4 reasons why you struggle to work "on the business"
Written by
Mike McKenzie
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4 reasons why you struggle to work "on the business"

If engaging your leadership team to work 'on the business' has always been a struggle then you are not alone. In this article, I describe the four most common challenges that I see business leaders face when trying to get their senior team on board.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to not only manage the day-to-day operations of your business, but also to strategically plan for its long-term success. This involves stepping back from the daily grind and working on the bigger picture, also known as working "on the business."

But this can't just be a one-off exercise, nor is it something that a business owner should undertake on their own.

If the rest of the leadership team isn’t fully engaged in this activity, then you are setting yourself up to fail: No-one else will be tuned in to your way of thinking. No-one else will be committed to the new mission. No-one else will be primed to sense the changes in the market and help you ‘course correct’ as you continue your journey.

If this sounds familiar, rest assured that you are not alone. Many business owners and their leadership teams will say that they are too busy, and struggle to find the time.

But in my experience, there are more subtle things happening. Here are four barriers that must be overcome before any leadership team can truly collaborate and work ‘on the business' effectively.

The Four Barriers to working on the business together

1. Information Overload

Information Overload_One of four Barriers to working on the business

I’ve previously described how you, as the leader of your business, are swamped with ‘content’. But it’s not just you!

It’s the same for every member of your senior team. They, like you, have their own informal business network and a steady stream of emails, social media and blogs, all promising new ways to win at business. (None of us can resist the search for that magic solution!)

In a sense, everyone is ‘panning for gold’. But the problem is, it’s rarely done as a team. Each person consumes their own ‘content’ on a daily or weekly basis; if they find something that looks shiny and bright, they’ll shout ‘gold’ and bring it to everyone’s attention.

On its own, this can be disruptive and energy-sapping. But this often leads to the second problem.

2. Not Invented Here

Not Invented Here_One of four Barriers to working on the business

There is a tendency to judge other people’s potential treasure trove with suspicion. It seems like we’re programmed to challenge its authenticity and effectiveness rather than embrace it.

This gets even more extreme when the promised ‘gold’ involves the use of external advisers. It might be a new business growth programme offered by your accountancy firm or a growth expert who someone heard speak at a conference. It could be that a new member of the executive team has suggested bringing in the consultant who worked wonders at their last organisation.

Either way, it typically results in what I often picture as a medieval joust. Each person sends in their consultant or programme to do battle armed with competing ideas and approaches. The result is often a stalemate, or if there is a clear victor, then this comes at the cost of alienating one or more senior team members. There are rarely any real winners in this scenario.

3. Pursuit of Functional Excellence

Pursuit of Functional Excellence_One of four Barriers to working on the business.jpg

As the business leader, we aim to surround ourselves with experts across all functions. They are rewarded handsomely for making sure their department performs its role in the business.

This is all well and good. In fact, it’s essential for the business to be able to operate day to day. However, for many departmental heads, this can easily develop into an obsession with their own function that undermines the effectiveness of the senior team.

With their blinkers on, they tune out of discussions that don’t call for their functional expertise and only tune back in to perform their functional role or defend their department. They’re unable to take the broader, nonpartisan view that is needed for any senior team to work ‘on the business.’

Patrick Lencioni stresses the dangers of this situation in his book, 'The Advantage'1,

“When members of a leadership team feel a stronger sense of commitment and loyalty to the team they lead than the one they’re a member of, then the team they’re a member of becomes like the U.S. Congress or the United Nations: it’s just a place where people come together to lobby for their constituents.

Teams that lead healthy organizations reject this model and come to terms with the difficult but critical requirement that executives must put the needs of the higher team ahead of the needs of their departments. That is the only way that good decisions can be made about how best to serve the entire organization and maximize its performance.”

4. Initiative Fatigue

Initiative Fatigue_One of Four Barriers to working on the Business

We all understand and readily accept this principle when it comes to the wider business, but it also applies to your senior team.

