Stop Working “In” the business. Start Working “On” the Business

There is a disease that most entrepreneurs suffer from.  It is painful, crippling and fatal to the business.  I call it “Entrepreneurs Disease.”   

So, what is Entrepreneurs Disease?  Well, quite simply, it is caused by a leader’s fascination with working “In” the business and not “On” the business.  Michael E. Gerber’s best selling book The E-Myth Revisited: why most small businesses don’t work and what to do about it, first brought the concept to my attention and since reading his book, I am seeing this nasty habit of leaders everywhere. 

What is working “In” the business?  It is business owners and leaders that consistently and constantly become engaged in the little itty-bitty details of running the day-to-day operations of the business.  Micro-managing team members, persistently watching and analysing the numbers, and basically slowing the growth of the business.

In the entrepreneurial world, I know it is tough.  Resources are incredibly limited. You might be the only team member, so you end up being the chief cook and bottle washer.  You are probably staying up late at night and doing the books.  You are probably getting up early to prepare inventory or production for the day ahead.

Working “On” the business is all about being incredibly conscious and focused on dividing your daily activities into thirds.  Great entrepreneurs, and leaders within larger organizations (for that matter as well), know that they must spend a third of their time each day on:

  1. The Future.  This means vision, purpose, understanding the changing environment and making sure strategies are being developed and actioned in order to constantly maintain your competitive advantage.
  2. Communication.  This includes interacting with every stakeholder in the business.  Employees, customers (this includes selling), investors, peers, management, the Union, partners, vendors and suppliers, consultants, and bankers, just to name a few.  No leader is an Island unto himself, and you need to make sure that you are enlisting support for your plan from every source possible.  Without communications with your employees, they will not know what ‘good looks like’ and they will be forced to make something up – this ends up with team members all rowing in different directions.  If you are not selling constantly, you will wake up one day and there will be no customers.
  3. The Business.  This is where you get to spend time on the day-to-day operations of the business.  Making sure that plans are on track, employees are engaged and customers are getting what they paid for.  The danger though, is that most entrepreneurs and business leaders have some kind of functional expertise. This is where their “sweet spot” or comfort level is and, to the detriment of the business, where they spend all their time. 

Making sure that you are working “On” the business takes incredible discipline and focus.  Raw energy and passion will allow you to get away with working “In” the business for a short period of time.  However, without communications, selling, building replicable structure and focusing on strategic growth, you will discover that revenue will flatten out, costs will continue to increase, productivity will plateau and customer satisfaction will falter.  

When this happens, most entrepreneurs and managers will then start to work harder and face burnout.  Start immediately to map out how you are going to shift from working “In” the business to working “On” the business.  Becoming a strategic business leader is easy than you think.  All it takes is strategic thinking, focus and discipline.