Volume 74: What Raising Kids Taught Me About Running a Company

People think being the boss is easy: you just collect the checks while everyone else does the work.

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Boy, are they wrong.

It’s especially hard to leave the security of a good job to start 

your own company with a toddler and a new baby at home, like I did back in 1996. Which takes me to a pretty universal truth: raising kids is hard, frustrating, and often thankless work. And it’s worth every ounce of that frustration: every vomit-filled, sleepless night. Every heated teenage argument. All worth it.

I’ve learned a lot fro
m raising three kids. But there is one string of lessons, though, that I try to employ in my company: no matter the end goal, for kids and companies, you have to set the expectation up front, be patient, and treat every situation, and child, as an individual, because one size rarely fits all.

Setting Expectations:

Kids push boundaries. Always. It’s part of growing up: to see where the guard rails are on the road of life. Some bounce from side to side, and others merely scrape the rail before finding a good path in the middle.

The constant here, is that there have to be boundaries for them to push. You have to set those expectations, and then hold them firm. Setting chores, creating rules, and making kids get jobs to pay for the fun stuff they wanted to do are some of the obvious examples of setting expectations.

Not to compare employees to children, we’re all adults here, but the same goes for employees at a company. There have to be policies and procedures in place to create a productive and effective workplace.

And if expectations aren’t met, there have to be consequences. Which leads me to…

Every Situation and Person is Different: A Management Perspective

Even when they’re not being outwardly rebellious, kids are going to make decisions that disappoint you sometimes.

With my kids, jumping straight to grounding and taking away their favorite toy, or their car, would have saved a ton of time, and I’d have been able to move on to other things.

However, the reality is that this was not always the right approach. Each kid has different motivations and buttons that need to be pushed, and each digression is different from the previous, so adaptability to different situations is critical.

What might warrant that grounding and car-taken-away approach in one situation, might just require a sit down and discussion in another. An action that results in one kid doing extra chores around the house might result in a sibling losing all phone privileges for a month.

This approach is time consuming, but is extremely beneficial, as we can ensure the punishment matches the crime and motive, and ensure we’re not repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

Within a company, going by the letter of the policy book, as many of you, especially in Union facilities, are required to do, is a quick and efficient way to deal with a problem and move on. It also covers your butt in the case of lawsuits and other legal actions. (There’s a reason it’s “HR and Compliance!)

But, this doesn’t allow for the taking of individual needs into account. The policy handbook’s answer to a small transgression, or honest mistake, might be something that smashes the morale of a good employee, or it might be a slap on the wrist for someone that needs a shot across the bow. In either case, everyone loses.

Among my current teammates, I have a few that are best guided by expressing disappointment in their performance, but a formal Exception Report would break their spirits unnecessarily. I have other employees that require more direct action and discipline to get their attention: a formal Exception Report is the right shot across the bow for these employees.

Patience and Not Getting Too High or Too Low

Having to choose the right avenue in parenting has also taught me patience, and has hopefully helped me stay grounded better than I did 30 years ago.

A kid’s first time using a “big boy” or “big girl” potty is a moment of strange pride for a parent, but using the toilet once doesn’t mean you throw all of the diapers and pull-ups away.

By the same token, wetting the bed, crashing the car, and missing curfew are all disappointing events that it can be easy to fly off the handle to. I certainly had my fair share of these moments over the years, but at the end of the day, a stumble doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

At a company, you’re going to have great years where you double your revenue and it feels like you’re on top of the world. And then the next year, that success is totally erased. Why? Because, success often breeds complacency. So, enjoy and celebrate your success, but take the pragmatic step back to figure out how you got there, and how you can stay there. Then, do the work again.

On the other side, failure can feel like the end of the world. Days feel longer, you’re pushing a little too hard to get that deal or extra thousand square feet out of the machine. After a bad year, you can get disheartened, and lose perspective on why you were working so hard in the first place. Every deal, every shift becomes life or death.

And that’s just not sustainable, you will burn out hitting the highs and lows every day.

Conclusion:

Running a company, and building a career in a certain specialty or industry can be an incredibly rewarding experience, or it can be a frustrating mess that leaves you burnt out and bitter.

I’ve run a successful company for 23 years now, through the ups and downs of the economy, as well as the evolution of the corrugated industry, by setting expectations, treating each situation and employee as an individual, not a drone, and stay as grounded as possible to not get too high or too low on a day-to-day basis.

Hopefully, these lessons can help you too.

Stay Strong.

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