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  • leoneevans

Most businesses start out with the business owner being actively involved in their operational activities; especially as they are often the only staff member! But as the business grows, and you take on more staff, then consider that your own role should also change. Soon a point is reached when it becomes apparent that for your business to grow to the next level, you need to spend less time working IN the business, and start spending more time working ON the business.

As a business owner you are likely to identify with one or more of the below management styles:

  • Technician: someone who has specialist skills or experience, and may be the ‘inventor’ of the product or service your business provides. Often a business owner who operates more as a technician is very competent in aspects related to the product or service; however there may be aspects of business management that they may have little or no expertise (e.g. marketing, financial, human resources, strategy and planning etc.).

  • Teacher /Coach /Mentor: someone who recognises what is needed to excel at being a good technician (or manager, or leader, or …); and who has the skills to teach, coach and mentor their students (or staff, or colleagues) to bring out their best potential.

  • Manager: someone who is competent in planning, organising, staffing, directing and controlling aspects of their division (or business). A manager usually has people work for them, and then manages their work output.

  • Leader: someone who is able to inspire, motivate and enable their team towards their vision for business success. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, rather than power and control. A successful business owner needs to be a strong leader, a good manager and a capable mentor to get their team to follow their vision for success.

  • Entrepreneur: someone who is not usually an employee of the business; rather they invest in, and assume the risk and reward of the business venture. An entrepreneur is commonly seen as a business leader and innovator of new ideas and business processes.

Below are some indicators of the attributes for working IN and ON the business. Consider the below and take note of how you actually spend your time. Moving from IN to ON may require delegation of duties, and/or changes to your organisational structure or to your business model. This process might also identify the need for a more comprehensive business audit – where all areas of the business are assessed to highlight opportunities for growth and/or improvement.

Working IN the Business…

  • The majority of your time is spent on activities related to the daily operation of the business. This is where you feel most comfortable and competent, and you enjoy being part of the team.

  • You don’t really have the time to dedicate to staff training and you prefer not to delegate as you feel your role is too important. You find you often need to respond to issues which are outside your usual role; and you notice you are beginning to work longer and longer hours just to get the same job done.

  • Communication (written and/or verbal) is not your strongest skill. You don’t like writing reports or planning for the future. You much prefer to keep things fluid as the business changes often. You keep your plans for the business in your head, rather than commit them to paper. You don’t tend to discuss with your staff any issues or changes to the business which may come up in the future.

Working ON the Business…

  • You give priority to ensuring there are well documented strategies, plans, policies and procedures in place. You have a clear vision and goals for the business; and the annual planning process guides your business activities. You always involve staff in business planning.

  • The majority of your time is spent on review, planning, monitoring and supporting staff to achieve the previously agreed plans. You have regular scheduled meetings with your direct reports. You are comfortable with delegation, and actively mentor and support your staff to reach their potential. You realise that other people may do things differently, and you realise it is healthy to foster diversity.

  • You actively prioritise the most important activities; and act promptly when things come to your attention. You recognise that some issues may be ‘early warning signs' of future problems.

  • You take time out every week to think about and review the business. You actively seek to develop new relationships outside the immediate business circle (e.g. chambers of commerce, relevant industry associations etc.) which could potentially support your business growth in the future.

There may be valid reasons why you prefer to continue working IN the business; perhaps you have realised your expertise is quite specialised and that for your business to grow sustainably it needs a different set of skills and expertise which you recognise you don’t possess. You may decide you need to appoint a specialist CEO or General Manager, whilst you retain oversight of operational activities via a different role on the governance or senior management team.

If you do decide to appoint a CEO or General Manager, realise that you will need to allow them sufficient space to manage or lead the business within agreed parameters. However this does not mean you totally relinquish your vision for your business.

Alongside appointing an independent CEO or GM, it may be appropriate to consider establishing a more formal governance structure for which you retain the Chair role. This ensures your vision for the business remains front and centre when planning future growth strategies for the business.

If you do retain the Managing Director function, ensure you keep up with your own professional development to ensure your skills and expertise remain appropriate for the business needs. In my experience I have seen many businesses constrained in their growth because the business owner was not able to relinquish key management or leadership functions to more appropriately skilled staff.

If you want some help to transition from working IN your business to working ON your business, then give me a call!


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