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“You read a book from beginning to end. You run a business the opposite way. You start with the end, and then you do everything you must to reach it.” – Harold Geneen
I found the LinkedIn article “What’s Keeping CEOs Up At Night: Six Facts That Will Surprise You” to be interesting on its own, but also interesting to consider in light of its similarity to what keeps so many small business owners up at night. Like the author of that article, I’m going to hand-wave that sales and revenue are perennial challenges.
Here are the six facts he shares:
- Surprises – 38% of CEOS have been blindsided by a negative surprise in the last 90 days.
- Not enough data – 71% of CEOs we spoke with feel frustrated about the lack of meaningful data in their organization.
- Performance of the top team – 45% of the CEOS were not satisfied with their executive team’s performance.
- Moving too slow – 82% of CEOs feel like their team isn’t acting with enough urgency and this was affecting the company’s ability to get things done.
- Lack of control – 64% of CEOS don’t have full control over their company’s direction.
- Employees don’t get it – Only 22% of CEOS have confidence that their employees get it.
Obviously, some modifications need to be made to fit the context for small businesses and startups. Without having the quantitative data to back it up (right now), my experience shows that it’d look like this:
- Surprises – Same as above.
- Not enough intelligence – Same as above, but magnified by #5 below. I’ve changed this to “intelligence” rather than data to highlight the fact that it’s not that there’s not enough data, but that it’s not organized in a way that drives action on the business’s priorities.
- Founder’s effectiveness – Founders are usually spread too thin, both with what they’re doing and with what they’re responsible for. The latter tends to be where the stress is coming from, not the former.
- Moving too slow – Same as above.
- Unclear or non-existent strategy – The big difference here between corporate CEOs and small business executives isn’t the absence or diffusion of power, but the lack of a clear idea of where they’re really taking the company. Running the business tactically – i.e., responding to opportunities, challenges, and crises – tends to take precedence over running the business strategically.
- Employees don’t get it – Same as above.
I didn’t reorganize the list in a causal flow, but it wouldn’t take much to see which of these is the root cause: an unclear or non-existent strategy. Without a clear strategy, it’s hard to lead effectively and strategically, so the owner defaults to tactical management, which means that other people aren’t learning how to do it and thus can’t do it in the future. A business’s strategy helps prioritize and cohere the data into purposeful intelligence so that the team can assess results and predict future results. Because that data isn’t being consolidated, negative surprises happen more frequently. Because it’s not really clear what’s going on, teammates lack the clarity and confidence to move quickly and thus it appears that they don’t get it.
Because the employees don’t get it, the founder then has to do everything, and the cycle of ineffective strategy and leadership repeats. Founder’s mojo both is caused by this cycle and, later, keeps the cycle going.
We could do a similar reorganization for the corporate context but it wouldn’t be as simple given the overall complexity of leadership and operations in a corporate environment. There are simply too many competing power centers – both internal and external – in a large corporation that cause friction and stagnation to point solely to their strategy, although I will say that an over-complicated, incomprehensible, and non-prioritized strategy is worse than not having one at all. A 200-page strategy document with fancy 2×2 grids that a consultant was paid to make lulls many a corporate team into thinking that they actually have a strategy.
Whether you’re an executive in the corporate context or in the small business context, the reality is the same:
Work on what matters during the day, or have what’s not being worked on keep you up at night. (Tweet this.)