Every business has goals it wants to hit, which might range from increasing revenues and profits to boosting customer satisfaction and employee retention rates. The catch is that something somewhere in the organization stops you from performing the way you'd like, which keeps from hitting those goals.
The situation is a lot like what happens when you pull your garden hose out of winter storage in the spring only to find that when you turn the water on you wind up with only dribble instead of the nice steady flow your plants are expecting. It doesn't take you long to realize there's a kink somewhere in the hose you need to straighten out before you can increase the flow of water. It doesn't matter if you squeeze the trigger harder, or crank the faucet farther - you can't get more water until you deal with the kink.
This same principle applies to your business. If you aren't getting the output you want or expect to be getting, you need to seek out the kink that's blocking your organization's ability to reach its maximum capacity. This outcome can be growth or profits or number of people served, the kink is relative to the goal - different goal - different kink.
The catch is that as entrepreneurs, we are bred for action. Our first instinct is to jump into the business and start tweaking things as a way to increase the organization's flow, hoping we will somehow unkink the hose along the way. But while making changes inside the organization will have an impact, they may not always be the kinds you really want for the long run. Some moves may even backfire and harm the organization.
That's why great CEOs do actually first spend their time diagnosing where the kink is before taking steps to address it.
In my book Great CEOs Are Lazy, I describe the two ways CEOs can approach this objective.
The first is by entering what I call Learner Mode. In this case, CEOs study the problem, analyze data, and research what similar companies are doing. They also - gasp! - take time away from the day-to-day running of the business to read books or attend seminars as a way to uncover new ideas and approaches to running the business with the goal of uncovering the kink that's holding up its progress. This can be a challenge for some CEOs because it can feel like they're not actually working when they're engaged in Learner mode. But spending time this way is actually one way for a CEO to get the best return on the time they invest in building their organization because it gives them the ability to think outside the box and tap into a whole new perspective on how the organization is run.
The second option great CEOs employ to diagnose the kink in their organization is Player Mode. Most entrepreneurs prefer this way of finding the kink. This role requires the CEO to move out from behind his or her desk to spend more time on the front lines of the business as a way to assess what might be missing. That might mean getting involved in production or shipping meetings or listening in on customer care conversations. The goal is not for the CEO to take on more of this work themselves as much as it is to give them the opportunity to assess firsthand what could be done better before actually making any changes. While taking action, they should be asking questions about the business model, the talent and the systems the organization is using - looking for opportunities for improvement.
Again, the point of entering a diagnostic phase is to find the problem before making any changes to try and correct it. The better you can surround the kink, while also assessing what other ripple effects might come from tackling it up front, the better you will be at coming up with an effective remedy for the long term.
In my next post, I'll dig into how great CEOs go about fixing their organization's kinks by entering therapeutic mode.
Jim is the author of the best-selling book, "Great CEOs Are Lazy" - grab your copy to today on Amazon