Tony owns a five-year old company that produces several different flavors of a healthy energy bar. Business is booming and the company is flirting with profitability. The business will soon reach a scale where profitability is consistent. Sales have been growing at 50% per year and the team has now expanded to 75 employees. The production facility runs two shifts and plans are in the works for a third. Sounds like a dream situation – right?
Here’s a look at the other side of Tony’s operation. A piece of machinery in the plant seems to be on its last legs with periodic breakdowns at the most inopportune times. Capital is needed to add two more pieces of equipment to accommodate the planned third shift. Tony’s not exactly sure what the source of those funds will be. His marketing director quit, and the position hasn’t yet been filled. Also, the company needs to hire 15 new employees for the upcoming third shift – but it’s been very hard to find people that are willing to work all night long. On top of all that, a product recall may be in the offing due to a problem with the packaging. Tony has been working 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week for months without a break. He’s stressed and badly needs some time off. But he’s worried that if he steps away – even for a long weekend – the business might go off the rails. Tony is experiencing bedlam, chaos and is overwhelmingly slammed.
If you are an entrepreneur, can you relate to this not-so-hypothetical scenario? Everything is go-go-go and seems totally out of control. We find ourselves spending most of our time working “in” the business rather than “on” the business. We know we probably need to add another key staff position or two to allow us to work more strategically, but we worry that profitability and cash flow might be too tight if we do. We figure we can “muscle through” for a few more months and eventually the profit picture will improve to the point that bringing on the key personnel will be easier. Unfortunately, the “few more months” stretches out a bit longer than expected (or desired).
What we are solving is not how to cope with the chaos, bedlam, and stress, but how to move out of this mode as quickly as possible. Every minute we spend mired in this mess is another minute that is added to the ledger of total frustration and wheel-spinning. We all know the eventual outcome of this – a loss of passion, burnout, health issues and potentially much worse.
Step One – Stop the madness. Seriously, stop and step away for 24 hours. Without a clear head we can’t fix a thing. We don’t check our e-mail; we don’t call the office; we go dark and do something – anything – that will turn our attention away from the bedlam, the chaos, and the stress.
Step Two – Assess. We catalog all the pieces to this crazy jigsaw puzzle. What is working and what isn’t. What are the biggest issues we are facing? This is not a time to find solutions. We have a single focus and that is to take stock of our situation.
Step Three – Prioritize. Once we have identified all of our issues, we next prioritize the swamp. In other words, which alligator is the largest and most likely to eat us and which is the smallest.
Step Four – Delegate. Look, we can’t do this all by ourselves. If we have key members of our team that can help, we bring them into the picture at this point. If we don’t have key people, we may need to turn to outside consultants to assist.
Step Five – Plan. We take each issue and create a project plan in collaboration with our key team members or consultants. The plan needs to take a step-by-step approach that identifies what resources will be needed for successful implementation as well as a specific timeline to get there.
Step Six – Execute. With a plan in hand and the workload delegated, it’s the entrepreneur’s job to pull the trigger and turn everyone loose to execute. Then he or she must monitor the activity and hold people accountable for the desired results.
You may be thinking that this is an obvious process. Except that it’s not. When we are stuck on the treadmill of bedlam, chaos, and stress, it’s hard if not impossible, to rise above it all and take the six steps I just outlined. Discipline is needed to stay on course – that’s another responsibility of the entrepreneur. Gradually sanity will be restored, and our enterprise will hum like a well-oiled machine.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.