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How to Avoid Leading Your Business Blindfolded

Too many entrepreneurs get stuck working in the business rather than working on the business. Here is one way how to get out of that trap.
By Peter Gasca | Entrepreneur, consultant, and author
How many times have you driven your car with a blindfold? My guess is zero, because aside from being really difficult, doing so would severely limit your life expectancy.

If we are smart enough to avoid driving blindfolded, why do so many entrepreneurs lead their businesses blindly? That is to say that most spend far too much time looking inward at the business while allowing it to continue to move forward without someone in the driver’s seat.

It is an issue known to all entrepreneurs as spending too much time “working in the business, rather than working on the business.”

This is not an easy thing to fix. One way to remove the blinders is by hiring the right people to support the operations of the business while the entrepreneur focuses on growth. As Jim Collins more articulately describes in his book, Good to Great, it is a process of getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats — the “bus” being a metaphor for your business.

Easier said the than done, of course, and the problem most entrepreneurs make is not prioritizing the one skill that all members of a team should posses: problem management.

Now, many people think they are effective problem-managers because they are able to quickly assess the nature and severity of a problem. There is a very fine line, however, between being an effective manager of problems and being a complainer.  

Problem management is more about identifying solutions than identifying problems. True, the former depends on effectively performing the latter, but real value will always be derived from finding creative and effective solutions. More important, an effective problem manager frees organization leadership to focus on building and growing the company — working on the business, rather than in the business.

It is the equivalent of the family road trip. The less the children in the back seat bicker and act in a dysfunctional way, the more Mom and Dad are able to focus on the road.

So how do you hire problem managers? That is the million dollar question, and one in which there is no clear answer. You can, however, take steps to clear the road (pun intended) and increase your ability to do so.

Assess your needs.

Start by assessing the needs of your organization, such as properly identifying weaknesses, developing a company structure, and clearly defining roles and responsibilities. It may turn out, especially when considering the budget, that you will need fewer people than you anticipate.

Do not rush the process.

If you do decide to hire, do not rush the process. This is easy to say from outside the organization, while teams inside are working overtime and struggling to extinguish fires and complete important tasks. Expediting the process, however, and hiring from urgency rather than diligence can lead to hiring the wrong people, which in the end can cause more harm and cost more money.

Ask the right questions.

As you speak with candidates, avoid vague questions that fail to get to the root of their problem-solving experience. Instead, ask specific and pointed questionsthat challenge candidates to demonstrate an ability to solve problems, and then ask follow up questions that prompt the candidates to reflect on their failures and lessons learned.

It’s also important to conduct due diligence on each candidate, checking backgrounds, and calling references. While most candidates will provide references that laud their performance, asking clear and specific questions about candidates’ ability to solve problems will lead to important conversations.

In the end, finding the right people for your team is not easy. In small and startup companies, this is compounded by that fact that larger and more established companies may be attracting the best talent with better compensation and benefits. With that said, understanding that ambitious problem-solvers are typically attracted to more intrinsic rewards, and spending the time to diligently plan, screen and hire the right people will help you build the team needed to grow your business.

And unlike the car analogy, where the idea of kids working together to effectively manage and resolve their issues is just a dream, assembling a team of problem-solvers for your organization can actually happen.

Have you been successful assembling a great team for your organization? Please share your tips here.

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