WHAT I’VE LEARNED IN LUIVER FOOD
1. There is a difference between being self-employed and being an entrepreneur. I learned this lesson from a mentor in 2013. It’s a difference that can be illustrated by answering one question: Do you spend your time working in the business or working on the business? Those who are self-employed tend to work in the business, delivering the goods or services that the company provides. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, focus on growing the business and letting other professionals deliver to customers. It may seem like splitting hairs, but I can tell you from experience, this is a fundamental distinction that had a profound impact on the future of my entrepreneurial journey.
2. Hire the best people for the job at hand. This goes for employees as well as key vendors who can help you focus on the things you do best, like accountants or lawyers. You’re not an accountant, and while you may think that you’re being fiscally responsible by trying to do everything yourself, these activities are likely not something that you’re a) passionate about doing right and b) not something you have the right skills for. Having the right team enables you to focus on activities that have the most impact. Learn to rely on experts so that you can move the business forward in other ways.
3. Leadership is not role-specific. I’ve experienced this throughout my professional life, both in the military and the civilian worlds. I’ve also seen that it’s a terrifically underutilized resource. Just because someone holds a lower role in your organization doesn’t mean they don’t possess tremendous ability to influence others. The trick, I’ve found, is to identify these people and to develop them for roles where they can use that influence in the best interest of moving the company forward.
4. Demand excellence and remove roadblocks quickly. High-performing people often begin to resent those who don’t bring their A game every day. By creating a culture where exceptional performance is the goal and team members are mutually accountable, we’ve created an environment where people are free to raise challenges and concerns and work out solutions to roadblocks. If someone on the team doesn’t meet our mutual expectations, the message is clear and quick. If that person doesn’t get on board, they don’t last long. Your culture isn’t going to be for everyone.
5. Always have a contingency plan (or three!). Things very rarely go according to plan. Rather than rolling the dice and hoping for the best, I learned early on to be very intentional about planning for contingencies. They say in the military that your plan only lasts until the first shot is fired. After that you have to rely on your training. You must be able to adapt in very uncertain environments. Preparing for contingencies rarely results in you having a perfect plan for any possible outcome, but it does help ensure that you’re thinking critically about the variables and you’re not relying too heavily on your primary plan panning out no matter what.
6. It’s all about relationships. People do business with people they know, like and trust. I learned this lesson from a former janitor at the University of Michigan who went on to found and grow one of the largest janitorial services companies in the state. Developing and nurturing honest and mutually beneficial relationships is what makes the business world go round.
7. The structure of your compensation model has a significant effect on day-to-day behavior in the organization. Make no mistake, every system and process in your organization will have significant impact on behavior. I’ve become a self-taught expert on the topic of compensation planning over the years, as I have seen the unintended consequences of these plans play out in surprising ways. Take extreme caution when designing your systems and processes to ensure that they are reinforcing behaviors that align with your values.
8. Every decision we make in terms of our processes is made with the field consultant in mind. Everything we do must from a support standpoint must relieve our field staff from administrative tasks. While we’ll never completely eliminate administrative tasks from our folks in the field, we make every effort to design our systems so our team can spend their time doing what they do best: serving our clients. It’s surprising how quickly a bureaucracy can develop that saddles people with activities that add no value. It’s something you must constantly be on the lookout for. Give your team the tools and support they need to do what they do best.
9. Transparency allows for honesty and trust. My company is an open book. This transparency removes doubt and establishes trust. It also allows for honest dialogue that engages the entire team in providing their ideas and input in ways that have more impact. Because they understand the details of the business, they are able to inform their thinking and provide much better input to help drive the business forward.