ground with such force that he broke his back, legs and arm. Because the aircraft remained largely intact, we were able to pull computers and memory, install them in a simulator, and replay the flight, watching all the instruments as well as the stick and throttle movements.

We witnessed the simulator mimic the pilot as he pulled the aircraft up into the vertical climb of the square. We paid particularly close attention to the aircraft’s altitude and airspeed indicators. I recall there was a collective gasp in the room when we saw that the pilot had cut the top of the square too low to complete this maneuver. The primary cause of this accident became immediately clear - pilot error.

What does this have to do with running a business? Owners often make poor decisions when piloting their business in the pursuit of growth. In retrospect most could easily be avoided with strict adherence to a well thought out plan, assuming of course, there is a plan.

In this case the flight (business) plan was a square loop that the pilot (business owner) failed to execute properly. The maneuver (plan) required that he hold the climb (Step 1) for several hundred more feet before executing the pull at the top of the loop (Step 2). By deviating from the plan and not gaining the proper altitude (cutting short the foundational work in the business plan) the pilot (business owner) put his plane (the company) in jeopardy.

Yet still, the pilot (owner) had a chance to minimize the damage (save the company) when he cut short his ascent at the top of the loop. Realizing his problem, the pilot still had two choices available: (1) Abort the maneuver by simply rolling the aircraft upright and continue the show (admit error and return to the plan) or, (2) Proceed with the maneuver (on a gut feeling), thinking he could pull it out by sheer force of will. The pilot chose option two.

So why would a pilot (owner), with all the instruments (sales data, advisers, etc...) telling him he is too low to complete the maneuver, proceed anyway? Let’s return to the accident investigation to find out.

The pilot was an very experienced Marine. He was a fireplug of a man who worked-out with intensity. He took great pride in his shape, physical strength and health. This is likely what saved his life but it was also a contributing factor in the crash. He felt he could, through sheer strength, pull the aircraft through this maneuver before hitting the ground. Somewhere in the back of his mind he believed the rules for that maneuver (plan) were designed for the average pilot (owner) and that he, with his above average strength and experience, could prevail where others might not.

We often see highly confident business owners act on instinct. They don’t do the proper market research or long-term planning because they think the rules don’t apply to them. And the outcome is almost always the same - failure or a significant loss of cash burned (crash and burn) in the process.

And let’s not forget ego. The pilot had friends and family in the airshow audience. This was a hometown crowd and the last day of the show. Imagine how hard it would be to admit to his friends that he screwed up and had to abort one of the more dramatic acrobatic stunts unique to this aircraft. Think of the ribbing he would take when he landed. It might have been awkward and a bit humiliating but surely a better alternative than risking life and limb (bankruptcy), right? Not for this Marine. Aborting the maneuver was not an option.

There is something strange that happens the moment you add the title Owner, President, or CEO to your business card. You become a performer. In a way you view your employees, investors, business acquaintances, customers, friends and family as members of a great audience. There are expectations and preconceived notions you put in your head about how you should perform (run your business). For example, never show weakness or indecision, never admit you don’t know, never admit you made a mistake, and never reach out for help. This, “I can not disappoint my audience” mentality led this pilot to continue the maneuver and crash. It has led business owners to do the same.

The pilot miraculously survived this accident, recovered from his injuries and eventually returned to flying. This is rare for pilots and business owners alike. Who knows how many pilot lives were saved from this investigation and the sharing of his story. I hope the same will prove true for those who are pilot-in-command of their business.

Want to become a better pilot for your metro Atlanta, Georgia business?  Let's have a cup of coffee and talk about it.  Contact me here.

About the author. Mike Gomez is President and CEO of Allegro Consulting, a growth specialty firm in Atlanta, GA. Allegro has been helping Georgia’s private business owners to plan and execute sustainable growth strategies since 2002. Mike is a strategy and sales process evangelist with a tool chest built on direct experience in international sales ($10B), strategy and program management. He is a prolific speaker, writer, former aerospace engineer, and pilot of both aircraft and helicopters.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thinking Strategically (versus Tactically)

January always seems to be a month for owners of start-ups and established companies alike to reflect on their business.

Do I want this year to be different than last?

Do I want to deal with the same issues (people), have to overcome the same challenges (sales win-rate), work the same hours (long), have the same number of sleepless nights (too many)?

