On a recent 710 WOR “Mind Your Business” broadcast, Yitzchok Saftlas (YS) spoke with guest Jerel Benjamin (JB), founder and CEO of Consulting Group, on the five most disturbing trends facing business owners today.

 YS: The first of the most disturbing trends facing business owners today is lack of vision in a changing economy. What can you tell us about that?

 JB: So, what I do at Profit Gold is look for trends. And what I have found is as the economic and political landscape changes, the vision of business owners is also supposed to change. Now, ironically, we’re finding that more business owners are fearful of change rather than being aggressive about making that change. Unfortunately, what that translates into for the direct reports, and for the employees that work for them, is that they don’t see a vision at all. And because they don’t see a vision at all, it’s not being articulated to them. The company’s employees go into these silos. They start thinking, “Let me just stick with what I do, produce my little piece of the puzzle, and let somebody else figure out what to do with it.” And then the business owner turns to us and says, “Our production is stagnant,” “Our sales are stagnant,” or “We’re not growing,” not realizing that it’s the lack of articulation of that vision that’s at the core of all silos and lack of productivity that they’re seeing.

YS: So, with the changing economy, many executives are not necessarily being adept to the seismic shifts happening around them and certainly not communicating it effectively?

 JB: Exactly. The future doesn’t belong to the survival of the fittest; it belongs to those who are willing to adapt. And by and large, business owners are afraid to reset a vision. They’re afraid to even walk into that because they don’t know what they don’t know, and that fear is causing analysis paralysis, and that paralysis is feeding its way down into the rest of the company.

 There’s an expression out there, “You can play a game two ways. You can either play to win, or you can play not to lose.” And a lot of companies are starting to convert so that they’re playing not to lose, to hold on to what they have. And they’re finding out it’s become more and more difficult because you need to adapt, you need to play to win. You need to go into the office, preparing and planning to adapt, instead of just planning to try to hold on and hunker down with what you’ve got.

YS: Let’s address trend #2, the lack of leadership skills and how critical those skills are.

JB: “Leadership” is such a commonly used term that the definition has now become ambiguous, where people really don’t quite know what it means. More importantly, they don’t realize that there’s levels of leadership. Owners know that leadership is important, but because there’s so much happening in their world, shifts in the economic and political landscape, they’re not giving the necessary attention to the leadership that will inspire the people behind them to actually work in the same congruent direction. It’s a danger that we need to address right away because leadership skills are more than saying, “I’m the owner of company, follow me.” That’s level one leadership. But I’m going to stick with the permission aspect of leadership.

 What we find ourselves focusing on with more and more business owners is taking them back to the place where they can articulate their vision so clearly, that they not only talk about themselves in the vision of the company, but their employees can now see themselves in the vision and approve of what they see. And because of that approval, they will give the owner’s permission to lead them there. That’s called permission leadership. That’s the fuel that will allow their company to navigate difficult times. Because if the employed staff can see themselves in the vision, they can actually use that fuel in their own personal engines to keep the keep the company airborne and moving in the right direction.

YS: Can leadership skills be trained, or is it more of a natural, inborn thing?

JB: The reality is that leadership skills can be trained. Now, there are some to whom it comes easier. But leadership is really just an algorithm of action items that if deployed in the right way, work for anybody and for any business. It’s very similar to flying a jet airplane. I have friends who are pilots, and they always say anybody can be a pilot. As long as you can pull the right levers, in the right sequence, at the right time, you can navigate anywhere around the world. Leadership is the exact same thing. It’s really not as much of a skill as it is an algorithm that, when deployed, will bring lift to your entire company.

YS: we’re up to trend #3- poor communication in a remote environment.

