Hard to have a more successful or more high-profile entrepreneur/winner than Richard Branson, so I clicked quickly this morning from email to the Amex OPEN forum to look at his Top 5 Tips for Entrepreneurial Success .
Lots of people have opinions, lots of people have expertise, but he has Virgin Airlines, Virgin Records, and all of that. His five tips are pretty good reminders:
- Find good people
- Realize that the employees are the business
- Always look for the best in your people. Lavish praise. Never criticize.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously.
- Screw it, just do it.
I say this is maybe only 4.5 tips because of the “never criticize” part of his third tip. In more than 20 years of building and running a company, one of the hardest things to do, but most important, is managing mistakes.
Richard Branson says:
When mistakes happen – which is inevitable – I always take the position that you have to learn from them and try not to dwell on what went wrong. It’s almost always better not to go over the obvious with the people involved. They know exactly what happened.
I agree with the first sentence there, but I’m afraid that you do have to “go over” what happened, because it’s not always obvious. And I don’t think they always “know exactly what happened.” You and they need to review it at least once, so everybody is on the same page. It’s business, not fun, and you’re supposedly running it. It’s only normal that without the right kind of follow up on poor results, some people will rationalize or gloss over or fail to learn from mistakes. If you, the boss, never acknowledge the mistakes, you don’t optimize the business.
Obviously I mean good constructive criticism. Not back-biting or second guessing when it doesn’t matter. But there’s that tendency to want to be friend rather than boss, and ultimately if you’re running a business, somebody has to have the backbone required to set expectations and track results, and, the hardest part, deal with results that are less than expected.
I learned that the hard way, by not giving negative feedback. People don’t always correct themselves.