KTM Solutions celebrated 15 years in business on April 21, 2020. The celebration was not at all as planned. Most of our clients, suppliers, and associates were “grounded” due to coronavirus, making any celebration a bit lack-luster. The grounding also allowed many of us to hit the pause button on our busy schedules. For me, it allowed time to reflect on 15 years in business and the life lessons learned. Over the next several months, I would like to share those with you as maybe they will help other business leaders.
Always tell yourself the truth. It seems like a simple concept but is not always easy, particularly in today’s postmodern world. Postmodernism teaches us that there is no absolute truth. In other words, what is true for me may not be true for you. Postmodernism tells us that truth is subjective. I don’t subscribe to the idea that truth is subjective or relative.
I do believe that we can tell ourselves a story long enough that we come to believe it as accurate and profess the story as truth. I also believe that we can choose to look at only one aspect of a situation and believe that we have discovered truth. But in neither of these instances has truth actually been found. Let’s look at how this could apply to business.
KTM Solutions began exclusively as an engineering company. Our products were drawings and reports, nothing more than intellectual property documented in electronic medium or paper. Early on, we were tempted to buy a manufacturing company to expand our services. After all, I had run large engineering organizations and could have convinced myself that adding manufacturing would be easy. However, most of my career had been in engineering management.
I recognized at the time that my efficiency of performing engineering design and calculations would be far less than that of engineers using those skills daily. Therefore, the decision was made to develop an engineering company and hire good engineers to perform the technical work.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every project quoted came to fruition? This is an area where there is a strong temptation to talk yourself into poor decisions. I’ve known more than one business owner that always saw the glass more than half full, told themselves that they couldn’t miss on an opportunity and nearly lost their business when the customer decided to move in a different direction.
Sales is difficult to predict. In fact, if we tell ourselves the truth, it is impossible to predict with accuracy. There are several major contributors that impact ability to predict:
- Your customers don’t always tell the truth.
- Your buyer isn’t always the person making the decision.
- The customers’ economic conditions change.
- The proposal didn’t hit the hot button or important issues for the decision maker.
- You may not discover what’s truly motivating your customer.
It’s easy to believe that the proposal offered was exactly the right answer. In fact, as the offeror, you may have done everything right and the customer might still go another direction.
A corollary to life lesson #1—be realistic about your limitations. Running a large engineering group for a fortune 50 aircraft company is vastly different from running your own business. Small business owners with employees have to learn a little about everything, including marketing, sales, finance, human resources, and contracting.
When managing engineering for a large aircraft company, my job wasn’t to sell airplanes. In fact, my personal life was not impacted negatively or positively if an airplane sold. I didn’t understand much about marketing.
I didn’t even fully understand the difference between sales and marketing. As an entrepreneur, I learned quickly that I needed to sell and learned enough to get by. But I also know that there are people who could do the work much better than I could. Early this year, I hired two people who were made for sales. They make the work look effortless.
In his book Good to Great, Collins talks about having the right people in the right seats on the bus, with the bus as a metaphor for the business and the seats representing positions inside the business.
As a leader, you must always face the brutal facts, tell yourself the truth, and identify your limitations. Limitations are often easier to identify in others, but it is most important to be real with yourself. If you struggle with self-assessment, I highly recommend finding a peer group that is willing to keep you grounded and help you identify your limitations.
In this era of COVID-19, and as we collectively try to figure out our next move, now is an especially important time to tell yourself the truth. Whether you own a small consulting business, a medium-sized manufacturing business, or even if you are an executive of a fortune 500 company, try to find the facts and understand realistically how this economy will impact your business.
Don’t be needlessly pessimistic or overly optimistic. Recognize your role in what you can control and also where you need to let go. Be brutally honest, do the best you can with the information at hand, and move forward with your best shot. As I have learned over and over again, it will be OK. Just be sure to tell yourself the truth.
Paul V. Kumler, P.E., is president of KTM Solutions, an engineering company that services the aerospace and large-scale manufacturing industries. In addition to aero structures engineering services, KTM Solutions designs and builds tooling supporting a broad clientele and various industries. (www.ktmmechanical.com) The company is headquartered in Greer, South Carolina, with remote offices in Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Kumler serves in several volunteer roles including the SC Aerospace Advisory Board. Mr. Kumler, a professional engineer, is licensed in Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington. He is married to Ginger A. Kumler. Together, they have two grown children and three