JB: Everyone agrees that communication is the lifeblood of a company. Of course, we’ve had to adapt to this increasingly remote world. But what has really been the Achilles heel to a lot of companies is they start making assumptions on work ethic, and it’s really starting to reflect in their ability to grow, and most importantly,  their ability to pivot. It really doesn’t matter the industry. For any business owner, we really have to become masters at communication. Setting up systematic scheduled communication about scheduled subjects that impact the company is critical to its existence, and its ability to grow in a remote environment. Assuming that people who work remotely halfway across the country are going to do everything they need to do to get us where we were when we were all together in one office is really starting to drag companies down.

Companies are struggling because they cease to communicate at check points on critical data throughout the day, throughout the week, throughout the month. People respect what you inspect. And if they don’t know what you’re inspecting, then why are you expecting to get the result? That’s one of the biggest things to work on.

 YS: The fourth trend is poor accountability for key personnel. Why is that such a make-or-break point for companies, and how can it be addressed effectively?

JB: Accountability is really the skeletal system of the entire company. Accountability is really nothing more than a fancy way of saying when everyone does what they say they’re going to do.

The issue that many CEOs and executives are running into is that more and more of them are settling. They’re just dealing with whatever is being produced by the team. They’re almost afraid to rock the boat and hold the key to personnel accountable, and as a result, they’re getting a very mixed bag of production. Whether that be in a service industry, product industry, or even supply of formation industries, there’s no standard. Those lines are becoming more and more blurred, because key personnel are not being held accountable. Now, the catch is, when I use the word “accountability” with a lot of clients, they almost see it as black and white. They think “accountability” just means that I’m going to hold you accountable by terminating you. That’s not the only shade of accountability. Accountability is actually a very positive thing. What it is doing is setting clear outcomes, so that the person who has been assigned to handle that particular task knows from the beginning to the end the outcome that you’re trying to achieve. What business owners need to realize is that that type of certainty is what raises the bar in the way the company operates. But it also drastically reduces the attrition rate. Because people want to work for a company where they clearly know what landmarks they’re trying to achieve and know it without someone always having to verbally confirm it.

YS:  Could you please explain the difference between KPIs and KPEs?

JB: KPIs are key performance indicators. They’re basically landmarks. They say, “This is what your job is, and here’s what’s expected of you.” At the end of the day, we at Profit Gold actually took that, and enhanced it into what we call KPE, key performance execution. Instead of saying, “Here’s your job, and here’s what’s expected of you,” we said, “Here are all the tasks that you will embark on in the execution of your assignment. Here are all the details of exactly how to go about doing this. Here are the tools available to get it done, so you know what’s at your disposal. Now, here’s the minimum level of outcome that we will accept and here’s the maximum that we would love to see.”

We’ve taken KPIs and broken them down to what I call forensics. So, a person just simply needs to have the ambition. And based on that ambition, they can read the KPE documents and execute.

YS:  The final trend is poor assumptions and impulsive gut decision making. How do you address that?

JB: The reason that we don’t recommend people go with their gut is because you’re going to get caught eventually.  And I’ll tell you why. When we run roundtables, we have everyone draw out a circle. Once they’ve done that, we say, “Take a slice of that pie, that represents 1%.” And then we’ll ask them, “Take another slice of the pie, that represents 4%.” So now we’ve got a 1% slice and a 4% slice. The 1% represents what a person knows about their environment, their business and what’s going on around them. The 4% represents what the typical person knows they don’t know. Whatever it may be, they recognize that they don’t know that.  And the majority of us live in the 5%. But the 95% of the pie that never gets touched, that’s what you don’t know that you don’t know. That’s the danger. So, if you want to make decisions with your gut, you’re making a decision with 1% of the pie. And you’re making assumptions on the other 99%.

I always try to tell people to give a moment to pause before you say, “I’m just going to go with my gut.” In fact, the advice I like to give is “don’t always run to your friends who agree you with either.” Because they know what you know, and they don’t know what you don’t know. So, you’re all in the same pot. Those who are willing to go out and open themselves to a world of information they don’t know, those are the ones who are able to navigate disturbing and uncertain times.

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