On, not in!

How often have you heard the phrase, “You should be working on and not in your business”? Have you asked or even wondered exactly what this means? Maybe you’ve rolled your eyes and dismissed this statement as a cliché?

What is the difference?

It is obvious to say that employees work ‘in’ the business as they have their set roles to play. However, the business owner has no such clearly defined role. Often their role is self-assigned and it also inevitably varies from person to person and business to business. The typical business owner carries out a mix of working on and in the business, usually without realising it. They tend to be very much governed by priorities and, all too often, their time will be spent dealing with problems and complications. They are the business fire-fighters!

Whilst few will admit it, they often spend their time waiting for an employee to come to them with a problem that needs attention. This is partly because they have trained employees to bring problems to them, thus putting all responsibility on to their own heads and taking it away from employees.

But since employees know what to do on a day-to-day basis, is there a reason to change? Well, the problem with this state of business is the consequent lack of long-term planning and the limited ability of the owner to leverage and build the business further. On a personal level, they will probably also spend their time feeling stressed, frustrated and exhausted.

Changing focus

If the business owner started working ‘on’ the business instead, what would this look like? For a start, they wouldn’t always be ‘first in, last out’ of the office and in fact wouldn’t need to attend every day. Rather, their time would be spent making contacts, attending networking groups and events and spending time thinking, planning and recording their knowledge. “If it can be measured it can be managed” and by working ‘on’ the business, owners will also develop the ability to apply processes to measure and manage performance. In addition, the business owner would be giving employees the opportunity to make decisions and solve problems between themselves. Whilst mistakes are likely, at least at first, this will ultimately stimulate the employees to grow and develop faster.

Ultimately, by shifting focus to working ‘on’ the business, owners soon realise that, whilst things might not be done as well as they would have done them, it is easier and more productive to remedy occasional mistakes rather than to burn themselves out trying to do everything!