“Asking Important Questions”
When we look at the whole issue of “trouble shooting” it automatically brings us to the
proposal that there is trouble in the business community. Thus there is a need for trouble shooting and for the preventive
maintenance to avoid potential problems. Whether you are a professional practicing a particular discipline or whether you
are an experienced business manager or owner, doing business in the 21st century is not easy. It isn’t getting
any easier either. When you look at the growing amount of government policies, concern and interference directed at businesses
of any size, it doesn’t look like doing business in the public or private sector will become easier or more pleasurable
in the near future.
I am personally not writing this from an outsider’s view. I have been in business in the public
sector for over two decades. I am now in the business of education and consulting. But that ability was primarily founded
on the two and a half decades of owning and operating small businesses, primarily in and around the “death care”
Evaluation on a personal level is always one of the key things you must accomplish when troubleshooting.
When an accurate evaluation is accomplished not only is there and honest portrayal but the responsibility issues help us learn
how we can do better to improve who we personally are and how we can accomplish the business goals we have set for ourselves.
Let’s ask three important categories of questions as we evaluate our own personal role in business
and as we seek to do some basic troubleshooting. The first set of questions would come under the category of business ownership.
If you own a business, do you really want to see it prosper? Ironically some proprietors never really confront this question
consciously or honestly. Thus, they are sometimes clueless about the future. It is a necessary question to answer. If you
do want to see it prosper, what are you willing to do and how hard will you work to see your business or practice reach that
level of prosperity? When is enough really enough? How exactly do you define
Another question in that same category would be: Are you building equity? Or, in other words, is your
business or practice increasing in value or worth. Is it simply maintaining a status quo value? Could it be decreasing in
value? If it is decreasing in value is that because of something you can control or something you can’t control or both?
Obviously, some historical reflection is necessary to accurately asses this answer.
And the last question in this category of business ownership is: Do you want to keep your business
or professional practice? If so, what is your plan to perpetuate it? How long do you want o perpetuate it? If you don’t
want to keep it, how do you plan to dispose of it, and when do you want to be done with it? Answering these questions with
a real and enforceable plan will lay a good foundation for your future, realizing that many factors and variables in life
are going to be “subject to change without notice”.
The second set of questions would fall into the area of business management. When we discuss business
management this may include business mangers employed by business owners or it may simply include business owners who manage
their own business or professional practice. Allow me to ask all three questions at once so we can discuss them in a paradigm
of thought and analysis. Here they are. 1). I the future important? 2). How important is morality (issues of right and wrong)?
What are your priorities?
If the future of your business or practice is not important to you, than your priorities are generally
going to be fairly self-serving or short term in nature. If moral issues (those things thought to be right or wrong) are not
important in the management processes of your business or practice, than it is more than likely that your business or practice
will not exist for a very long period of time. Because it is generally just a matter of time until everyone gets caught, cheating,
cutting corners or lying. So as we examine this block of issues around business management, we can see that it is vitally
important to link our priorities and our moral value systems to the potential future of our business or practice.
The third set of questions is intended for those who may be considering going into business for themselves.
The first question I ask anyone who is making these sort of innuendos is “Why do you want to go into or start a business?”
If the answer is to make a lot of money or be my own boss, I can generally make a fair assessment that they haven’t
thought it through very much. However if there is a passion behind their statement that is motivated in becoming beneficial
to other people or groups or organizations, there might be something unique going on in this person’s life which is
defining their purpose.
the “why” is answered, the next question is: What is you ultimate mission? Sometimes this can be defined in a
statement or two. Other times it is woven into multiple angles of production and activity. Knowing your mission is important
because it reveals and ultimate goal. It gives you something to work towards.
Having a goal brings us to the final question in this category; How do you plan to make progress? What
is your business plan? What are the short term and long term goals that you have set in such a plan? How much research have
you done for this plan? Is it based on a dream or an ideal or on information that shows the positive and negatives in such
a business opportunity? Common sense tells us that if you go on a trip to somewhere you have never been before you should
look at a map. The map in essence is your plan. Even if you have been there before, but it has been a while, look at the map
again. Likewise, if a business opportunity sounds attractive, look at a “map” or sit down and draw a business “map” out. Take time to do the research and see the true validity of such a
business. Also, sit down and think through the various goals you will need to meet in that business venture.
