This week’s article is provided by Pete Martin, the Founder and CEO of AskMyBoard. It is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled One Big Idea: Helping Leaders Focus and Grow Their Organization that aired on Tuesday, November 16th.

“I would be a terrible employee!”

This is precisely what I told the Vice Chairman of KPMG when I sold my consulting firm to them in 2014. To get to that point of a successful exit, I decided to focus on only one “big idea” per month. Without this level of focus, I would never have had that meeting. Let me explain.

We live in an age of distraction. We are bombarded with interruptions from co-workers, email, inbound calls, the crisis of the day, not to mention personal obligations. So as a leader, how do you focus on what really matters – those activities that move the needle in your organization and make a measurable difference.

Our recommendation is to focus on one, and only one, “big idea” per month.

Leaders of growing companies are pulled in a thousand different directions from “fire-fighting” activities to those strategic tasks you never seem to get around to working on. And if you are struggling to focus on the right set of priorities, how can your team members understand what is truly important in growing the business?

There are countless books written about time management, so that’s not the focus here. Nor is getting into detail about how to decide what your focus should be. But we do suggest you develop enough of a strategic execution plan that you can objectively choose the most critical levers to drive your growth, then ensure that you are spending at least some time on it every day. Many well-meaning advisors promote “growth strategies,” which is well and good, but what you focus on every day – the actual execution – is what matters the most. A good strategy without effective implementation is a map to nowhere.

In our work at AskMyBoard as a strategic advisory firm, we work with business owners that struggle with “what to work on next.” As an outside observer, it is often is easier for us to see through the fog of daily priorities of our clients to identify the handful of activities that will propel the business forward faster.

As I mentioned at the top of this article, I was the CEO of a professional services company I sold to KPMG for 12 times EBIDTA – and no earn-out. What enabled me to accomplish this was the realization that I was too involved in the day-to-day running of the business, especially in client acquisition. It wasn’t until I made extracting myself my single focus did the company start to grow and flourish.

My “big idea” that I worked on for six months was unshackling the constraints to scaling by implementing streamlined and consistent processes that didn’t have me at the center of them. I identified all areas where we didn’t have a documented process or where I was too deeply involved. I committed to spending some time every day to “fix” these constraints.

I can tell you that it was both a blow to my ego and a huge relief that when I took myself out of selling every client, the business grew faster. When I sold my business to KPMG, the deal almost fell apart because it was the first and only time that KPMG acquired a firm where the CEO didn’t go with the deal. When we discussed that the entire selling process, organization, and operations didn’t involve me personally and that if I went with the sale, “I’d be a terrible employee,” we were able to close the deal – without me as part of it.

Our firm helps business owners improve all eight drivers of company value, but we tend to spend the most time focusing on the top three; team, cash flow, and customer acquisition. We have developed a few “big ideas” that move the needle across each of these drivers, and we encourage our business leaders to spend time every day focused on at least one of them.

For example, finding and retaining great employees is increasingly difficult, so we have been helping companies refine their approaches to recruiting, hiring, and retaining a fully engaged workforce – even if those team members are part-timers or freelancers.

One big idea that is paying off for our clients is to approach recruiting employees as strategically as finding new customers. Very few companies have identified the specific values that best align with the company’s culture. Most companies will either copy and paste a job description from the internet, list the dozens of skills and credentials that the candidate must have, or create a bland and generic description of the role that wouldn’t excite anyone to join your company.

Get this right by developing an ‘ideal employee avatar.’  Analyze the personal values of your best employees and create a position description that focuses first on the “why” someone should join your company and then the set of values that someone should have to be a successful team member. By doing this, you’ll most likely attract a bigger pool of candidates and, most importantly, one that will align with your company culture. The best example of this and the most effective recruiting ad I’ve seen in a long time is from Amazon. Check it out here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZIQXEqveCY.

I understand that very few companies can afford to offer what Amazon does in this commercial, but I think it is one of the most spot-on recruiting ads in terms of speaking to the needs and desires of a potential employee. Hire first for values aligned with your culture, then core competencies, then any skills truly needed to succeed in the role. If your recruiting is as focused on how your company and the specific role meet the needs and desires of a potential employee as effectively as the commercial, you will attract a pool of qualified candidates.

In summary, what you do matters and sends clear signals to the rest of the organization about what is important. So pick the right things to work on each day.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author

Pete Martin is the Founder and CEO of AskMyBoard, a company focused on helping business owners unleash their business’s highest potential value to grow faster and more profitably to put you in a position to exit at the highest price or confidently detach from the business. As a serial entrepreneur, Pete has started, scaled, and successfully exited four previous companies, including his last to KPMG for 12 times EBIDTA and no earn-out.

Photo by Kurt Liebhaeuser on Unsplash


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