If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to do three things well to realize your vision:
- Work in the business
- Work on the business
- Work on improving how you work on the business
These three areas build on one another and compound success. Let’s dive deeper into each…
1. Work in the business means using your unique skills and insight to help create and deliver the products and services your customers value. Leaders at all levels need to contribute work output that keeps them close to their customers and allows them understand what their customers need and value. Contrary to some popular opinion, working in the business is valuable work for leaders.
2. Work on the business means taking time to assess how well the business is able to deliver your products and services and to continually improve how effective, efficient and adaptable your are in adding customer value. This includes:
- Developing and articulating a clear mission and vision.
- Understanding the context in which the business runs and how internal resources and capabilities must adapt relative to external trends like customer needs, competitive positioning and social and regulatory limitations.
- Defining how you will compete to win within this context through your product market fit and go to market activities.
- Implementing projects and initiatives that create priority new capabilities and offerings.
- Measuring and achieving objectives and goals that grow the business.
- Solving problems that prevent you from fully reaching your goals and vision.
- Working to acquire the people, skills, resources, processes and tools needed for the business to run well and thrive.
- Organizing how you and others work best together.
Let’s call this work that creates a differentiated strategy.
3. Work on improving how you work on the business means improving your ability to understand, articulate and deliver your differentiated strategy. While working on the business may sound daunting, real growth comes from improving how well you work on the business. This is work on the process that is used to work on the business.
Leaders benefit first from acknowledging that working on the business is a process. Call it the strategy process. Recognize that it is on-going work that requires regular attention and focused time.
Next, adopt a strategy process that is tested and proven. Once adopted, work relentlessly to make it work for your business. Adapt and grow it as your needs change. Engage other leaders in the process. Continually improve your ability to continually improve your strategy and your ability to work toward your vision. Work on being the best at implementing a strategy process.
For more detail on what a strategy process is and how you can adopt one for your business, start with the StrategyOS I use. It is borrowed and blended from tested ideas that fit most companies who have at least a few employees and and some customers. I typically modify it depending on company maturity and size as you might do for your company.
Or, you might pick another author’s “packaged” system. Most small to medium sized companies will find the EOS from Gino Wickman’s Traction is a light weight way to quickly add a common process with minimal overhead. Matt Mochary’s The Great CEO Within documents another approach worth adopting, especially for startups that are starting to get product market fit. Early stage companies may look to Erik Reis’ The Lean Startup or Kim & Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Strategy for ideas. More mature companies might like more structure from Kaplan & Norton’s Balanced Score Card.
Keep in mind that success comes from finding time and focus to always work on these 3 areas that deliver your vision. Don’t work harder, work harder on the things that will most impact success using these three as foundational building blocks.
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In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins credits level 5 leadership as a defining characteristic of those who guided their companies to great success by outpacing the average in his study.
As a point of entry, these leaders demonstrated foundational skills of finding and organizing the best people, and catalyzing commitment with compelling vision and values. Those leaders who were most successful added these defining traits:
1. Humility: Level 5 leaders do not seek personal glory or attention. They credit their success to the efforts of their team and the organization as a whole.
2. Professional will: Level 5 leaders have a strong determination to succeed and are willing to do what it takes to achieve their goals. They are unrelenting in their desire to produce sustained results and to make a lasting impact on their organizations.
3. Personal responsibility: Level 5 leaders know intuitively that their actions ultimately determine the success or failure of their team or organization. They do not blame others or make excuses. They build up, coach, and support all those on their team to deliver their best.
4. Fanatic discipline: Level 5 leaders are highly organized, focused on the most valuable contributions they can make, and follow through on their commitments, even if faced with difficult challenges.
5. Thoughtful reflection: Level 5 leaders are reflective and seek to learn from their experiences and the experiences of others. They reserve time for the deep work needed to to make the business better. They are open to feedback and continuously seek to improve themselves and their team.
Deming’s PDCA continuous improvement approach can be well applied to most goals or decisions in business:
– Plan (an outcome)
– Do (try best solution to solve root causes)
– Check (is it working)
– Act (scale solution if working)
Fast cycles = fast improvement.
As with many problem solving approaches, Plan is especially important: Make sure all participants in problem solving identify and agree to the desired outcome. Be specific in setting an objective that defines a desired impact that can be verified within a set timeframe. Ask why 5 times to get basic understanding and to uncover the most important issues that are preventing achieving the outcome. Start with first principles and work to develop alternative actions that could correct root cause issues and achieve the outcome. Evaluate each alternative action as best as possible with input from all participants working to solve the problem.
The next steps can happen quickly.
