The first step in effectively managing your organization is understanding how to handle yourself. For business owners, this task is daunting. We are constantly faced with shifting priorities, a lack of effective resources, and business opportunities that will escape us rapidly if not acted on immediately. 

Executives also lack the benefit of having managerial oversight in which they are supported and held accountable for their decisions. For this reason, we believe that the most critical task a business owner needs to start with is planning how to be effective within their organization. 

With this in mind, C&A has compiled a list of 9 key steps any business owner should regularly take to achieve optimal effectiveness and drive performance across his/her organization.

1. Identify Your Unique Contribution

The first key to optimizing your effectiveness as a business owner is to evaluate what your unique contribution to the organization is. Where does the business need your focus, your knowledge, and your time? Furthermore, how do these actions align with the strategic vision of your organization? If the tasks and roles you come up with are not directly supporting accomplishing the organization’s key strategic objectives, they should not be on your list of priorities. 

Additionally, once you have developed your list of priorities, ensure that you alone can contribute to these items. If the priorities you identify do not require your unique contribution, they should be assigned to additional key resources in the organization. 

The timeless Peter Drucker principle that being practical is as much about choosing what not to do as it is deciding what to do still stands today. However, priorities should not simply be removed from the organization’s list of strategic initiatives. Instead, they should be delegated and supported through training. 

Lastly, acknowledge that the process of identifying your unique contribution is not static. Re-evaluate your list of priorities every quarter (at a minimum). During this review, attempt to remove something off your list and assign that responsibility to someone else. Challenge yourself to develop critical resources around you that can lighten your load over time and take on a more prominent role within the organization. This is critical in allowing you to address new opportunities as they come up.

2. Don’t Stop at a Strategic Plan

For the sake of sparing you from the obvious, let’s jump over the fact that any successful business should have a clear strategic plan. Providing a clear vision is one of two critical roles the executive plays, in addition to providing the resources for the team’s success.

With that said, you shouldn’t be one of those executives that fail to utilize their strategic plan as a tool for managing their business. Doing so is key to providing clarity and placing you in a position to hold your resources accountable without having to roll up your sleeves and do the work yourself.

First, make sure that your strategic plan highlights goals surrounding both the process and the results. The results refer to key performance metrics (KPIs). For many businesses, these KPIs commonly include revenue figures and profit margin targets. For instance, if you’re a manufacturer, you would likely want to have metrics surrounding product quality and throughput (i.e., monthly machine hours or units per work cell). These metrics might include billable hours targets and employee utilization goals if you are in the construction industry.  

Conversely, the process refers to more qualitative measures your organization will take to achieve the results you have outlined in your strategic plan. For the manufacturer mentioned above, your team might determine that additional in-process inspection steps need to be taken to improve product quality or additional employee training needs to be provided. For a construction company, this might include implementing an employee incentive plan based on utilization goals. 

Regardless of your goals, you need to provide clarity for your team by documenting what results they will be held accountable for and what processes they must implement to achieve those results.

3. Hand Off Formal Accountability

Truthfully, there is no magic formula for creating consistent accountability across your organization. Proper accountability is only achieved when you have addressed company culture, employee motivation, management systems & controls, and individual employee development.

However, there are universal absolutes that must be in place if you want to create a foundation for organizational accountability. One of these absolutes is the communication of goals and the formal assignment of accountability. For both results and processes, be sure to document and communicate who on your team is responsible for each item. By firmly outlining what expectations you have for each team member, you will ensure goal clarity and commitment. 

Furthermore, publicize accountability. Make sure your entire organization knows who is accountable for what key performance indicators and what process improvements. In doing so, you will create increased authority for those key players and allow them the opportunity to influence the behavior of employees.

4. Create Physical Constructs for Holding People Accountable

While laying a foundation for accountability is essential, you must maintain and monitor progress against these plans. Informality is not your friend here. Force your critical resources to establish a clear structure for reporting back on their progress regarding both results and processes. This structure should include a set day and time for meeting to review operational results and strategic accomplishment and a format for holding the meeting. 

Set firm expectations with your people that these meetings are not an opportunity to develop a plan but rather a chance to review plans and confirm team commitments. You will also use these meetings as a forum for identifying what further support your team needs from you as the executive. 

Lastly, ensure there is a concrete follow-up as a result of any management meeting. Attendees should be following up with a cohesive but detailed list of actionable items. This list should act as an input for the next meeting. Creating an agenda, driving proper preparation, and demanding actionable follow-up will maintain accountability on a continued basis.

5. Create the Perfect Day and Perfect Week – This is Your Blueprint!

While an executive’s role is often positioned as a strategic thinker, we all know this is not the reality for many small business owners. Small business executives often find themselves in the trenches with their people while fielding a myriad of “fire drills” from customers, employees, and vendors alike. 

