Entrepreneurship is a long, complicated road, often riddled with unforeseen landmines and fires that must be extinguished. It is not a lifestyle for timid people, and its fast-paced nature rarely affords opportunity for contemplative reflection. However, as 2023 unfolds, it’s important to take a step back and look at areas where your business may need more focus to achieve your goals.
We interviewed prominent leaders at three companies and asked them why they think taking a step back and reviewing business processes is a necessary task. Where should they start?
“Entrepreneurs start their businesses to chase their dreams,” said Greg Alexander, CEO of Collective 54, the premier mastermind community for boutique professional services firms. “Yet life gets in the way of pursuing these dreams. Between emails, Zoom calls and client meetings, it’s important to take a step back from time to time to sift through the noise and remember why you’re in the beginning doing business.”
Harshith Ramesh, co-CEO of Episource, a leading provider of risk adjustment services, software and solutions for health plans and medical groups, said he tries to view tasks in terms of the “Eisenhower Matrix,” a 2×2 table that groups tasks together. by how important and urgent they are.
“When you’re building a business — and especially in the early stages when you’re in a high-growth mode — you end up spending all your time in the ‘important and urgent’ bucket,” he says. “It’s okay at first; you’re doing everything you can to get and keep customers. You’re trying to survive and just get it done. However, you have to keep in mind that you’re starting to build up organizational debt as you do. “
What if ‘what if’ happens?
Larry Clarke, CEO of NanoGuard Technologies, which harnesses the power of technology to prevent food and feed waste and support food recovery, understands the pressures of a startup lifestyle all too well. When asked how he is doing, he replies matter-of-factly that he is spinning like a top.
“While true, it’s also seen as a badge of honor. In reality, my answer should be, ‘I’m quietly thinking about the company’s strategy and long-term direction.’ Doesn’t have the same zest, does it?”
While a startup requires everyone to be willing to step up and do a little bit of everything, a CEO needs to be able to look back and evaluate what works to sow the seeds of future success.
“That means taking specific time to step back and review the larger market, the company’s long-term goals, and how to articulate them to myself and stakeholders,” says Clarke. “Someone always has to think about ‘what if.’
Startups naturally run the risk of running on a dime. But when they focus to the point of obsession, they cannot easily achieve that and may miss out on important opportunities.
“Taking time to let your mind wander is a good thing,” says Clarke.
From doer to thinker
Small business leaders are sloppy and prefer to get things done, so transitioning from a “doer” to a “thinker” is not an easy transition. To force the issue, Clarke believes it’s essential to cut out a set period of the day for “big-picture” thinking.
“Making time is time well spent, because it’s the effort that creates value over time. I take time at some point of each day to just think,” said Clarke. That structure – and the right tools – are helpful in getting into that contemplative mindset.
“I like a whiteboard,” says Clarke. “Thinking out loud also helps me. Having someone who listens to you and questions your thoughts broadly, doesn’t try to direct you, but enters into an open dialogue to help the process along.”
Ramesh said he makes it a point to set aside some time in his calendar each week to address these “important and not urgent” issues.
“Historically, our business has been running pretty lean,” he said. “In recent years, however, we have overinvested in our organization, hiring executives and managers in key positions where one of their primary responsibilities is to focus on where the business needs the most attention. We ask that our executives and managers spend about 20-30% of their time on these issues and how to optimize the business, which is why it’s important for entrepreneurs and business leaders to take a moment to step back and address what’s in the bucket’ Important and not urgent’ state.”
Ask the right questions
As you think about your business processes and procedures, here are some guiding questions to consider:
● Are we investing appropriately in all areas of the business (finance, legal, compliance, IT, sales, etc.)?
● Do we have a strong people program and culture? Are we developing leaders? Do we have a strong recruitment and training process? Do we have competitive compensation and performance management?
● What does our three-year plan look like?
● What are the biggest risks for the company? Do we have plans to mitigate those risks?
● Can we improve our consultants, advisors and/or board of directors?
In Ramesh’s experience, a company cannot and should not be too dogmatic about sustainability and scalability.
“In the early stages of a company’s growth, understanding your customers, building solutions to meet their needs, and generating revenue is especially critical,” says Ramesh. “If you consciously make the decision to act quickly in the company’s infancy, know that later on you will need to refocus your energies and rebalance to create a scalable, long-term enterprise.”
As you look forward, take the time to look back. Twice a year, Alexander revises the original business plan he wrote before starting his company in 2019.
“A lot has changed since then. Many of my assumptions were wrong, and some of them were correct. But what hasn’t changed are the mission, vision, values and goals I set out before launch,” says Alexander. “I remind myself of this and shield the current reality from them. If we don’t live up to the mission, vision, values and goals, we have to recalibrate. This is the North Star and they never change. But the business tactics change all the time.
“It takes 15 years to become an overnight success. As much as things change, the really important items change very little.”