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Interview 10 business owners and you may get 10 different answers. Or 8. Maybe 5. You won’t get one.
Owners talk of cash flow, sales slumps, competitive pressures, shortages in finding qualified employees, price pressures, government regulations, industry disruptions, profit margin erosion and more. Dive a bit deeper and every owner will likely tell you that their answer will change. Today’s answer to, “What’s your biggest problem?” won’t necessarily be tomorrow’s answer. “It depends.”
Business leaders are rarely in unison on their biggest problem. Most are thinking more micro than macro. Trees versus forest stuff.
It’s understandable. Business owners are deep in their business every day. Eating, drinking and sleeping (or losing sleep) with their company’s issues. It’s natural to think about our biggest problems in specifics.
Business is really much simpler, at least when we distill what it really consists of. It’s not easy to pull it off.
Getting new customers, serving customers better and not going crazy in the process. Those are the 3 aspects of successful business building.
The actions that make those possible are also rather simple to distill: make the best decision possible in the moment, execute that decision accurately and be quick about it. Another 3-some. But roll it all into one big thing and you’ve got what is your biggest problem to be solved.
If your business doesn’t grow and start making better decisions, prompting more accurate execution of those decisions (with speed), then you’ll continue to experience all those other issues. They’ll parade through your office from now on until and unless you solve this major problem in your company.
At the heart of it is building an organization, something not every business owner understands (or knows how to do). Too many small business owners are as Michael Gerber pointed out years ago…they’re technicians, able to do the work. Hiring, training and delegating others to perform the work at a high level is often daunting for small business owners.
Add to it the “it’s-my-baby” factor and it can be a tall order for any owner to let go of the reins a bit. But growth demands it. Growth demands a learning organization be assembled and empowered to act with speed.
Focus on the problem that is likely the cause of the other problems. Stop concentrating on the trees when the forest is under attack. Think bigger. Pull back and gain some perspective on what ails you.
Making The Best Decision Possible In The Moment
Owners will often say they know exactly what they need to do and how to do it, but they just can’t make meaningful progress to get it done. It’s a recipe for extreme frustration. To think you know, but to be unable to get it done.
As businesses grow it’s more difficult to communicate effectively throughout the company. Those messages you could quickly communicate with your small team when you started…they’re much harder to properly convey now that you’ve got 100 employees. Or 20. The result is that many employees have no idea where you’re going, or what their direct contribution should be. Nobody is measuring the things that let everybody know if they’re on track or not.
That’s why owners often use phrases like “chasing our tail” or “putting out fires.” Our views change over time. If you’re 25 you have a very different view of things than if you’re 45. Your perspective is different. So are your priorities. And your goals. Problems look different depending on your viewpoint. That’s why I continually focus clients on first things first – making the best decision in real-time. That’s where it starts, but it’s just the beginning.
Great decisions are meaningless without accurate execution. We’ve all made good decisions only to have them fail at execution. Even though some argue that a poor decision expertly executed trumps a wise decision poorly executed — that sounds good, but it’s just not true. And it presupposes that you can get it all fixed. Which is the plight of so many small business owners. They lament that the current state is simply how it is. And how it will always be. WRONG.
There is a better way.
Speed is the single biggest weapon of small business versus larger business. Small, agile companies should be able to be more highly maneuverable than larger enterprises. Yet increasingly, I’m finding small businesses surrendering that advantage because they’re fearful of making the decision. Further evidence that this is the single biggest problem facing small business owners. And yes, I’m still lumping all 3 actions into one big action required for successful business building: make the best decision possible in the moment, execute that decision accurately and be quick about it.
Why do you get stuck making a decision? I’ve uncovered many reasons. This is where it can get quite individual with an owner. In some cases the owner must have the best ideas leaving the team unable to make a decision without jumping through the necessary hoops to help the owner feel like it’s her decisions. Sometimes the owner is just indecisive, leading the team to behave in similar fashion. Often times the owner puts so much pressure on the decision that it drives up fear, paralyzing the team to move forward.
Can you get it right more often than not? Will this decision’s outcome put the company at risk? Will we be able to recover if we get it wrong?
When I ask a business owners, “When was the last time you made a decision that put the company at big risk?” most look up at the ceiling trying to think of a time. Minutes later they’ll admit, “I can’t remember.” Probably because those decisions are few and far between. Rare.
Probing further I’ll ask, “Give me an example of a decision you made that you couldn’t fix?” Same result most of the time. Or they’ll talk about a 5-year or 10-year lease they signed. Or some large piece of equipment they purchased. But even then they’ll admit that those things can likely be worked out if they’re not perfect. Leases can often be re-negotiated. Equipment can be sold, or returned. Inventory can be sold or moved sideways to some other company.
Armed with these truths, it’s evident that sometimes we’re putting too much pressure on a single decision. I’m not urging you to make decisions without proper thought or debate. I’m urging you to let speed play a major role though. Otherwise you lose a big competitive edge.
Bula Network Owners’ Alliance is all about helping small business owners avoid going crazy in the process of building and growing their business. Yes, sometimes it’s about getting new customers. Sometimes it’s about serving customers better. But it’s always about not going crazy in the process. And the way we accomplish that is by concentrating on this single biggest business problem: make the best decision possible in the moment, execute that decision accurately and be quick about it.
Like a golfer or baseball player or just about any other athletic endeavor, you don’t have to be perfect to be great. You just have to get it more right than not…more often. Consistently get it closer to right and you’ll be a winner.
Again, easy to talk about. More difficult to do it.
That’s why surrounding yourself with like-minded business owners who are also committed to it can make all the difference. If I can begin to make better decisions because others around me are asking me hard questions, and questioning my answers then I’m going to make better decisions. I’m not going to have to wait until I’ve got some historical perspective to realize, “Man, I should have done this instead.” No, with others helping me think it through in real-time I can get it more right more often. It’s the foundation of solving my biggest business problem.
Then if I’m surrounded by people who help me plan the execution of that decision, and people who encourage and inspire me to be courageous in incorporating accountability for the desired outcome…well, I’m so far ahead of my competitors they won’t be able to catch me. Because armed with that kind of help my speed increases. And speed kills the competition. It kills in the market. Nothing beats speed when it’s on target.
Stop chasing your tail.
Stop working on the same problems you were working on last year.
Stop staying awake at night fretting over what to do.
Take control of your circumstance. Surround yourself with other business owners who can help you solve this biggest problem – the biggest problem facing every business owner.
Make the best decision possible in the moment, execute that decision accurately and be quick about it.
Solve that problem and you’ll solve your other problems. Quit focusing on the wrong things. Instead, make up your mind that today the madness stops. You’re going to stop going crazy because crazy doesn’t work well in problem solving.
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