Do: Test the action that is most likely to produce the outcome desired. This could be through a pilot that address a limited scope of the problem or could be implemented with temporary tools or processes.
Check: Implement metrics early that can objectively evaluate whether the goal is met. Ensure that the metrics show whether the desired outcome was achieved.
Act: If the action works, it is time to make the solution scalable and stable. Create any new tools or processes that are needed. Expand the action to address the full problem. Continue to ensure full implementation and monitor that the outcome continues to deliver results.
If the action did not work, go back to Plan; with the learning from this iteration, pick the next best action to Do and continue until the outcome is achieved.
Once solved, move on to your next most important issue, decision, or new goal you want to achieve.
Save more difficult problem solving techniques for issues and decisions that have a large impact and cannot be changed or undone once a decision is made. For most problem solving, PDCA has the right balance of rigor and efficiency.
People are your biggest asset. Your biggest cost. And your biggest risk.
- There are specific laws that must be adhered to when hiring and firing
- Benefits are costly, especially for smaller companies
- Learning and running HR compliance, benefits and payroll is time consuming
Most businesses don’t know about professional employer organization (PEO.) These providers take away the concerns of hiring. Outsourcing to a PEO means your team works as employees of the PEO. On your behalf, they:
- Hire and fire
- Ensure legal compliance
- Streamline payroll and expenses
- Offer benefits (medical, dental, life, PTO, etc.)
- Support employers and employees
If you are considering hiring your first employee or have less than about 100 employees, strongly consider outsourcing to a PEO. Until you reach 100 to 150 people working on your team, a PEO makes good sense.
Some PEO’s you can investigate are:
- Sequoia One
Once you outgrow a PEO at around 150 people, you’ll need a good payroll provider like:
- Rippling (also offers PEO)
Use the ACT Checkup to learn how I went from ignoring culture to using ACT to build high performing teams. It is an exercise that is intended to teach how to build great culture and create high performing, more motivated teams at all levels.
If you have direct reports, you are a leader and manager. Your most important job is to create a productive culture and motivate your team. Most fail.
After taking about 30 minutes to have your team members complete the checkup, you’ll have the context and information you need to prioritize action items that will start delivering the culture you want. With continued practice, you will see noticeable results quickly.
ACT is a pneumonic that is useful in reminding leaders how to motivate and create great cultures. It is an acronym standing for:
- Accountability: getting things done by Leading and Managing well
- Coaching: asking for and providing help
- Transparency: creating trust and 2-way feedback
The checkup has 5 checkpoints that evaluate team behaviors for each ACT area. Accountability has two sub-areas, Lead and Manage. These work together to deliver Accountability. This creates a total of 20 checkpoints of evaluation.
Find out more and get the check-up survey here free or pay what you want.
Start improving your team’s culture and performance by setting up recurring ACT meetings.
These are 1-on-1 meetings between managers and their reports. They should happen about weekly at all levels of the organization.
At these meetings, the three elements of ACT should get focused discussion:
Accountability is agreeing to:
- A priority outcome (vision, objectives, goals, results, measures);
- Actions to deliver it (to-dos, rocks, initiatives);
- Whether actions were completed
- If you achieved the outcome
Coaching is assessing the current health of a person, team, department, initiative or business.
State both the good and the not good.
For the not good detail:
- What the issue is and its causes
- A proposed solution (by the person raising it)
- The best solution together
Solutions can include providing resources for success like:
• Tools and Technology
• Advice and Guidance
Transparency is sharing (to a manager, peer, or report) feedback on what they are doing, using the following format:
Like: “These are the specific actions that I like that you are doing.”
Wish that: “These are the specific actions that I wish you would do differently.”
The receiver of the Feedback should:
- Ensure understanding by rephrasing it
- Thank and let them know that you will consider how to address it
- Decide what changes, if any, you will make
- Get back to giver with decision and reasoning
- Follow-up later to see if changes help
Once you see some success, you can add ACT elements to any meeting or event:
- Start with each person noting a team good and a needs improvement idea
- Set goals, track and share outcomes as a team
- Make problem solving an agenda item
- Rate meetings and share improvement ideas
Well functioning teams should periodically rate how well they are implementing the ACT components to look for the areas where they can improve most.
You can find my 20 point checkup here.
Get your team to rate each checkpoint, then problem solve solutions for ones with low average scores.
Start in the areas that need the most attention and can have the largest impact.
- Take small steps initially
- Get feedback on how well they work
- Build on success to keep improving
Find out more and get the check-up survey here.
This article was adapted by practicing and adapting the ideas of A.C.T. as as introduced in: Mochary, Matt; MacCaw, Alex; Talavera, Misha. The Great CEO Within: The Tactical Guide to Company Building (p. 133).