I try to help entrepreneurs see their businesses as living and breathing entities, rather than something they possess. I want them to think of their enterprises as something they are responsible to care for and support, not something that "owes" them or is owned by them.
This was summed up nicely for me by a client who said, "If my business could talk, what would it say?"
Asking yourself that question, and being objective and honest about the answers, can help clarify priorities and opportunities for improvement.
The question is meant to force you to step outside yourself and see the business from its own point of view. In the absence of this type of objective analysis, you can get caught up in the day-to-day noise of running your business and get pushed in one direction by the momentum of your personal needs, wants and desires.
When I ask business owners what their business would say to them, what often comes up first are human resource issues. Surprisingly, these issues are not just staff-related, but also bosses' revelations about their own insecurities and concerns for their business stemming from their own leadership and management shortcomings.
If your business could talk, would it say something similar? Would it tell you that you are avoiding the difficult employee who is bringing the rest of the team down because disciplinary conversations and follow-up are difficult, and you are not taking the actions the business needs you to?
What else would it say?
Would your business remind you that, in the absence of the cash flow to hire experts in all of your job descriptions and positions, you must be the one to perform those duties, in spite of your lack of interest or training?
If your business could talk, would it tell you that in order to get the productivity results you expect from your team, you need to lead by example ? Would it tell you that in order to control expenses, you need to show you are cutting back as well?
If your business could talk, would it demand that you pay more attention to the books and the actual results, as opposed to your gut feelings about what is working and what is not? Would it remind you to focus more on your receivables and learn to do a better job saying no to unprofitable customers or initiatives that don't represent a strong return on investment?
If your business would talk, would it tell you that you have your priorities messed up? That you are focusing on the tasks that are easy to complete quickly, as opposed to the ones that are actually the most important? Would it challenge your decision to renovate your office as an investment that doesn't have a positive effect the bottom line?
I go through this process in my own business and the other businesses that I work with and I usually find that it brings a sober and objective look at how I and other business owners spend time and cash flow.
If my business could talk, it would remind me to always see the outcome of my decisions through the eyes of my customers. It would insist that the customer's interests come first and everything else is there to support them. My business would damn my procrastination.
My business would point out that my never-ending product-development cycle is selfishly feeding my creative expression needs, and not the business's priorities. My business would remind me not to get caught up in completing minor objectives but instead, make progress on the initiatives that are the most meaningful.
If my business could talk, it would remind me that I have a lot to learn and a long way to go, and there are better ways I could go about doing both.
What would your business say about you and what are you going to do differently once it has spoken?
Special to The Globe and Mail
Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and sold seven businesses.
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