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A few months ago, I worked with a client who felt he had neglected certain aspects of his company. He spent the last year heavily focused on sales and marketing, particularly driving an e-commerce platform. Previously, the company only offered web services to existing customers; this was a whole new animal.
The focus paid off. The company grew its online sales to previously unregistered customers from essentially zero to approximately $250,000 in monthly revenue. This was a heck of an achievement, and the growth shows no signs of slowing down. This business development has been impressive, but at what cost?
This foray into the digital commerce world has been a joint effort between the CFO, who doubles as the operations officer, and the company president. Their combined skill sets have developed a very respectable piece of business.
Unfortunately, other areas of the company began to backslide. Inventory management was not as sharp as it once had been. Vendor relationships had not been attended to. Operating expenses were not kept in check. I think you get the drift. For months, my client and I spoke about the dangers of putting so much time and effort into one aspect of the business. It was bad enough that it had consumed the president, but this initiative also consumed another key executive in the organization.
Digital success was like a drug. They had become addicted to the feeling of power when they were able to lure one more fish up to the boat. Something had to change.
Fortunately, I work with some great clients; this person was no exception. The nagging feeling, and probably some of my nagging, had caught up with him. Things weren’t going right with the rest of his responsibilities; he needed to re-engage with other aspects of the organization.
It wasn’t easy. The digital marketing discovery was fun and intellectually stimulating. The technology sparked both curiosity and creativity. How do you put down the magic wand and engage with the operational side of the business? Like a kid who hates to eat his vegetables, this would be tough to swallow.
Knowing that he needed to re-engage with other elements of the company, our goal was to make a plan that ensured enough attention but didn’t lead to an all-consuming smothering of those working in the departments. There is a fine line between supporting and smothering.
Before getting into the coaching nature of the new direction, we decided to create a weekly plan to cover the bases. The first assignment was to outline all the areas the president would need to touch.
In our initial attempts, we brainstormed:
Recruiting and talent acquisition;
Freight and fulfillment;
As you might notice, we didn’t cover marketing because it was the drug we were trying to ween him off. The initial goal was to work on two of these areas each day; the first half on one area, the second half on another. It seemed logical and very methodical. My client was to meet with a department leader at a designated time and then devote time for personal research and thought. Using this simple method, each team leader would get face time with the president and benefit from his energy and ideas.
This schedule lasted about a month.
One of the greatest benefits of the plan was the departmental interaction with the boss. My client is a charismatic leader. He likes to coach and is one of those bosses you want supporting you. Supportive leaders, take note: your people want to feel your presence because they like the face time.
As leaders, we are taught to empower our management team and to let them feel autonomous. While I agree with the principal, I have seen too many leaders take this to the area of neglect. Just because a team leader is running the department well, it does not give us the right to leave them out on an island.
Years ago, I had a client who would take 12 weeks away from the office during the summer. He didn’t neglect the company; he checked his email and returned phone calls promptly. I recall one of his key managers talking about his absence. She said the company could function well enough, but it was always better when you knew he was in the office. His presence was noted and needed, even if he wasn’t meddling in their affairs.
Although the plan with my client brought new attention to the neglected aspects of the business, he started to feel the strain of the structure. He was a creative creature and this box was a bit too confining. It didn’t give him the flexibility he needed. It didn’t allow him the out-of-office personal time he needed to remain healthy. He missed the excitement of the digital world. Ultimately, it was too rigid.
We modified the solution to focus one hour a day on an aspect of the company outside of sales and marketing. In practice, he spends the first hour or so totally focused on the department or initiative he has chosen. He still meets with team members but releases himself from the task after a short duration. There may be some days that he spends more time on a task, but he is careful not to allow the activity to be too restrictive.
By scheduling his days out, he has been able to touch more pieces of the business and doesn’t feel he’s neglecting his responsibilities. So far, he has found balance.
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