Five areas to focus your time in growing your organisation

We spend a lot of time and words on this blog writing about how to give your organisation, and the people in it, space to grow and thrive without you and your hands-on input 24/7. Often this comes as a huge relief to business leaders: relinquish control of the details of running your operation, relax your iron control, and your business runs more effectively, people blossom and grow, and you have time to step back and think about where you want to take it all – which, after all, is your job as its leader.

But if you do stop fire-fighting, being almost entirely reactive to the daily detailed needs of your business, how do you structure your job? Managing your time is much easier if you just let it be dictated by what comes up each day. When you give up this approach, you may find yourself floundering a little in trying to find a different structure for how you should focus your time and efforts.

Here’s a structure which we use as a rule of thumb in coaching the business leaders who are our clients. Focus your attention on the following five key areas of accountability:

Strategy

Spend time deciding on where you are taking the business in the short, medium and long-term future, and create with your team detailed plans for getting there. Give thought and time to how to communicate your direction, strategy and plans to everyone who matters to your business: your staff, customers and suppliers, and schedule time, space and energy to communicate these, not once in a while, but constantly – your primary job is to set direction and take people with you.

Finance

Set up and maintain financial systems to ensure you have a healthy business with ample cash flow, a good sales pipeline, accurate forecasting and managed costs. If you are not good at these things yourself, recruit and manage a team of people who are, and learn at least to ask the right questions and understand the answers.

People

Design and actively manage a healthy organisational culture – it won’t happen by accident. Set non-negotiable behavioural groundrules, pick people up on substandard behaviour and role model the target behaviours yourself, without exception. Make sure that your performance management and reward systems actually reward the behaviour you are seeking, and be generous with feedback, compliments and thanks – coming from you these will mean more than any number of pay rises and perks.

Processes

Don’t tolerate muddle, rework, duplication and waste – these are signs that any systems you already have in place have broken down. Place a priority on redesigning systems and processes when these warning signs are present, and if you lack a process-minded person in the team hire a professional. Don’t fall into the trap of over-engineering your systems either – there are plenty of suppliers out there waiting for you to buy their all-singing, all-dancing ‘solution’. You should aim for the minimum level of organisation necessary to allow your organisation to control the muddle and get on with its job.

Sales and marketing

Ensure your organisation has a healthy pipeline: a flow of new business leads at various stages of the path to buying your product or service. Insist your marketing department produces several lines of attack in generating new sources of these leads, and hold them to account for the number and quality of leads generated. Hold your sales department to account for the conversion rate of these leads into active clients of the right size and quality of contract – and require the two departments to work together to achieve this: no finger pointing or excuses allowed.

And don’t do any of this by yourself; do all of it through your management of the people in your immediate team. This is where you should spend 80% of your time. If you’d like to know what to do to ensure you run a brilliant organisation with engaged, enthusiastic and empowered employees, it’s this: include them in all your thinking and planning. Meet with them each individually and all together as a team at least once a month. Give them the big picture, let them participate in fleshing out the vision, the strategy and the plans, then step back and let them get on with it.

‘But’, I hear you say, ‘then I’ll spend 80% of my time in meetings!’ Very true – but they’ll be the right meetings. You’ll have your finger on the pulse of your organisation and be shepherding the entire team in the same direction. This is your unique contribution to the success of the organisation of which you are leader and only you can do it – let someone else get the satisfaction of fighting the fires!

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A Buzz in the Building by Kate Mercer