“The Do’s and the Don’ts”
Everyone who lives under some type of authority (which is everyone) lives under some form of moral
standards which are more commonly referred to as laws. Sometime we call them regulations or rules. Other times they are referred
to as “the right thing to do”. It is by no means my intention to bind anyone to a set of rules or laws, but simply
to point out in this section what has been proven to be standards in business practice that work for the benefit of both the
people and owner or owners of the business or practice and the consumers of their goods and services. They sound a little
like “do’s and don’ts”, but for the sake of our discussion we’ll just call them “preferred
First let’s discuss living in the “here and now”. How should we handle situation
in our businesses and practices? For instance, when it comes to making purchases for our business how do we determine what
we really need verses what we want. The difference between the two might make the difference between profit and loss. Do you
really need what you are purchasing, or do you simply want it for a convenience reason or because it might enhance yours or
the businesses image. Truly being able to define your “needs” and your “wants” can radically change
the results and product of your business or practice.
Another angle to the “here and now” is debt. Is it permissible to maintain debt, and if
so how much? Who determines such limits, you or your bank? Is debt retirement a goal or an inheritance objective for your
heirs? Is going in debt truly going t help you or hut you in the long term scheme of things. If you don’t have the money
for it, should you really be buying it? Why?
Then when it comes to your finances and the necessary outlays, who determines fiscal priorities. Who
gets paid first – you or everybody else? Why are you operating that way. Is your answer to these questions helping you
in the grand scheme of things?
Then we must discuss what I call your “ethical building blocks”. This determines what you
will do and what you won’t do in your business practices. It is generally based on your moral concepts. Your moral concepts
simply define in your own way what you think or feel is right or wrong when it comes to your business practices.
Let’s look at some of these examples. Are you willing to cheat a little on your taxes? What corners
are you willing to cut on product or service quality for your clients and customers? When does the client stop really being
right or first? There are answers for these and many other such questions. But you are the one who ultimately answers them,
when you are confronted with them. You will find it much easier to deal with crucial questions like these when you have thought
it through long before the situations arise.
Finally, as we try to define the “do’s and the don’ts” let’s define three
key words. The first word is “service”. Service is what we do interactively with others to improve or aid in various
circumstances and situations. What motivates us to be “service oriented” in our practices or businesses? If we
are truly service oriented people in a positive way, we will put others and their needs first. (That is a “do”).
The next word is "product”. In some cases “service” is the only “product”
you may yield in your practice or business. But when it isn’t or if you render both products and services, you should
have a very good working knowledge of those tangible products you sell and/or dispense to your clients and customers. Products
are not just profit makers or revenue generators. They are actually representatives of you business and/or practice. If they
are a higher quality than others, they will testify to others of your standards. Even if product quality cannot be readily
determined by a consumer, how will that knowledge or lack of knowledge affect your conscience? A good rule of thumb is not
to sell or dispense any product or service that you would not allow yourself to be a consumer of if put in a position of need
or opportunity. (That is a “don’t”)
The third word we must define is passion. In this realm we will define passion as a strong desire within
you. This deals with how you are motivated to do what you do. Some of these motivational issues we have discussed earlier
in this course and I encourage you to go back and review some of those comments and discussion points. Another question in
this area that is good to ask is: Why does all of this matter? Does it really matter to you? How much does your business and/or
practice matter to others? Sometimes you may be tempted to over evaluate that determination in the light of what you may think
or feel others opinions or estimations are. But if you honestly approach such a question from just the facts and evidence
that isn’t based on personal opinions, you should be able to make an honest evaluation.
Looking For Help
This third and final area of our course is a very difficult area to handle. If you were the leading
expert in your area of business or practice, and you could do it all by yourself, you could skip this section. But even without
knowing you personally, I am fairly confident that you are not the world’s key expert and you probably are unable to
do everything by yourself, even though you might want to or think through some wild lens of self deception that you can. With that bit of truth and confession out on the table, let’s continue our discussion.
ADVISORS, CONSULTANTS AND SERVICE PEOPLE
When it comes to seeking advice we often go to advisors or consultants. A consultant is simply a person
who has had ample personal experience and/or training (education) and has a reputation for displaying successful skills in
the arena of expertise you are desiring improve or develop in. Whether you are looking for counsel, advice or even someone
to repair or rebuild something for your business or practice, it is good to select that person or service business based on
testimonials from people you already know and trust. The farther you are removed generationally from such testimonials the
less likely that they will be reliable.
