Gregory Miller | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Gregory Miller

Background:  

Penn-Mar Human Services is a nonprofit that supports individuals with disabilities in northern Maryland and southern Pennsylvania. Penn-Mar serves more than 350 individuals with developmental disabilities through a range of educational, vocational and residential programs.

The Mistake:

Something that I wish I had embraced much earlier in my career would have been the idea that sometimes endings can be very good things, and not seen as failures, but seen as new opportunities to start in a new direction.

A decade ago, we started a business where we were remanufacturing inkjet printer cartridges. We did that because it was an opportunity for us to create a business, and have some of the folks we support with disabilities support the business. We did it for all of the right reasons, and we found some success with it. But looking back, it became very apparent over time that it was kind of a drain on some of our other resources in the organization, and a drain on our leaders’ time.

There came a point that I knew this business needed to end. I looked at that as a failure, as opposed to an opportunity for us to be better focused on the things that were more mission-focused. That business continued for a year or two longer than it should have.

Gee, I wish I had helped our folks pull the plug on that earlier.

The Lesson:

When I look back, I can clearly say, “Gee, I wish I had helped our folks pull the plug on that earlier.” As a leader, sometimes people are looking to you to help them make good decisions. And they were probably thinking some of the same things I was: “Should we be doing this? Is it really making sense? But if we stop doing it, have we failed?”

We probably should have looked at that a little bit differently, and said, “Hey, it had a season. It had a time where it was something that worked well, but now it’s a new season. This is really a distraction keeping us from what’s even better.”

When I think about the lessons I’ve learned regarding this whole idea of the seasons of life, it’s that there’s a time to do things and a time not to do things. What I’ve learned is that’s something that should be embraced, and not something that should be feared. Earlier in my career I would have feared that some of those things were seen as failures, where now I’ve embraced them as new opportunities for us to do something.

The lesson isn’t just specific to this particular business. It could be applied to the folks in your organization. Are you doing best by having employees in roles where they’re not the most empowered to do things that they feel they should be doing with their life? When you have those types of conversations, it feels like you’re creating tension and stress. But what you’re really doing is you’re trying to look for what that preferred future is, whether it be for your organization or for the individuals that are part of your mission.

Life is constantly changing – we’re learning, we’re growing, and the more we understand and the more we grow, the better we’re teed up to make really good decisions about what our future looks like.

Penn-Mar Human Services is on Twitter at @PennMarHumanSrv.

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