I’m sure you’ve heard many gurus telling you not to work IN the business and to start to work ON the business. Bless them, they’re telling you to do the right thing. Trouble is, they’re not telling it to you in the proper way.
We need to do BOTH. When an artist is working on a canvas, he steps back from time to time, not just to admire it, but to see that it is going the way he intended it to. If it so happens that he doesn’t see what he had in his mind, he might very well stop and start again with a new canvas. If not, he might just decide to go with the flow and appreciate the results anyway. When a company is involved in a big multinational project, the key players get together every so often to make sure that the project is going in the right direction. “Steering Committees” are named because they are supposed to do just that – steer, not worry about whether some shaft in the engine room is a few thousandths of an inch bent in some way. The actual work is done by other sub-committees, and the “Steering Committee” should let them. In fact, they have as their business the job of creating conditions conducive for the subcommittees’ success.
A CEO’s main role is to work ON the business. The COO and other “Cs” are there to work IN the business. It is also their job to step into each others’ primary spheres of responsibility from time to time to get a feel of what it is like. We all have short memories, in one sense. We may remember what it was like to be poor, but we often forget what it actually felt like. We remember how it was when we were junior employees, down below as far as the organization charts were drawn, but we have probably forgotten what it felt like when we were there. Therefore, CEOs and other “Cs” ought to make it their business to get on the shop floor as often as they can, perhaps even putting their hands to some “menial” tasks, so that they keep the memory of life on the shop floor fresh in their minds. This is a step further from Management By Walkabout (MBWA). It may or may not actually be desirable to become an “Undercover Boss”. You decide. It is also good practice to have a junior executive take minutes at C level meetings. His or her opinions should also be sought every so often. The German generals of WW2 were known to share hardships with their troops, often getting into a frontline trench, when the Wehrmacht did stop for a while, and borrowing a soldier’s rifle to take potshots at the enemy, just to demonstrate that they shared the real physical dangers as well, and were not ensconced in some ivory tower at the rear dreaming up the impossible so that troops could be turned into mincemeat.
So, do make sure that you become thoroughly familiar with your business from the inside as well as out. The only way to do that is to work. Hard. Very hard. Be diligent. Enjoy your work, and get a great sense of achievement even as you are doing it. As Steve Jobs said, “The only way to enjoy your work is to do great work.” Creativity, innovation, and a few other overused words are actually processes, not flashes in the pan. We can only “work smart” when we have worked hard. Otherwise we will tend to create “fixes that fail.” Of course, you know what working hard is , right? It’s called THINKING. MOST people fail because they don’t THINK hard enough. If you don’t THINK hard enough, you will tend not to DO when you actually need to DO things that you have pondered long and hard over.
Work hard. Work ON the business. Work IN the business. And remember to turn your head to look around you from time to time. Stand on tiptoe to sniff the wind once in a while, too. It’s worth it.