One of the major shifts a CEO needs to make as their company grows and expands is the shift from being internally focused on process and operations to being externally focused on markets and competition. As a business coach who works with leadership teams of companies who are scaling rapidly, I often see this as a signif icant challenge for many CEOs.
This is especially true for CEOs who are also the founder of the company. Founders know the business inside and out and can fix just about any problem more quickly than anyone else in the company. The problem is that it's not the best use of their time when the company is bigger.
The core challenges of growth are defining a specific core customer and how the company is going to position itself in the market relative to its competition. The only way to do that is to get out of the office and into the market. Here are eight ways that CEOs can break the habit of spending too much time in the office.
1. Spend time with customers.
One of the easiest ways to get out and learn about the market is to spend time with your customers. Meeting with CEOs and senior leaders will be helpful, but also go visit the company's middle management and walk the shop floor.
Discover what challenges they have both strategically and operationally. Work to understand why they buy from you and what the real value of your product or service is to them.
2. Go see your suppliers and partners.
Many CEOs fail to realize the wealth of information their suppliers and partners can have around the industry. The fact is, they probably also work with many of your competitors or even your customers directly. And if you're a good account for them, they will be more than willing to discuss insights, changes and trends.
3. Meet with your competitors.
This might seem counterintuitive, but meeting with competitors can be very insightful. And while some competitors might shy away from inviting you in, many CEOs are surprised how open many competitors are to inviting you to visit and see their operations. Taking the view that every company is different and has their own niche allows you to see and share information that can help both parties become more successful.
4. Get involved in industry organizations.
Industry organizations can provide events, conferences, and programs that will give you insight into what's happening in your market. Active groups will put on public and private gatherings of leaders to discuss issues and to share experiences.
If you really want to leverage these groups, get involved by serving in a leadership role and get on the board or volunteer for a committee.
5. Go on sales calls.
Another great way to get market insights is to go on sales calls. Seeing how prospects react to your offerings, hearing what they're concerned about, and learning how they make decisions can tell you a lot about what's happening in your industry.
The trick here is to avoid coaching your sales people and staying in the background. If you start jumping in and selling, you'll miss the opportunity to see the bigger picture.
6. Be on an industry panel.
If you're shy about speaking, panels are a great way to get exposure without the stress and prep work. Many industries have events with panel opportunities. If you want to kick this up a notch, put together your own panel around a topic you're interested in and be the moderator.
7. Visit a university program.
Universities are always looking for professionals to participate in their programs. This can be as simple as being a guest speaker or as committed as running a full course. The goal here is to interact with the professors and the students to see what topics and ideas are being discussed by the next generation.
8. Sit on a non-profit board.
Another great way to interact with other executives in your space is to sit on the board of a related non-profit. They are always looking for people to sit on boards and it's usually a reasonable amount of work if the board is well run. Not only is it good insight, but it's also a great way to give back to the community which supports your business.
CEOs need to develop good insights about what's happening in their market if they are going to create effective strategies for growth. And you can't do this by sitting in your office or in meeting rooms all day. It's important to find the right strategies that work best for your style and schedule. But most importantly, just get out and try things.