By Dr. Cynthia St. John
Think back to when you first decided to start your own business or break out and take an executive role. What were you ultimately seeking — and have you achieved it? My guess is that it wasn’t just about money. More often than not, it isn’t. For me, leaving an executive role to start a small business was about achieving work-life balance. What was your reason?
Just as we all have our “whys,” we also all have our barriers to overcome. Some of the common barriers that get in our way include frustrations with people, lack of control, difficulty establishing a clear successful path and challenges implementing change.
Here are a few tips to help address some of the most common concerns we face:
Team Health. If you don’t have the right people around you, you will always have problems. This is particularly true of your leadership. It’s key that you ensure everyone on your lead team is in the right role, with the right skills and mindsets. It’s equally important to reach a high level of team health where everyone is comfortable with conflict and openly discusses divergent opinions. Without the right team health, it will constantly feel like a struggle.
Company Core. I tend to be a bit ADD, so if not kept in check, the company can easily run off the rails and lose focus and control. The key here is to gain and maintain clarity on what matters most, based on your definition of success. This includes getting clear on your company’s core values (which also helps with ensuring you have the right people); core focus (this one is akin to mission/vision/purpose); clarity of who your core customers are (your target market and key customer groups); and clarity relative to your core measures (numbers you review to know you’re on track).
Clear Direction. Even the right leadership team with the right level of clarity needs to be moving in the right direction. Every organization is ultimately faced with figuring out a path that leads to profit and growth. And as with most anything else, there are often multiple paths we can take, with each leading to a more or less desirable outcome and requiring more or less energy. What we strive for, as a company or parent watching our children grow, is good choices that serve us well now and in the future. Think about your planning process. Ideally you have short- (one to two years), mid- (three to five years) and longer-term (10-plus years) horizons; and you work in reverse order, from long- to short-term, to set direction and build your company. But agility is key, so choose the right approach.
Effective Execution. Setting a clear direction is critical — yet insufficient if you don’t execute. Execution requires a cadence. Yet it’s interesting to watch smart and well-intentioned leaders believe that saying it once, a few times (and/or putting it in a pretty document) is enough to make it happen. Even really smart, well-intentioned employees lose focus. So, putting it out there without a process to revisit it regularly, and track progress, is likely to result in frustration by leaders and employees when the end of the year comes around and little progress has been made.