I’ve often seen business leaders coming back from a course or raving about a book on leadership, innovation or culture change. Whatever the trigger, their step back from the business had left them focused and fired up to work ‘on the business’ and make the changes needed to accelerate growth. More often than not, the rest of the senior team have seen it all before. They roll their eyes and wait for it to pass!

Almost without fail, three months later, the day-to-day challenges still dominate. The urgent has overtaken the important, the blinkers are back on and that fleeting moment of clarity and objectivity has been lost.

Whether it’s new consultants, new methodologies or the latest business bestseller that’s distributed to the board of directors, every new attempt to work ‘on the business’ is viewed with increasing cynicism and risks further sapping energy and confidence.

A more subtle approach is needed.

Developing Better Habits

Engaging your senior team is crucial but complex.

An understanding of these four barriers reinforces why this is something that you should own and initiate rather than outsource to an external consultant or adviser. Yes, they can provide expert insight and help with specific interventions but it’s your job to engage and lead the senior team in this activity.

Given these four barriers, it should be no surprise that overloading your senior team with another time-consuming, ‘not invented here’ initiative that drags them away from their departments is almost certainly doomed to failure! Instead, overcoming these barriers requires a level of subtlety and patience.

If you recognise the need for a better 'on the business' routine, then it's important to understand what it takes to build a new leadership habit.

In my next blog, I'll describe how neurobiology and behavioural science can help you Build A New Routine For Business Success.

Quarterli® is designed to keep things simple so that you can lead this process in your organisation without the need for expensive external support. This makes it both affordable and sustainable. 

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I've never heard of the Growth Probability Matrix. What is it?
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Who else can see the results of my personal introspections and my senior team survey results?
No-one. The scores and comments are for your eyes only, unless you choose to share them. Quarterli® generates all results automatically without any human intervention.

The system also automatically generates the live Matrix from the aggregated result of all surveys done worldwide. It updates every night and is designed to give some comfort to business leaders that their peers do not always rate their business as "Full Steam Ahead". I.e. many are in the same boat and are committed to improving the way they and their senior teams work 'on the business'.
How will using Quarterli® help us as a leadership team.
How will using Quarterli® help us as a leadership team.
The simplicity of the Matrix helps bring clarity to your thinking, even when embroiled in the day to day. This means you make better decisions. Once adopted by the whole senior team, it brings a common language and establishes a shared view of where the business stands today and what needs to change. It encourages a quarterly rhythm that changes the way senior teams think, speak and act, and dramatically improves your chances of success. Download The Quarterli® Habit eBook to find out more.

Quarterli® is designed to put you in control of your growth journey. Business leaders worldwide can access it at a fraction of the cost of hiring a Management Consultant.
Does Quarterli® remove the need for consultancy?
Does Quarterli® remove the need for consultancy?
No. Quarterli® is not designed to replace good consultancy, but it is there to help business leaders take back control and use consultancy in a more efficient and effective manner: Too many CEOs, Managing Directors and Business Owners effectively outsource their growth strategy and/or their 'on the business' activity. Consultancies are only too pleased to feast on this over weeks, months and years but it rarely delivers full value for the business leader and can hamper the development of the senior team.

Highly skilled consultants can add huge value to your business and Quarterli® introduces a structured approach that can help you become a better buyer of these specialists. You might actually end up using more consultancy but in shorter, sharper doses designed to deliver well-defined outcomes that Quarterli® will help you describe and measure.
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Does that mean you are going to use this to sell me consultancy?
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If you are introduced to Quarterli® by a local consultancy or business support organisation, then that is because they want to help you work ‘on the business’. If you subscribe using their unique URL then you’ll see their logo under the Quarterli® logo when using the system.

We don’t pay them, they don’t pay us, ever. If you end up using them for specialist support in the future, then that’s your decision. We’re not party to any arrangement, won’t know anything about it and certainly won’t be taking a cut of any fee that you pay to them.