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Stop running, start thinking

The pace of business has increased. We try to accomplish more in less time and with less resource. The pressure from competitors, from investors and even ourselves means it is easy to fall into the ‘busy-ness’ trap where we are constantly busy but in reality achieving less. The results of ‘busy-ness’ long term are likely to be poorer. Chris Merrington of Spring 80:20 shares some ideas on how to slow down in order to go faster.

In a recent conversation with a CEO client he was explaining to me how he’s in back to back meetings most of the working week, he receives hundreds of emails every day, is pulled in different directions and rarely gets an opportunity for quality thinking time. He has an assistant whose main job is sifting through the emails into the important ones the CEO needs to respond to, those which can be forwarded to colleagues and those for the bin. I suspect this is an all too common problem for many senior business people.

My clients regularly tell me how busy they are and that’s ‘there’s never enough hours in the day’. It’s not about time it’s about priorities. The danger is that the ‘important and urgent’ always seems to take priority over the ‘important and not urgent’. Eventually the ‘important and not urgent’ become the ‘important and urgent’ often with expensive consequences. For example if you keep delaying the appraisals of your senior team because you are so busy after a while they get the message that they aren’t high up your priority list. The next thing they start looking for another position elsewhere. If they resign, you have a much bigger task now of replacing them rather than simply appraising them!

When a business achieves success, that’s a wonderful position to be in. However maintaining success becomes harder. With success comes complacency that tomorrow will be like yesterday. Business history is littered with businesses which were once leaders in their field and which failed to reinvent themselves. Companies such as Yellow Pages, Nokia and Blockbuster failed to recognise that their market and customers were changing. That technology was revolutionising their market. They hunkered down trimming here and there. They failed to make a major step change. That step change probably means going backwards in order to go forwards. Challenger brands took their market position by being more relevant to customer needs and doing business differently. Businesses such as Google, Apple’s iPhone and Netflix recognised the customers’ changing needs and technological developments.

If you are running a leading successful business, how will you ensure it is still the dominant player in 5 years’ time? How can you maintain that entrepreneurial drive? How will that challenger business entering your market do things differently? They will probably look at the market leaders and think how they could do it better, what frustration do customers have and how they can be differentiated in ways the customer values. It won’t necessarily be about under-cutting your price. In many cases that’s a better problem! Surely a better competitor is more dangerous than a cheaper competitor?

A common challenge facing some CEOs is that often their people tell them what they think the CEO wants to hear and not what the CEO needs to hear. Few people are happy to deliver bad news to the CEO and so the CEO can be the last to know about problems. How do you get real feedback from the frontline? Keep asking ‘why’ and ‘what evidence is there to support that?’ Spend time with your people and customers.

Efficiency is a common term many businesses strive for. I think it’s often the wrong metric to aim for. Seek effectiveness instead. There’s no point making the horse run faster if your market is about to be changed with the advent of the car. This might be a hundred year old metaphor but there are parallels today. Emails are ‘efficient’ at sending a message to your customer but a face to face meeting is generally far more effective but takes longer. Spending face time is immeasurably better than the phone or email especially for really important conversations. The delusion trap can set in where we think the client’s expectations will be the same tomorrow as they were yesterday – the bar keeps rising. Expectations increase. We and our customers are more impatient than ever.

Relationships in business are just as important as they were. Maybe more so. Trust is a critical component of business. Without trust there will be no sale, regardless of a low price. Emails don’t build trust. Great face to face conversations build relationships and great relationships build trust. Trust has declined in many industries. It is hard to build and so easy to lose. You can lose trust in a heart-beat.

A frequent complaint is that ‘The City’ and investors focus too much on short term results. I think there needs to be a careful balance between the short and long term. The danger is the future can sometimes be mortgaged to benefit this quarter’s results. Look at the challenges now facing Dave Lewis, CEO of Tesco.

So how do we find time to plan? How do we focus on the right priorities? Here are ten tips to help.

  1. Find time, ideally daily, at minimum once a week, to stop, think and plan (ideally away from your desk). Diarise the time in your diary. Is 3-4 hours/week a lot? It is probably less than 10% of your working week. For some of you it is probably 5% of your working week. At the start of each week identify your top three actions to accomplish in the coming week. At the end of the week review your key achievements. Take time off to provide a fresh perspective.
  1. Praise your people. Recognise their great performance. When I ask at conferences who has received too much praise this week from their boss, no hands go up.
  1. Delegate to your team and free up thinking time. Delegation is a critical skill. Do not confuse ‘dumping’ with delegating. There are specific techniques to use when delegating to get back what you expected, when you expected. Yes they will do it differently to you, maybe even better than you!
  1. Keep your KPIs front of mind. It is easy for ‘detail’ to overwhelm the critical areas. Avoid the quick-sand of the minutiae.
  1. Focus on both long and short term goals. Don’t leave the future to chance.
  1. Brainstorm how a challenger competitor would enter your market and do things differently.
  1. Don’t try to improve by a few percentage points. Look for a seismic step change. Be ambitious.
  1. Focus on profitable revenue, not simply turnover for turnover’s sake.
  1. Spend time at grass roots with your people, your customers and your competitors’ Hot desk and get to know your people.
  1. Remember, the business of business is business.

Written by –
Chris Merrington is the author of “Why do smart people make such stupid mistakes?” –
A practical negotiation guide to more profitable client relationships. Chris Merrington regularly runs Masterclasses and workshops in the areas of Negotiation, Trusted Adviser Selling, Business Prospecting and ‘Pitching to Win’. He can be contacted at chris@spring8020.co.uk

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Featured Columnists at the CEOWORLD Magazine is a team of experts led by Camilla O'Donnell, James Reed, Amarendra Bhushan, and Amanda Millar. The CEOWORLD Magazine is the worlds leading business and technology magazine for CEOs (chief executives) and top-level management professionals.
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