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Project 101: Don’t Fumble Your Pass

Every new business initiative needs a champion--someone who takes responsibility for driving its success forward. But be careful how you assign that accountability.

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Deciding when and where to invest in new business models or markets is one of the main challenges of a growing company. Steps in this process including identifying and prioritizing target customers and filling the customer pipeline.

Ultimately, every key investment also needs a champion-the one person who is accountable for driving success in the new business.

Unless someone is clearly and directly accountable for the success of a new line of business-or any project, for that matter-you're likely to end up with missed deadlines, sub-par results and general confusion / lack of direction.

At Avondale, we have a team of very bright, capable, energized and entrepreneurial people who usually need only minimal direction from us. They are at their best when they can "run with the ball." Our biggest challenges as owners come when we do not clearly "hand off the ball." Too often as owners, we fail to create clear accountability in one of the following ways:

  • We assume person X knows that they own the path forward on a project, and do not take the time to make sure they know it.
  • One of us assumes (and communicates) that person X owns it, while the other assumes person Y owns it.
  • The two of us are not aligned with each other, on either the priority or direction of the project. Alternatively, the two of us are not aligned with the person we have made accountable

We have learned through bitter experience to invest the up-front time to make sure the two of us  are aligned on accountability, that we have communicated clearly who is accountable, and that the person accountable has understood us clearly. To paraphrase the 1980's Fram oil filter commercial, "we can align now or we can align later," and it is always more expensive to align later.

Provide Clear Direction

In the same vein, we have found that we consistently err on the side of not giving enough direction at the start of a project. Sometimes this is deliberate; we will throw the problem at a person and let them determine the direction we should take. Ultimately, the only way we can gain enough leverage from our team for us to achieve our growth objectives is to hand off increasing levels of responsibility and ask our team to stretch. If we don't stretch, then we stagnate; there really is no middle ground.

However, we also have to take the capabilities of our team as problem-solvers into account. It does no good to throw a problem at someone who cannot catch it; that only sets them up for failure. In that case, they don't fail us; rather, we fail them. If a few minutes or hours of investment in problem-solving on our part will greatly increase the odds of success or accelerate our alignment on a path forward, we owe it to the team to make that investment. If we already know in advance the broad outline of the right answer, there is high value in putting that outline down on paper and communicating it.

What has been your experience in building a business? How have you thought about assigning accountability and setting clear direction? Please let us know in the comments below or email us at karlandbill@avondalestrategicpartners.com.

IMAGE: Shutterstock
Last updated: Apr 2, 2012

KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.
@karlstark




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