The Tortoise & the Hare : 5 five ways to learn from your business
Following the sale of my first business in 1996, I moved away from the world that I felt very comfortable in; the world of the small business owner that was ‘The Entrepreneur’.
And I entered my new scary world: ‘The Corporate’ world. A world of large businesses, C-level people, expensive and expansive offices, bureaucracy, meeting after meeting after meeting. The world where people went home before the next day, and everything happened in slow motion.
I hated this world; I appeared to be living in the Aesop fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. But of course, we all know who won that race. How could that be?
Being honest I struggled with the office rigour, systems, processes, forms and reports I had to write. I am sure at some stages I was writing reports about the reports I wrote on the report! There were also these things called a structure and an organisation chart. But the worse of all was a phrase I must have heard every second of every minute of every hour: “That is NOT in the budget.” HELP!
What saved my sanity was having a role that was both the tortoise and the hare. My tortoise was the corporate manager and everything that came with it, BUT my hare was as an industry expert, living outside my company as a spokesperson, maverick and all round disrupter. The ideology of the true Entrepreneur.
Within the space of a few years, the rest of the tortoises at my company took a dim view of my hare attitude and my time was nearing an end. Fortunately, a ‘hare’ type company identified me as someone to lead them and I started my new role as a CEO.
‘Be careful of what you wish for as it might come true’ became my reality as I was thrust into the world of a PLC with my hare attitude.
And guess what? My hare attitude did NOT work. Everything I hated about my old company became my maxim for my new business. I realised that I just needed to ask the business the right questions and it had ALL the answers.
I wasn’t going to be beaten and decided there was only ONE world just with two different operating systems and behaviours. So, I created a new operating model – a mixture of the two – and became a new sort of CEO: Chief Entrepreneur Officer.
There is so much more to this methodology and the merging of the two worlds into one, but that’s for another day.
SME’s account for at least 99% of the businesses in every main industry, yet 55% will fail to make their fifth birthday. These are depressing statistics, but imagine what the future would look like if the business owner could always learn from its mistakes. A business will tell you everything that is going on, but only if you ask the right questions. A growing business is an evolving, dynamic entity that has ALL the answers; getting stuck in the day-to-day and in a ‘we’ve always done it this way’ mind-set will block growth and limit learning potential.
It’s our experience working with entrepreneurs across 50+ sectors that business owners will feel overwhelmed and adrift in a business fog at some point; not knowing who to turn to or which way to go next. They’ll feel anxious and have many sleepless nights worrying about their business and all too often they’ll be running around like a headless chicken in a panic, reacting to ‘surprises’. Eventually, the entire team will become frustrated time and time again as they repeat the same mistakes and it’s at this stage where self-doubt and disengagement creeps in.
This month I want to share with you five ways you can learn from your business and avoid repeating the same mistakes:
1). Define your processes: to grow efficiently and scale your business, you must work out exactly what makes your business work and document the method.
This includes having a clearly defined process that logs all issues (however big or small) and solves them. By noting these down, you can focus on striking them off, learning from each one, improving on it, and removing any barriers to growth.
2). Set accountability: once you have a process and system for logging your issues, you need to identify the person who is accountable for each one, and the date they will be solved by. It’s important to ensure that everything and everyone who needs to be involved understands their role (and the goal). A set of progressive leadership behaviours should be agreed and adhered to.
3). Set the questions you want to ask your business and put measures in place; it pays to have a way to track progress against your defined processes and alert you to potential problems well before the alarms go off. We come across too many business owners who expect their business to magically change. They know their sales have plummeted for the third consecutive month, or that their star member is less willing than they were 6 months ago. But they don’t know why.
Consider the following: why did you lose that contract? How do your staff really feel? How many of your clients are fans? By asking those questions most important to your business, on a regular basis by introducing simple tools and measures such as the Net Promoter Score®, will mean you are constantly learning and evolving and not making the same mistakes repeatedly. To achieve this the business needs to follow the next step.
4). Create the right environment, give the tools, get out of the way. The above will only happen if you have created the right culture and environment for your business. Those businesses that we work with who have successfully achieved this are constantly learning and refining because their teams have the will and the attitude to give and receive constructive feedback. In some ways, they celebrate mistakes!
These business owners aren’t constantly mopping the floor because of a leaky roof; they’ve mended the roof and moved onto the next challenge. If you don’t set the right environment then every decision you make will be an emotional one, based on short-sighted information at hand (at best).
5). Get into a routine. Now you have set the right environment, you’re asking your business the right questions and you’ve got systems and processes in place, you need to embed a routine into your business. By having regular, structured meetings (same day, time, agenda) to capture, review and tick off issues, allows you to constantly learn from your business. It’s important to remember that these types of meetings are problem-solving meetings.
Adopting these approaches has had a massive impact on mine and my client’s businesses. So, you can choose to be the entrepreneurial tortoise or the corporate hare and then you are guaranteed to win your race.