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Working “On” Not “In” Your Business

Most CEOs spend too much time working “in the business.” This is a bad thing.

Yes, by working in the business they can see what is working and what’s not, who the key contributors are and those who aren’t carrying their weight, and can handle issues quickly. Hopefully, they are meeting with customers to get feedback, build relationships, and to pick up more business. These are all good things. But if the CEO spends all his or her time working ”in the business”, doing day to day activities, who’s going to be planning the future and making course corrections based on the changing business climate?

It is essential for CEOs to spend some time working “on the business.” Just like it is important to plan a trip before you leave, a business should plan their activities for the future. The CEO needs to step back and look at the big picture; what is happening in our industry, with our competitors, our customers and the economy. Then make assumptions about the landscape ahead and decide if a change of direction is necessary and appropriate. If it is, then a detailed plan should be developed to see which options would be best under the circumstances.

A lot of CEOs don’t feel comfortable working “on their business”. Thinking is hard work, and working “on the business” is mostly thinking, planning, and making decisions about alternatives. Most business owners don’t do a formal business plan annually, nor do they revise the last one they did. It may be in their head, but that is a lot different than putting it on paper. When the plan is in your head it’s tough to see the holes and fallacies, show it to your team, and compare the actual against it.

All professional organizations develop a formal business plan regularly. This is their game plan to share with the team, to let them know what is expected, and to compare the actual results against to see how you are doing and to make adjustments. Business plans shouldn’t be cast in concrete. They should change as you gather new information or change your assumptions on which the plan is based.

Working to improve your business and leadership skills is working “on the business”.

Because when the CEO gets better so does the business. By improving your leadership skills, you will be able to get more out of your team and also motivate them to work on getting better themselves. If you can motivate a few of your good performers to become star performers you will get an unbelievable benefit. Studies made at AT&T Laboratories showed that star performers were four to eight times more productive than good performers.

Improving your business skills can have equally rewarding results. Really understanding your financial numbers and reports would give you more options. Negotiating better can give you immediate return in your business and your personal life. Knowing how to establish and build relationships with your customers can win you a lot of business and strengthen your revenues. Sharing experiences with CEO peers can help you learn through the mistakes and successes of others.

Are you working enough “on the business”?

Actions to take now:

  1. Write down the things you are doing that would be “working on the business”.

  2. Take a little time and think about: Are you working enough “on the business”?

  3. If not, decide what additional things you should begin doing.

  4. For each action you want to start, write down the date you will begin.

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