Independent and perseverant as we entrepreneurs are, we are not easily convinced that things are not going well and that we have to accept that we were wrong and should change course or stop what we are doing altogether. That is a kind of honesty that sometimes is more difficult to practice than moral rectitude. It does not come naturally to us and, therefore, we have to really work on it, include it in our planning and watch ourselves continuously from slipping. It is like learning a skill for which we have no innate talent.
An honesty checklist.
It starts in the very beginning as you build your inventory of assets, which you need to make your venture a success, calculate how much money you need and where to get it, and choosing the right people to work with.
Especially in assessing your own skills and experience, which are your primary assets, you have to be scrupulously honest with yourself and that what you say you can do is honestly what you can do. Do not over or underestimate your capacity and competency for the sake of making it fit the requirements of the job. Here there are no bosses or critical associates to slap you on the hand when you stretch the truth.
With money it is even more tempting to play a bit with the numbers, choose positive scenarios and assume friendly markets. Again, there are no watchdogs in place, no skeptic bankers or nit-picky accountants to keep us on the narrow path of truth.
Last but not least, do not get carried away or fool yourself when choosing your associates. Check their credentials carefully and be sure you feel comfortable with their character as much as their capability. At this point, there’s no HR department to do the legwork or second-guess you.
Set milestones to keep you honest.
Another important area of honesty pre-launch is the establishment of clear milestones. Pick frequent and independent measurements and calculate them carefully—no rounding, no guessing, no estimates and no “guesstimates.” Formulating and quantifying such markers will be hard but not impossible. Without them, it’s even more difficult, to be honest with yourself. Constantly reevaluate how the positives and negatives in the running of the venture affect each other, and what the common outcome will be.
One great benefit of setting these realistic milestones, and testing real progress against them, is that you can share this information with your partners, staff and, if applicable, investors and lenders. The certainty that these landmark measurements exist, and your commitment to honestly measure true progress against them, and share this information with the stakeholders, will be a great a great benefit when it comes to managing your new venture.
When it’s honestly time to accept the worst.
And then comes the hardest task, when it is clear that the plan and the overall operation doesn’t work, when the measuring points, which do not lie, show the opposite of what you were expecting. Or that elements beyond your control have done you in. This is when you have to be the most honest with yourself, whether you have to drastically pivot or, if worse comes to worst, you have to pull the plug. Either way, it is the most important time to be strong and fully honest.
I’m reminded of a client who had worked hard, planned carefully, hired dozens of people, and was finally ready to formally start operations. For that occasion, he invited a large group of friends, associates and local dignitaries to a festive inauguration of the office… on the same day that a military coup took place in the country where the new business was to open. This totally unforeseen event made it highly unlikely that the new venture would ever get off the ground. All but a few of the invitees were no-shows, including the dignitaries, and my client realized the game was lost before it started. There and then he decided to cut his losses, shut down the office before it even opened and the business could get started.
The positive side, which is the most important and most likely and most common, is that by plotting our course carefully and frequently checking our progress, we can objectively and honestly assess where we are heading from the day we start, which gives us a great sense of comfort and allows us to enjoy the venture’s progress and enjoy it.