Let’s look at an example. If my uncle recommends a garage or auto mechanic because that mechanic
has worked on his car and he was satisfied with the results, it is a much better testimonial than one of your employees telling
you that his niece’s grandson’s wife took her car to that garage and “seemed to be OK with everything”.
Selecting advisors, consultants or service/repair technicians etc. should not be made on the basis
of the quality or quantity of their advertising. While a business’ advertising can be an accurate representation of
who they are and what they can accomplish, it can also in some cases represent an image or style of business they are wanting to project or become.
Those who run (hyper-quality) entertaining style advertising “generally” have found a way
to make their income from the leads or some other angle from the advertisement, and not necessarily the business they are
promoting. Sometimes those who advertise the most (hyper quantity) it may be
a “general” indicator that they are exceptionally over priced, or again, they may have found a way to make their
income from the leads they generate or some other angle from the advertisement, and not necessarily the business they are
When you need help outside the realm of actual employees, it might be good to remember these ten commandments.
They may seem like simple things based in common sense issues. They really are. The problem is that most business people get
to thinking and moving too fast and don’t slow down enough or take the time to live by these commandments. They make
quick decisions based on time constraints and many times don’t get the job done to their satisfaction. There are actually
many more of these “commandments” that flow in the same train of thought. If you stop to think about them they
will come fairly naturally.
When the roof leaks, call a roofer.
When the plumbing has problems, call a plumber.
III. When you are being sued, retain an attorney.
When the vehicles have issues, take them to an experienced mechanic.
When the phones go out, call your phone company.
When power goes out, call the power company.
VII. When you’re
having relational problems, call a counselor or conflict mediator.
VIII. When you’ve broken the law,
get legal advice
When you’ve been injured or you become ill, seek medical help.
When you strike up a deal, always memorialize it accurately in writing.
Number 10 is the biggest trouble spot for so many business practitioners. When you won’t take
the time or spend the money with an attorney to review an agreement you are making with a service provider, consultant or
advisor, there is a strong chance that the end results will work against you and you may end up in court trying to find resolution
to the issues that were not properly defined.
The number one problem for most business owners, managers or practitioners is help in the form of employees.
It always seems like the interview goes well, the honeymoon lasts a couple of weeks and then the real dragon crawls out of
the abyss, either breathing fire or falling into continuous coma like sleeping patterns. There is also the employee that considers
six weeks seniority as the key to becoming the next supervisor or manager. Employees with some exceptions can become the continual
necessary nightmare that never seems to end.
Let’s look at some helpful points that may bring some competency into the interviewing process.
When you are interviewing a potential employee, seek to discern three key things. First, check out their values. What is important
to them? It might be family, friends, career advancement, hobbies, personal memorialization (leaving a “mark”),
personal comfort or any number of things. Generally this will surface very early in a good interview. Be cautious of someone
who either can’t or is very hesitant to express some of their personal values.
The second thing you should be aware of is their goals. What are they trying to accomplish? Can your
employment help them or hinder them in the advancement toward their short term or long term goals. People who don’t
have or cannot adequately define their goals generally are not highly motivated people. Even “passive” or “laid
back” people can and should have definable goals. They may not be difficult to obtain, but they are definable. Personal
goals do not have to be earth-shaking or phenomenally exciting. They simply need to be in place and explainable by the potential
employee. The general rule is that if they cannot verbalize them adequately, they either don’t have any goals or they
are borrowing someone else’s ideals to try and impress you.
Finally, the third thing you need to learn from your interviewee is what they like for entertainment.
How a person entertains themselves generally speaks to their personal integrity and character. Someone who lives to go to
the casinos on the weekend should not have their signature on your checking account. “Party animals” are generally
fast people on the job because they are in a hurry to get off the job and have some fun. People who take high risks in their
entertainment desires should not be considered for management positions that require conservative values to be exercised.
A person’s choice for personal entertainment can be highly indicative of what they are really all about. How excited
is the interviewee to discuss their personal entertainment drives, and how much of the conversation does it trace into or
how often do they bring it back up as the interview goes on?
When you are looking a resume, you must keep a couple of things in mind. Be cautious not to pre-judge
someone by how you read their resume. Remember even a good resume is only a sketch of that person’s life and career.
