Getting (Big) Things Done

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Reprinted from Chris Mittelstaedt’s column  Eureka  on

For too long you've served as Chief Fire Extinguisher. It's time to step back and start working on building your business.
Are you moving your business forward or just putting out the same small fires day after day?

Consider the following questions:

1. Do you have a list of big to-do goals that have been sitting around for a month, 90 days, or a year?

2. Are you solving the same problems for people over and over?

3. Are you the only one with the knowledge or authority to answer questions or approve progress?

4. Do you prefer to do it yourself rather than ask and train others to complete tasks?

If you, like me, have answered yes to any (or all) of the questions above, then you are probably spending too much time working in your business, keeping things stable, and not enough time working  on moving your business forward. And by the way--congratulations and welcome to Business Control Freak Club, of which I have been a member for longer than I would care to admit.

How Did You Get Here?  

Entrepreneurs work in and not on their businesses for many reasons. Sometimes it's because they have certain technical expertise that employees don't have to push a project forward. Or maybe they're doing the work themselves to save money. Still others decide they want to get their own hands "dirty" to understand a certain part of the business before they hand it off to other staff.

These may be admirable and important reasons at different stages. But if you're committed to growth, you must constantly evaluate where your business is and what needs to happen to move toward the next goal.

What to Do About It  

You will probably never get to some nirvana where you can be just a strategy guru and work "on" your business all the time. Or at least I haven't reached this state, and I'm not sure I'd want to. Some of my best ideas come from working in the business enough to understand what it is telling me. But you do need to be able to back away from the details to see your business as a whole. Here's how:

1. Create the space:  Recognize that you need to make space in the workday for thinking. (This goes not just for you but also for your employees.) Pretend you all have a job description that requires you to spend 20% of your time problem solving. Remember that this ratio will change, and you may need even more "open" space for folks as the business grows.
2. Surround yourself with problem solvers: This is really important, and I can't stress it enough. It is not acceptable to have people who just solve the same problem repeatedly. A repeated problem requires a system to address it. You want employees who use the time you have built in for them to solve recurring problems with new systems.
3. Get employees' priorities straight:  Make sure that  extra time you have given employees is spent on activities that move the business forward in some way--simplifying processes, developing new ideas for products, etc. Review these regularly to keep them in sync with big-picture objectives.
4. Get your own priorities straight:  What do you want to get done today vs. 30 days from now? Outline clear paths--complete with goals and deadlines--to get to your big to-do items. If you find that you are distracted by every little issue, fall back to No. 2 and No. 3 above and evaluate if your employees are solving problems and managing their priorities so that you don't have to do it for them.
5. Recognize when you need to hand off work: Delegation isn't just about defining responsibilities and bringing folks up to accomplish new goals; it also requires a careful and conscious study of how you open space for people so they can be successful. This is a constant and evolving process. Your goal is to develop a clear system for transferring work, priorities, and goals down the line as your company grows.

It's time to look beyond the next day, week, or month. Create systems for your teams to solve problems so that you can set your sights even higher.


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