As the founder and visionary leader of EarthKind, I’ve hit my leadership lid plenty of times while attempting to successfully toggle between the current reality and future (desired) reality. In the ever-evolving business landscape, I believe it’s crucial to have a firm grip on the present while in tandem, investing in the future. However, it takes seeing reality as it is.
No matter how you slice & dice it, success hinges on an entrepreneur’s ability to do the right thing at the right time, in the right way, without overlooking details that could potentially end the business. And, let me say from my decades of experience, across multiple businesses, that’s way easier said than done!
When I embarked on my journey to establish EarthKind, I was faced with a challenging reality. At that time, a staggering 98% of pest control solutions on the market relied on kill and poison methods. It was a daunting landscape, appearing totally insurmountable. To be a successful entrepreneur, I knew I needed a reality check, before I met with the banker, prospective customers, or my own continued investment of time.
The critical reality check for me was understanding the category and consumers better than they understood themselves. This meant digging in to unearth their unstated needs, wants, and ethical concerns. I knew it wasn’t just about what I envisioned but aligning my vision with the prevailing market conditions. Would they spend money to buy what I was selling?
Only by recognizing the unmet demand for humane and non-toxic solutions did I proceed with my vision to change the face of pest control with kinder alternatives that were eco-friendly, convenient, and super effective.
Here’s the reality that entrepreneurs face: only 5% of businesses make it past $1 million in annual revenue, and only 2.3% of women led firms attract venture capital. These figures underscore the importance of being in touch with the current reality and making practical choices that align with market needs.
A reality check is the compass that steers entrepreneurs away from potentially devastating pitfalls.
Here are three feedback loops that served as my guiding light on my own entrepreneurial journey over the past 30 years:
- Becoming an Employer and Trading Partner of Choice: Utilizing kindness as a driving force in the workplace can be the fuel of a successful, thriving company. According to a study by Harvard Business Review, organizations that foster a positive and inclusive culture have 33% higher revenue growth. Feedback from employees and partners is invaluable in shaping this culture of kindness, ensuring that a company becomes the preferred employer and trading partner. Getting to the truth, the reality, of any mutual agreement and taking time to dialogue around it IS kindness in action. At EarthKind, we call it care-frontation, because it truly is about caring enough to confront the changing reality of life, work, family, whatever, to ensure its mutually beneficial.
- Delivering the Top-Rated Natural Solution: The second feedback loop revolves around the effectiveness of our products. Our commitment to delivering the best natural solution requires a continuous evaluation of product performance. Seeking customer feedback and embracing it all – the good, bad, and ugly- is a vital compass that points us toward excellence. I still attempt to read every single customer, employee, and supplier review. And they’re in the 1000’s. That’s how important people’s feedback is to me.
- Leading A Fast-Growing Natural Brand:
Growth is imperative for any business. However, as a leader you must ask yourself how fast your team can go. In my journey with EarthKind, the turning point came when we set a record for the fastest-growing natural brand, making the Inc 5000 list, and being recognized as an EY Entrepreneurial Wining Woman. This was made possible by first fostering a culture of innovation and productivity. One of my favorite stories is how our production team streamlined manufacturing processes, resulting in a 50% increase in output within six months, in the same footprint through 5S workplace organization, better workflows, and employee empowerment. This efficiency allowed us to meet the growing demand and level load our output to better serve retail customers and maintain an ‘A’ report card throughout challenging economic conditions. I love manufacturing so much, because the feedback loops around demand and production are happening daily, even hourly some days.
In summary, feedback is like a best friend, who always tells you the truth, even if it hurts. The ability to listen to feedback, whether from employees, customers, or partners, is what separates successful companies from the rest in my humble opinion. It’s the reality check that can keep a business grounded in the present while guiding it toward the future. When embracing these three feedback loops, reality becomes your favorite teacher on the path to success.
Bonus Section: How do I know when someone isn’t telling the whole truth?
According to studies in organizational psychology, there are 4 telltale signs that individuals exhibit when they are reluctant to confront the realities at hand:
- Avoidance of Specifics: When individuals speak in vague or overly general terms, it might be a sign that they are evading the precise details of a situation. By staying away from concrete facts, they create a smokescreen that can obscure the actual issues, vs facing them in the full light of truth.
- Selective Attention: Another common tactic to sidestep the truth is the selective focus on positive aspects while disregarding the negative. This can manifest as a tendency to highlight successes and achievements while downplaying or ignoring setbacks and challenges. Wise CEO’s see mistakes and setbacks more as set-ups for a comeback. They’re usually more valuable than a roomful of MBA’s!
- Defensiveness: When confronted with inconvenient truths, some individuals react defensively. This may involve deflecting blame, resisting feedback, or becoming emotionally charged. Such behavior can be indicative of a reluctance to acknowledge uncomfortable realities. As a CEO, I’ve found that people who see the mission or purpose as bigger than themselves are rarely ever defensive, they’re invested in doing better by being 1% better every day.
- Inconsistent Behavior: Actions often speak louder than words, and inconsistency between what someone says and what they do can be a red flag. It’s essential to pay attention to actions that deviate from stated commitments or promises. Sadly, this is so common it’s given business leaders, and politicians, a bad rap. I often say it’s the Milennials & Gen Z who’re changing this bad dream. Overall, they expect authenticity and altruism from the leaders and companies they align with, nd these conditions of satisfaction give me great hope for our collective future!
Recognizing these patterns of untruthfulness is a critical skill for entrepreneurs and business leaders to hone in. Embracing the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable, is the cornerstone of good leadership and decision-making.
Kari Warberg Block
Founder & CEO, EarthKind