It is not a “blow by blow” account of it. It is proper to ask questions where there are blatant “empty spots”,
realizing that you should also try to avoid breaching someone’s privacy also. If the answer they give is credible and
makes sense, it more than likely may be true. If their answer seems a little “stretched” out or inadequate, and does not fit the timeline or the processes of the rest of the resume, you might need
to research it further.
When you are researching a resume and checking references be sure to keep an open mind. Do not research
references with a pre-determined attitude of the person. If you do that, you will more than likely interpret someone’s
reply with that mindset and you may miss the real truth. Generally speaking, references that are listed on a resume are somewhat
worthless. The reason they are there on the resume is because they have been contacted by the potential employee to be a “positive”
reference in case you call them. Usually former employers will help in some way in the discernment process if you have permission
to call them or if you feel comfortable calling them. Ultimately you really need to read between the lines and do that with
as little bias as possible. Then make the final decision.
Remember that some people are seeking a particular job because they are developing into a new career,
and they may be very eager to prove themselves, even though their resume may not be highly indicative of that. Attempt to
make “connectors” on their resume to the position they are seeking with your business or practice, and then ask
them to give you a better picture of their intentions to work with.
Finally, when looking at a resume try not to see it reflectively in your own life. If they didn’t
attend the same school or college you did, they may still be educated very adequately. If they didn’t jump through the
same hoops you did, when you did and how you did, it does not necessarily mean they are inexperienced or incompetent. There
are usually many different paths to accomplish the same goals in career development. Remember you are not the perfect representation
of your career or business. Those employers who think that they are the perfect representation of their business or professional
practice generally will never find good employees. Genuine humility is a trait that needs to sit on both sides of the table
in the interviewing experience.
While you may have certain ethical standards that you require of your employees, also remember that
they may be able to help enhance your business or practice by what they can bring to it from a different perspective than
yours. Age is not always a factor regarding experience or potential either.
Let’s look at some other general principals. First of all, cheap help is always cheap help. With
rare exception you will always get what you pay for in an employee. That does not mean that you must pay an employee three
times the standard for their position. In some cases that will pander abuse from the employee. You must understand the fair
and acceptable wage for the job you are hiring for and pay that if you are to expect the employee to perform adequately. In
some cases the employee will still not perform adequately, but at least the claim of inadequate motivation through compensation
cannot be used against you.
Another good principal to keep in mind in that of the “teachability”
factor of a potential employee. Some people struggle with life-long learning. Others are naturally perpetual students, always
wanting to develop both current and new skills. When you arfe talking with a potential employee, can you discern a personal
eagerness to learn? Is there a natural and genuine humility in the potential employee that shows they are willing to be taught
your way and style of business practices? If so, you may have a great future employee, if you are willing to invest the time
and effort into his or hers training.
As a final note in the general principals category, sometimes it may to your advantage to run a test
or two on the potential employee. These would be in the area of personality types, mentality types and work perception or
ethics tests. There are many of these tests available and generally the money they might cost you will pay off in the lack
of a problematic employee. Many times these tests will help you find out what type of individuals this person works best with,
including fellow employees and clients. This on the other hand might require
you to already know what types of people are already employed in your business or practice. Compatibility not only with you
but other employees might be a very pivotal factor focused around their hiring. This is when you can do some preventive maintenance
and troubleshooting at the same time. Compatibility issues can make or break the workplace environment and thus in the big
picture affect productivity and future prosperity.
Some people work best in environments of solitude or semi-solitude. Others work well in very social
and interactive environments. Asking simple questions about past experiences and looking for positives and negatives in their
responses can help you discern these factors very easy.
In summarizing this learning session, it is important to first attempt to figure out your own thoughts
and feelings regarding the existence and future of your business or practice. This lays the foundation for other troubleshooting
attempts and for other forms of preventive maintenance.
Then determine your “lines in the sand”. Ask yourself what is right and what is the wrong
thing to do in various business situations and circumstances. Always use your
definitions of the words “service”, “product” and “passion” in these analyzing processes.
Finally check out who helps you in your business or practice. How well do you know them and are they
truly a fit that benefit both your business or practice and their motivations and goals.
Operating a successful business can be a very rewarding accomplishment. But it must be constantly scrutinized
and analyzed. Trouble shooting and preventive maintenance are a constant must if you are going to keep up with the constant
changing society that we experience here in the United States. The more you do it and
the more you refine the processes, the more your professional practice or business will be enhanced.