Drifting out of touch

02nd May 2018

Last year we reached a peculiar milestone in our business.

We took on a client who I had never met. There are now several of these.

We also have several suppliers I have never met.

This is quite a change from the early days of our business, where I handled the client relationships completely myself. I met them, took their calls, handled their business’s financial affairs and even billed them directly. On any given day, I could tell you exactly where their business stood financially.

Over time, others at Insight took the lead with some of those relationships, but I was always involved and my finger was pretty firmly on the pulse.

But recently, our business has grown substantially, and my own role and responsibilities have evolved towards setting the broad strategy and direction of our company.

In reality, I’m more detached from day-to-day operations.

That might sound like a bad thing, but in reality it’s both good and part of the natural evolution of any business.

When you set up your company, you are always very close to the coalface. This means that not only do your know your clients extremely well, but you probably know your staff extremely well too. If Fred’s lunch breaks are too long, you’re probably aware of it, and if Mary is an admin genius, you’ll know that too.

You’ll also have a fairly good sense of how well your business is doing and where the bottlenecks are, because you are bringing in most of the business yourself, you talk to your clients and you’re involved with all your suppliers.

The CEO of Tesco, or British Gas, or Netflix is unlikely to know any of those things. If they got involved with every client and every supplier, or worried about how Fred and Mary were performing, their business would grind to a halt.

They have to have people in place who they trust to handle almost everything other than the big strategic decisions – just like I do.

Now your business might not be Tesco or British Gas, but over time, if you’ve grown, your own role will have drifted in a similar direction.

It happens gradually, over many years – you may not even have noticed – but at some point, you too will lose touch with your day-to-day operations.

You may not be sure any more how certain things are done in your business.

You may not be certain any more who handles certain accounts or whether a particular initiative you set in place 10 years ago is still working well.

You may even be physically removed from the majority of your workers, in a different office or even building.

The question is, how do you compensate for this? How do you make sure that everything in your business is still working the way it needs to, even when you’re not aware of every detail?

An old boss of mine had one answer. When he used to turn up for work each morning, he would park his car in the front of the factory, then walk through the back entrance, and spend 10 minutes making his way back to the front.

He passed every desk, stopped to chat, took a look over the factory floor and by the time he got to his own office at the front, had sharpened his vision of what was happening in his own company.

That’s certainly part of it.

But in reality, there is an even better way – one which doesn’t rely only on gut feeling but allows you to cut through immediately to the real state of your business.

I’ll tell you about that next week.

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