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Ken Keller:The right business model with the right ingredients

Brain Food for Business Owners

Posted: December 11, 2010 10:46 p.m.
Updated: December 12, 2010 4:30 a.m.

As a business grows, challenges, opportunities and problems arise. Whether the business can successfully deal with these issues as they pop up is the determinant of survival and growth.

James Fischer’s book “Navigating the Growth Curve” identifies 27 separate challenges an owner faces during the seven distinct stages of growth. These range from a weak business design to cash-flow issues to hiring qualified people.  

One of the most telling statements made in the book is that the failure to successfully address each challenge when it first appears means that the company will have to continue to address the issue until such time as it successfully solves it.

As an example, a company that has a weak business design is going to struggle until it fixes the business model for the long term. A company that doesn’t put a solid hiring and on-boarding system in place is going to always struggle to get the right people on the payroll. 

Having observed both successful and less than successful organizations, I have seen a distinct formula that works to grow a business. The formula is simple: The “right business model” with the “right people” doing the “right things” the “right way” yields the “right results.” 

Having the right business model is the foundation for growth. One of the primary responsibilities of the owner is to create and improve on the business design as the company grows.  

Without the right people, even the best business model will suffer. Someone is right for the company or he or she is not; a person is in the correct position or he or she is not. If anyone in management is spending time stressing over an employee not being productive or not being engaged in his or her work, the first question to ask is whether the employee is right for the company.

Every individual changes over time, and someone who was a solid employee might not be as solid today. Sometimes a recent hire will not make the grade. People are sometimes promoted beyond their capabilities.

When dealing with the right people, it is the responsibility of ownership and management to address underperforming employees.

There is one word that separates the right people from the wrong people: initiative. The right people take initiative. The wrong people can’t, won’t or don’t.

The source of the right people/wrong people evaluation revolves around whether an employee is actually doing the right things. Successful companies have employees doing what matters most and ignoring everything else.

Successful owners understand that often, distractions disguised as opportunities will veer a company off course quickly and sometimes fatally.   

The right people know the right things and do them. The wrong people wait for someone to tell them what the right things are because they are disengaged.    

Even if someone does the right things, is he or she doing them the right way? Successful companies don’t leave this to chance.

It is not enough to show employees what to do. Employees need to be properly trained. Employees need to be tested.

What the employee does needs to be verified, checked and candid, real-time feedback provided so performance can improve.

The right people don’t mind being checked to see if they are doing the right things the right way. These individuals want to get better at whatever they do because they want to make larger contributions to the place where they earn a paycheck.

The wrong people resent being trained, resent being told what to do, resent being checked on and will avoid accountability in their quest to do as little as possible and still stay on the payroll.

Successful companies codify the right way in the form of checklists, policies and procedures. These standards are enforced. People are held accountable. Less than successful companies can usually trace underperformance to a lack of accountability because policies, procedures, operating standards, checklists, and the like are nonexistent and are not enforced. 

All of this adds up to achieving the right results. Successful organizations define what they want to achieve, financially and otherwise during specific periods of time. This information is shared with employees who work as a team to achieve the goals. Often, pay-for-performance programs are in place to secure the alignment of focus and effort of everyone.

Less than successful organizations have nebulous goals; the goals aren’t shared and only a few know when they have been achieved. The attitude of those who run the company is all too often, “These people are lucky to have a job.” This is a shame, of course, and an insult.

If this is the case, it should make a reasonable person wonder if those in charge are really the right people after all.  

Ken Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, helping top executives make better decisions through informed peer perspective, resulting in better top and bottom-line results. He can be reached at (661) 295-6892 or His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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