Being an entrepreneur means not only having big dreams but also possessing the talent and tenacity to make those dreams a reality. But without a clear goal to shoot for, Mike Jackson says it’s easy to get overwhelmed by your own enthusiasm.
The founder, president and CEO of ABG Inc. led his 130-employee company, which provides training and outreach to agricultural businesses, to 2006 revenue of $12.5 million by staying sharply focused on his vision.
“Part of the beauty of being an entrepreneur is you’re willing to try a lot, but you have to be able to not outgrow your resources,” Jackson says. “A deadly way of outgrowing your resources is to have too broad a range of attack. You outpace your capital, and you certainly go beyond the skills and depth of your people.”
Smart Business spoke with Jackson about how to sell your vision and get your employees to really care about it.
Q: What is the first step to selling your vision?
People who are entrepreneurial, often those who start and then grow rapidly, are very much driven by their own instincts. They may mistakenly believe that others get it. Making sure that you and your employee set have the same endgame in mind is crucial.
It starts with the way you actually concoct or expand or sharpen your vision. Get people, particularly those who are highly influential in your company, to be bought in and to feel like they have been part of creating what is being bought by the entire team.
Build a process whereby on a regular basis, meaning no less than every year or so, you go back and you double-check. Are we going in the right direction? Is the vision for this place correct? Is it based on something other than one man’s or woman’s view? That’s key.
Take a vision and break it down into meaningful components to each function, department or individual employee. What’s that vision mean to me? Why is it valuable?
What does it do for us collectively and individually? It’s appealing to the things that flip people’s switches in the morning.
Q: How do you figure out what these things are for each employee?
We put together, and work with every individual employee to put together, an individual personal development plan for the year. They are straightforward things I
want them to be able to do better and ways I’d like to see that occur. They are agreed to by the person and his or her team leader, and then we make sure those things happen.
Q: How do you get employees to care?
Life without an aspiration is pretty boring. It’s up to us to figure out what is one’s personal aspiration or dream. This may not be a work-related thing at all, but some part of it can be touched by work. Finding out what that is, and then working to link the work someone does to that aspiration, whether it’s in a tangible or intangible way, is crucial. All of a sudden, people pay a lot more attention to that methodology and hope they learn for the business purpose.
Q: Why does that matter?
The emotional intimacy needed to be successful in a fast-growth business, or any kind of business, is significant. When people are giving you not only their backs and their hands and their minds, but they’re also giving you their heart, the outcome is better, not only for the business but also for the employee. That’s where true satisfaction resides.
If people feel that, they’ll continue to work hard to make a difference.
Q: How does vision affect culture?
Culture is not a static phenomenon. It is a product of the people mix you bring. People get so busy trying to put wheels under the outcome that they have created, whether it’s a merged entity or just starting a new vision. They easily blow past the sensitivity to the need for culture to be intentionally created, managed, re-evaluated and recreated on a regular basis.
Create some window or some door they can walk through that is creating a different kind of connectivity among and between employee groups and their families. We’ve had a number of different activities. The key point is creating things that matter to people and not forcing everybody to fit the mold.
Q: What other advice would you offer a CEO?
Be very careful not to keep resourcing a client in the same ways with the same people and the same sorts of products and services. Bring them evidence that you are still fresh and that they haven’t mined every good idea that you ever had.
Create an ongoing repetition and rotation of people moving in and among and between client teams. Add new team members and new levels of expertise in those new team members to clients.
HOW TO REACH: ABG Inc., (317) 415-0500 or www.abginc.com