As a “Northern Boy” ordered down South by the Navy, I quickly appreciated so much of a culture different from where I grew up. I really got a kick out of the pithy sayings. One that often seemed appropriate when I found myself a bit overwhelmed by circumstances was “it’s hard to remember the objective was to drain the swamp when your are up to your bottom in alligators.” Having worked with numerous business owners, I can’t help wondering if they couldn’t relate to the alligator analogy. Building a business is challenging and often there is more on the ‘To Do” list than there is time available. In situations such as this, it is not unusual for an owner to enter “fire fighting” mode and simply cope by dealing with the biggest fire at the time. I believe there is a better way, being intentional about your business.
So what does it mean to be intentional. While I don’t suggest that I have a magic bullet, I do believe there are three actions that your as a business owner should take that would reflect intentionality in his or her business.
First, you have to conquer the tyranny of the urgent. Credited to Dwight Eisenhower and popularized by Steven Covey in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective people, is a matrix that helps put into perspective “urgent” verses “non urgent” as opposed to “important” verses “non important”. This intersection of these factors creates four boxes – urgent / important; non urgent / important; urgent /important and non-urgent/ non important .
The first quadrant is the quadrant of Crisis. In the “Urgent / Important” quadrant are the things that result in fire-fighting. For instance, baby’s crying, a kitchen on fire, telephone interruptions, people dropping in unannounced, unscheduled work, last minute changes. While things in this quadrant demand our attention, our time is actually better served in the next quadrant, the quadrant of Quality – “Not urgent / Important”. It is in this quadrant that very important activities are done – planning, thoughtful creative work, training and development and productive collaboration. The third quadrant – “Urgent / Not important – is the quadrant of Deception. These are activities that are required and therefore seem productive but they are really of low value such as mail, meetings, reports, and other routine tasks. The final quadrant is the quadrant of waste. Examples include busy work, phone messages, email, trivial work, and surfing the internet. It is best to avoid the last two quadrants as they are an unproductive use of time.
Second you have to have a destination in mind. What is it that you want to achieve in the next five to ten years? Where do you want you business to be at a certain point in time? This has to be a serious commitment not just wishful thinking. Specific milestones have to be crafted for three reasons. First, the business owner will know specifically what needs to be accomplished relative to the broader goal. Second, the owner will know how he is progressing relative to the overall goal as performance is measured. Obviously the goal has to be measurable and progress has to be measured. Third, he will know when the goal has been achieved.
The third you need to have a plan. This is not the long term 10 to 20 year strategic plan, which is important with vision, mission, goals, etc. – the typical elements of a business plan. But you must devote serious thought to the steps that need to be taken in the short term for the business to advance toward the destination identified in the second action. I’m suggesting a series in “mini” plans which are tactical in nature. Likely you should have a mini (tactical) plan for production, marketing, personnel, finance and operations Alternatives for each of the business functions should be identified and evaluated and one selected that appears to have the best chance for success. What are the resources that will be required to implement the alternative. These are short plans, under a year, that will purposefully guide the business toward the success desired.
Business owners must be intentional about their business. Success doesn’t just happen. It take hard, purposeful work to stay on the road to continuous improvement and enduring success. The three actions discussed in this article – conquering the tyranny of the urgent, having a specific destination or milestone in mind for the business and developing a series of mini tactical plans – while greatly help you be intentional about your business.