The Smith Report - Operational Playbooks

Where the CEO Spends Time is an Investment Decision

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In a recent TEDx Beacon Street talk, Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact referenced a great phrase – Where the CEO spends her time is an investment decision. The context of the comment was connected to the founder’s inability to scale and therefore lead their team to further success. I blog about scaling companies, as you know, on a fairly regular basis but I thought Gail’s point was worth exploring further.

I think it’s helpful to think of enterprises as vehicles for change. Whether you are driving a $5m niche technology group, a pre revenue start up or a $1Bn public company, all enterprises are on a journey: scaling, building, and making things happen. The success of that vehicle is mainly dependent on the players in the team. Think of the enterprise as a person. That person needs the team to perform certain tasks at certain times to achieve success. In other words ask yourself, what does the company need every member of staff to execute to ensure the success of the company?

Given this mindset, what people do and when they do it becomes crucial, especially the CEO. What does the company need the CEO to do? You can see how this becomes a huge investment decision. This is the biggest conflict I see in businesses every day. The CEO knows that she should be spending time meeting more customers but instead is locked away in meetings dealing with a production issue. Or the CEO’s comfort zone is marketing and building marketing collateral is truly rewarding and clearly important. Is it? Is that what the company needs you to do? Is that the highest priority to reach the Big Audacious Goals?

The vast majority of entrepreneurs understandably struggle to align their personal timesheets with the actions needed to truly move the dial.  The solution? Here are six actions for CEOs to consider, to maximize the return on their time.

 Six Actions To Consider
  1. Ask yourself, what are the exact actions you can execute to ensure the success of the Company’s Business Plan for next year? (hint: it will contain stuff you don’t enjoy.)
  2. Look carefully at your personal timesheet over the last six months. (I know you don’t have one, so create one.) Look at the time sucks of certain activities. Audit where you are being unproductive.
  3. Re-imagine 2014. Perhaps think of the week in 15 segments if it helps. 5 days, morning, afternoon and evening. Prioritize what the Business Plan is demanding that you personally action. Try to allocate these big themed actions into your week. Give them their special place. e.g. acquisition of target companies, customer visits, keynote speeches, product roadmap sign-offs, financial performance reviews, mentoring of your inner cabinet etc.
  4. Now this gets more difficult. Identify tasks that are down to the CEO but where you lack the skillset to execute. Amnesty on guilt. If your background is finance, you might struggle to lead certain sales and marketing initiatives. If your background is mechanical engineering, you might struggle with balance sheet management or the presentation of your foreign exchange strategy and hedging policy. So don’t ignore the task, just make sure it’s covered by a relevant team member.
  5.  Another tricky time allocation point arises with communication and a lack of patience. I often find whatever the background of the CEO, this lack of patience can undermine the performance of the company. The time and skill needed to reinforce and translate to staff what they need to do is often missing. Especially that translation piece. It’s so obvious to them as CEOs, but staff might need a point reinforced five to 10 times before it sticks. Consider creating the role of translator. Someone who can take your key initiatives and make sure they’re really understood.
  6. Finally, consider as the CEO, the need for a performance review. Possible solutions include, joining a CEO peer group, building an Advisory Board, hiring a contract COO to make things happen, transform your productivity and keep you honest and, in extreme cases, stepping up to Chairman, and bringing in a CEO to take the company to the next level.

Time is a precious thing and the CEO’s time is very special and expensive. Don’t waste it.

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About the Author

Ian founded The Portfolio Partnership (TPP) in 2010. TPP is an operational consultancy focused on scaling private businesses safely. He believes his resume of building 4 previous businesses from publishing, investment banking to software in Europe and the States gives him a unique set of skills and a sense of humor. He remains a competitive masters track & field athlete and in 2012 was ranked #2 indoors in the world for his age at 400m.

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