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Ken Keller: Here are ten mistakes that business owners make

Posted: May 19, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 19, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Ken Keller Ken Keller
Ken Keller

A former leader of a large Fortune 500 company was quoted in an interview that “People who do things make mistakes. The biggest mistake is doing nothing.”

This is the first mistake made by a business owner: doing nothing when action is called for. By holding off making a decision, the owner believes that the trouble will disappear of its own volition. In reality, left unresolved, problems often grow.

The second mistake is not having a plan. While having a tangible number of goals is great, as is a lofty vision statement supported by a clear mission statement, without clear strategy, clear roles and specific responsibilities with desired results to the lowest level, most companies underperform.

Not conducting performance appraisals is the third mistake owners make. The ability to speak honestly to those that are performing, those that are underperforming and those not performing is something that must happen if growth and profitability are wanted.

Not listening, not hearing, not understanding and not caring when being spoken to is the fourth mistake made by owners. Too many at the top talk to, and not with, their people.

Want to have an intelligent conversation? Be smart enough to realize all parties must communicate during the conversation otherwise it becomes just another bad movie with the owner in the only talking role.

How the owner spends his or her time is a strong indicator of priorities. The fifth mistake is not prioritizing how time is to be spent. Some things are simply more important than others and an intelligent owner guards the resource.

The sixth mistake is when the owner shuns learning. People learn from mistakes, successes, experiences, shared ideas and from many other sources. When the owner stops learning, it says that the organization he or she leads is not a learning organization.

When the owner acts like The Wizard of Oz, already knowing all, it produces resentment, anger, frustration and avoidance instead of what is needed: pride and passion. Who remains at such an organization? Those that are weak; those that settle and those without options to find employment elsewhere.

The seventh mistake is that the owner allows disloyalty, incompetence, and internal terrorists to remain on the payroll.

This is a horrible message to send, because it signals that the owner is blind to what is happening, or is afraid to make a needed decision. It also speaks to the fact that the organization will tolerate this kind of behavior. Every day that underperformers are allowed to stay on the payroll only strengthens the foundation of a culture that permits mediocrity or worse.

The eighth mistake of the owner is allowing the organization to run in a state of misalignment for more time than it takes to correct it. Not only do people need to get along, processes need to be aligned, overlapping efforts eliminated and common objectives established.

The ninth mistake of the owner is a lack of trust in the management team. This typically takes place when owners micro-managing tasks and constantly and needlessly follow-up on trivial matters. Managers with this type of owner often wonder why they have the title of manager when they have no real authority or responsibility.

The tenth mistake is the failure to have an exit strategy. Few owners give this much thought until one day they wake up and say to themselves, “I’m done with this business!”

Leaving a business is not the same as when an employee comes into the office and gives a couple weeks notice. The best way to fix this mistake is to start thinking about it now.

Ken Keller is CEO of STAR Business Consulting Inc., a company that works with small and midsize business owners to grow top line revenue. He can be reached at Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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