Tunnel Vision

During the days when I was flying an airplane, I learned a very important entrepreneurial lesson. I’d be approaching a large airport and the situation became very busy. I had Approach Control giving me vectors and altitudes which required regular attention to the instrument panel. I had a landing checklist to review. If there were passengers, I needed to make sure they were buckled in and loose objects were secure in the cockpit. I also had to dial in the radio frequency for the airport tower to be ready for the hand-off from Air Traffic Control. Whew! With all this activity it was easy to forget to do one very critical thing – and that was to get my head up and look outside the airplane. Pretty obvious, right? You have no idea how even the most experienced pilots can make this mistake. We’re focused on everything else – and yes, we are looking straight out in front of us to line up with the runway. But there are other objects in the sky – aircraft that might be unaware of our presence, radio towers, drones, birds, etc. I quickly came to understand (under the penalty of death) that I needed to avoid Tunnel Vision at all costs.

What does Tunnel Vision look like in the entrepreneurial world? Here’s a hypothetical example. Jeff owns a three-year old company that provides IT services to small and medium-sized businesses. He has 27 members on his team and his top line has been growing at 60% annually. Needless to say, Jeff is crazy busy right now. He’s up at the crack of dawn and after a quick workout he heads to the office. Many nights he’s not home until after 9:00. At work he’s consumed with an endless stream of team members who catch him for a wide variety of reasons. He attends meeting after meeting. E-mails pile up and phone messages go unanswered. During the few moments Jeff has to breathe he wonders why time is flying by so fast and why it seems that he has accomplished so little.

You probably already know the rest of the story. Jeff and his team are so consumed with trying to keep up with their meteoric growth that a competitor sneaks in and steals some of their best clients. Instead of focusing on the customer, Jeff and his company have fallen victim to Tunnel Vision – and what they are seeing are systems, processes, recruiting, hiring, training, HR issues, accounts receivable, accounts payable – everything except the customer.

There are several ways we can be vigilant about keeping Tunnel Vision at bay. First, we need to make certain that every member of the organization has well defined written Roles and Accountabilities – let’s call them R&As. The R&As need to be of sufficient detail to identify all of the areas on which each of us should be focused. It’s kind of like a position description on steroids. Next, we should regularly review our R&A. I recommend that this be done at least once each week. Perhaps we have an “accountability buddy” with whom we review our respective R&As. I have gotten into the habit of doing this at least weekly and can see how easy it is to fall into a rut by just paying attention to one or two specific roles, sometimes to the exclusion of others. Part of this review is determining what I’m going to do during the coming week that involves each of my R&As. This helps keep me from falling into the ruts in the road.

As leaders, we must model how to avoid Tunnel Vision. After doing this for ourselves, we then need to encourage others to follow the same process. Often when Tunnel Vision is prevalent, I hear the same refrain – “there’s just not enough time in the day!” What this means is that we have lost control of our schedule and are allowing ourselves to be pushed and pulled by others. Tunnel Vision is inevitable when this is happening. Regaining control of our schedules is paramount and can be accomplished by planning what we are going to do rather than reacting. Ultimately, this planning initiates the R&A review and subsequent determination of our actions to be juggled in all areas.

Tunnel Vision can have fatal consequences for an organization. It can be avoided by reviewing Roles and Accountabilities at least once a week, and planning action steps that impact all areas for which we are accountable.

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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.