Most will know in their gut that a different outcome requires change.  And for this ever so brief period of time they are on the cusp of thinking strategically about their business.

But sadly, I have observed over and over again that they quickly revert to tactical thinking when searching for solutions. A new website. A new lead generation service. New CRM software. New social media initiatives ("we are going to be serious this year about blogging").  I have even witnessed an owner decide on the spot to invest in a booth design and commit to attending two expos as her solution to bolstering two previous years of lackluster sales. You can imagine the investment that tactical decision will cost.

Steven Covey in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, coined the phrase, "begin with the end in mind". He shared this lesson:

"Begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination.  It means to know where you're going so that you better understand where you are at now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction."

Here is my business interpretation of his lesson:

"Begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your strategic objectives.  It means to know what you want your business to look like in 3-years (sales, operations, people) and, based on where you stand today, be certain the tactical decisions you make are always in-line with the strategic plan."

I have observed that most business owners are fairly comfortable thinking tactically. In fact they thrive on it. There is nothing that makes them feel better about themselves and their role in the company than solving a tactical problem. Strategic thinking, however, is a less common trait.

I was going to write about what it takes to think strategically but I found an author who nailed this topic.  Paul Shoemaker of Wharton's Mack Institute identifies and shares the "6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers" in this outstanding Inc. article.

Strategically plotting a point on the horizon for your business and letting that be the beacon to guide tactical decisions is how business growth is most efficiently achieved.

Want to build a growth strategy for your metro Atlanta, Georgia business?  Let's discuss this over a cup of coffee.  Contact me here.

About the author. Mike Gomez is President of Allegro Consulting, a growth specialty firm helping businesses plan and execute aggressive growth strategies. He grew his very first client’s business from $8M to $35M in just two years. Mike is a strategist, sales process evangelist, prolific speaker, writer, three-time marathoner, a former military officer and pilot of both aircraft and helicopters. He is also a mentor at Atlanta Tech Village and Four Athens Tech Incubator.

Monday, January 5, 2015

I Resolve to... 10 Resolutions For Growth in the New Year

Beginning a new year offers us a time to reflect on the past and the future of our business - to think about what went well and where we might have fallen short of expectations. It is also a good time to make changes, to resolve to leading your business in a manner that assures steady progressive growth.

Based on 12 years of experience working with privately-held business owners, this will typically mean doing things significantly different than you have in the past.

To be a catalyst to this positive change, I offer my top ten resolutions for growth in 2015.

In 2016, I resolve to:  
  1. Have a well vetted, market-based plan that defines our future state in a measurable way (3-years and 1-year from now) - customer mix, sales, operations, etc.. 
  2. Share that plan with our employees so they too know what we are striving to achieve and how they can be a part of our success. 
  3. Operate to that plan - to get things done and hit milestones when we said we would - and that there will be real repercussions for failing to do so. 
  4. Not make a single spontaneous buying decision for professional services or capital equipment - I will let the plan dictate these important cash expenditures. 
  5. Know who we are competing against by company name. 
  6. Strive to differentiate from our competitors - and if we can’t - to out-market them as one would do if selling a commodity product/service like toothpaste, accounting services, banking, web development, etc.... 
  7. Know who are our target customers and that it be narrowly defined - consistent with the size of our marketing and sales force. 
  8. Recognize that all marketing activity has ultimately one purpose - to generate qualified leads for our sales force. Thus, I will plan our expenditures and measure its effectiveness accordingly. 
  9. Know and rationalize in business terms our social media presence/activity.
  10. Make good hiring decisions - which are driven by the plan, and starts with a written job description outlining the necessary experience and performance expectations, pay and benefits.. 
How many of these are you currently following? Need some help bringing these resolutions to life in you metro Atlanta, Georgia business? Let's talk over a cup of coffee. Contact me here.

Wishing you the greatest success in 2016!

About the author. Mike Gomez is President of Allegro Consulting, a growth specialty firm helping businesses plan and execute aggressive growth strategies. He grew his very first client’s business from $8M to $35M in just two years. Mike is a sales process and growth strategy evangelist, prolific speaker, writer, three-time marathoner, a former military officer and pilot of both aircraft and helicopters. He is also an advisor at Atlanta Tech Village and Four Athens Tech Incubator.