The primary responsibility of a business owner is to establish standards and culture. Of course, you’ll have a lot of other responsibilities but the standards you establish for the value you deliver is the foundation on which your success is built. Your culture must support those standards or you will never be able to deliver on your promise.
While many responsibilities of ownership can be delegated, as soon as you lose the ability to dictate either the standards or culture of your company, you no longer control your brand or your business. You may own the company on paper, but its success is effectively out of your hands.
How can you lose control of your brand and business? It’s not the cut-and-dried, single-decision event it might appear to be.
Your employees can rob you of ownership.
For instance, a client recently came to the decision he is going to have to replace one of his most valuable employees – if by “valuable” you’re considering experience and expertise. The problem is that this highly specialized technical expert bullies everyone else in his department. The company has lost other skilled professionals who might, in time, have been as good or better than this individual is, but they quit.
Even more discouraging, because they are afraid to offer suggestions or feedback, are the ones who haven’t quit. The entire department is mired in fear. No innovation or collaboration is possible, so long as this bully is in power.
The time to dismiss this technician was before he became so important to the work of the department that the cost to replace him is as high as it is now. It was clear from the beginning that his behavioral style was to intimidate others. At the moment when he was counselled on his behavior choices, then allowed to remain an employee even though he refused to alter his approach, he became the de facto owner and a liability to the company.
Your associates and colleagues can rob you of ownership.
A few years ago I had a painful incident with a colleague who had been very close to me professionally and who had become a personal friend. We had shared clients and programs, and my brand was perceived as being closely affiliated with his. His behavior during that incident, and his defense of that behavior as justifiable, led me to the decision that I could not in good faith refer to him or associate with him professionally. Following that “break up” many people told me, “I knew he had an anger management problem, I just can’t believe he took it out on you.”
In my business I have a culture of equality and professionalism. Anger and manipulation are counter to my culture. Had I not had a blind spot, I would not have associated with a professional who treated anyone in that manner, whether or not I was “exempt” from the abuse. When I overlooked the signs (and in hindsight, they were certainly there) I lost control of my brand and my business. Since then I have gently exited many relationships with associates who do not respect my standards or culture. My business results more than validate the effectiveness of my new awareness.
Your vendors can rob you of ownership.
When I was a 20-something dental office manager we had a laboratory rep who thought it was perfectly acceptable, even somewhat obligatory, to hit on the dental staff. I made it clear that I was not going to tolerate it in our practice, and his offer to “leave me alone if I really didn’t like it” didn’t cut it.
To support our professional standards for how I wanted our patients to be treated, the doctor and me by extension as his manager, had to cultivate an environment where our staff felt safe from being treated in manner that we wouldn’t expect patients to put up with. Even though their work was fantastic, we changed labs when the laboratory didn’t take our complaints about their representative seriously.
Your clients can rob you of ownership.
Every time you let a client walk all over you, or demand something that you are not comfortable providing, you have handed over ownership of your brand and your business. Because that client just took control of your standards for value delivered and the most important aspect of your culture -- the way you feel about the people you serve.
Standards and culture -- nothing else will ever be so vital to your success. When you establish standards for excellence, when you proclaim a culture of creativity, trust, equality, and collaboration, you’re putting a stake in the ground. Now your job is to stick to your position.
Ultimately, ownership is a privilege and a responsibility. If you abdicate the responsibility, you eventually squander the privilege.