Business owners are use to being involved in all aspects of their business. It's the hallmark of being an entrepreneur. But it also means running the risk of losing out on opportunities to grow your business because you are more focused on the day-to-day than thinking strategically about tomorrow.
It’s a point private company leaders acknowledge. During PwC’s webinar Maximizing your impact: Finding the time to think strategically, 40% of participants* said that strategy would be the area of their business that would benefit most from taking more time to reflect.
“In order to optimize operations and take your business to the next level, you have to empower others. You can’t do everything yourself,” says Scott Fitzsimmons, a partner in PwC’s Consulting & Deals practice in Vancouver. “You need your team to help you stay successful.”
This is much more than a time-management exercise. It’s really about making the distinction between what’s urgent and what’s important. Understanding that difference is what will allow you to move from being reactive to being proactive. “It’s easy for an owner to get caught up in putting out fires, but it also means you lose the opportunity to think strategically. Put simply, the urgent are things that are done to you, while the important are the things that you do, that you put in motion,” says Fitzsimmons.
So how do you start focusing on what’s important? Fitzsimmons identifies a few key steps to doing more by taking on less:
Understand the consequences of your actions. If you’re always in firefighting mode, are you taking care of the customers that help you grow the business? In many instances, the consequence isn’t immediate. It may be that when you go to sell your business, you don’t get the multiple you want because you haven’t set the business up to succeed without you.
Create a process/philosophy playbook to document how things should be done and why. This will prepare others to step in and maintain the entrepreneurial spirit that has allowed you to grow the business to this point. This isn’t about giving step-by-step directions. It’s about creating a framework for what needs to happen. Once in place, it will give you the confidence to delegate and will give your people a clear understanding of how and why their roles align to strategic objectives. They will be more invested in achieving those objectives and take ownership of their role.
Create simple, straightforward, strategic projects to drive the business and build momentum with small quick wins, while reinforcing alignment. “I worked with a business that wanted to streamline their returns process, as opposed to dealing with the fact there were returns in the first place”, explains Fitzsimmons. “A strategic project asks the question: What is the real problem we are trying to solve here versus the problem that exists? And perhaps more important, what are the consequences of our current behaviour versus a new behaviour?” These projects don’t break the bank but are proactively helping the business get better and smarter. They improve the bottom line through more effective business practices.
Build off your successes. People traditionally think the business will always stay the same, especially in businesses where there are frustrations. If you can use a strategic project to show how to overcome obstacles and achieve success, then people see the benefit and will want to pursue future strategic projects.
Create internal benchmarks and share them with your staff. When you develop an annual plan, make sure people know the targets and how you’re performing against those targets through monthly updates. This way people can see what’s working and what isn’t. If you have a really good month, you can use that information to maintain the momentum. If you’re meeting all your targets, then the next step is to start benchmarking yourself against other high-performing companies.
“Setting time aside to work on the business and focus on what’s important will help you drive growth and increase profitability,” says Fitzsimmons. But there are other benefits as well. “You’ll be able to take time off and recharge. You’re building value and making the business more attractive to potential buyers. And you’re building employee engagement because you’re opening the door for them to play a bigger role. Plus, there’s a sense of satisfaction that the business is running on all cylinders.”
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*108 individuals responded to this polling question