The steps outlined in this article will surely help you advance towards fulfilling your strategic destiny. However, proper scheduling is just as important to you as it is for your managers and front-line employees. Create a blueprint for the Perfect Day, the Perfect Week, and even the Perfect Month. 

What is the team doing to contribute to these occurrences, and how do you support them? Do not take for granted the obvious, as it is often the evidence that gets pushed off or forgotten as soon as a so-called “emergency” comes about. Lining up a blueprint for what drives performance down to even the commonsense tasks within your organization will ensure that your team plays the game you have designed for them day-in and day-out. 

For example, take the executive of a manufacturer that assumes his/her operations manager is regularly updating production schedules. While this activity might seem obvious, it is, in fact, often forgotten. When we lose sight of what makes us successful each day, we quickly see our strategic vision float further and further out of reach.

6. Set Boundaries

Setting the proper boundaries with your team is an essential component to increasing your effectiveness as an executive. If you have tried to set up “office hours” by blocking off certain times when you are available to your employees in the past, you likely realize that this works with very little to no success. In reality, your business probably does not follow such a strict schedule. In most cases, the needs of your team flex as quickly as each hour passes.

For this reason, at C&A, we propose a different approach. Rather than setting unrealistic time-based boundaries, focus on communicating clearly what your contribution to the team is. Set boundaries where do you expect your team to need your help and how do you expect them to present their needs. 

Furthermore, empower individuals on your team to make decisions and take action. Outline where you want to be included and where they have the latitude to make decisions. Using various communication tools, such as a RACI Chart, will help communicate where you need to be consulted versus where you simply need to be informed.  These are the types of boundaries that will inevitably free up your time and help develop critical resources on your team.

7. Balance the Stress of Your Team

Learning, development, and success live on the border of discomfort and positive reinforcement. It’s human nature that we often only adapt or change when we need to. For this reason, creating consistent urgency is critical to your team’s success. Let’s call this urgency “the stick” in our conversation. 

While “the stick” will force people to confront performance deficiencies head-on, it will also create stress and frustration. This discomfort certainly will drive progress and learning, but too much stress can contribute to resource dejection and eventual employee turnover. For a small business, this can be detrimental to your ability to manage your time and focus on what is most important. 

For this reason, make sure you are counting every small win along the way. Acknowledging the team’s progress both formally and informally will ensure the team is motivated by their discomfort rather than discouraged. Keep in mind that small wins come in many forms. 

Although hitting your results offers an excellent chance for you to acknowledge a team win, do not overlook the process wins the team has experienced even when the results might not have been met yet.

8. Find Someone to Hold you Accountable

Many business owners, unfortunately, find themselves operating in a vacuum. With a supervisory management tier that is either too inexperienced or too busy to focus on strategy, you find yourself with no resources to develop a plan and confront opportunities. 

Additionally, executives often miss out on the unique benefit that a supervisor offers to an employee. Without this oversight, executives are left to their reflection. They have no one to bounce ideas off of or discuss personal insecurities. 

Moreover, they do not have someone who can hold them accountable for their priorities. Unfortunately, the outcome of this is often increased stress, significant uncertainty, and ultimately – poor decision making. 

Even those executives who do have the benefit of partners fall short of reaching their full potential as effective management oversight is critical to building healthy and productive team dynamics amongst front-line employees and executive teams alike.

Many executives combat this risk by leaning on their professional service network. For this reason, if you do not have a professional service network, it’s crucial to find one. Compile a group of individuals with different insights and backgrounds. Resources commonly included in an executive’s professional service network include attorneys, CPAs, marketing firms, and Human Resource firms. 

An excellent solution to solving this conundrum is to employ an Executive Coach. The role of an executive coach starts with helping you through the planning process. An effective unbiased third-party resource should ask the questions that need to be asked and provide a perspective not currently present within your organization. 

Furthermore, good Executive Coaches will provide the oversight and accountability to ensure you maintain effectiveness throughout the year by constantly evaluating the organization and your role in it. 

At C&A, we are firm believers that a successful business starts first with a successful executive who can maintain structure and clarity on an on-going basis. We continue this trend by working hand in hand with Supervisory Management Teams to increase their contribution to the pursuits of optimal performance and allow the executive to focus on what matters most.

9. Don’t Forget YOUR Goals

Ultimately, remember that no goal is right or wrong. That decision is wholly up to you. That said, it is a decision that must be identified. Understanding why you are in business will dictate your organization’s strategic steps and will surely define your definition of “executive effectiveness” long into the future.

For example, some business owners remain in business to pass along their business to the next generation. Others might be focused on increasing enterprise value in anticipation of a potential business sale.

At C&A, we help business owners identify their needs and help their businesses grow. Our priority when engaging with a client is always identifying what matters most to the executive. Contact us today or call (508) 797-5003 to learn how we can help you reach your goals.

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