A friend and I were recently discussing working in vs. working on his business, working in defined as doing the work, and working on defined as growing the business and shaping it’s direction. I’ve always thought of it as the difference between an actor and a director. Eventually, leaders that only work in the business stunt the growth of the organization. If you have no one in your organization that can do what you do, your growth will always be limited to what you can get done. For some that is the goal. They don’t want their business to grow any larger. They’re happy where they are.

However, those who want to grow their business can’t do it alone. There are only so many hours in the day. If you want to grow, train someone to do what you do, or hire someone who can. The other side of the coin is that not developing future leader’s not only limits growth, but will drive away the best employees who are looking for opportunities for growth and advancement.

It’s a Work in Progress   

As my friend and I talked (I’m a verbal processor), I realized I hadn’t shared a realistic view of progressing from working in to working on the business. Any start up will rely on leadership working in the business, and proceeding from working in a young business to working on a larger concern is a journey, it’s not an overnight, turn a switch, transformation.

My Journey to Working on Business

In 1987 I joined a sales and marketing team at entry level. In the beginning, I strictly worked in the business. At first in lead development and later as a sales consultant. Eventually, I became a sales manager. My staff covered preset appointments six days a week, as did I. In that sense I worked in the business. However, I worked on the business by never going to an appointment alone; I always took someone from my team with me. It was part of my training plan. Working on the business, I also hired and trained salespeople, conducted meetings, reviewed activities with each rep individually on a daily basis, analyzed reports, developed a weekly game plan, and met with other department heads at a weekly staff meeting. My time was split 50/50 working in and on the business.

From 50/50 to 75/25

My next step was as district manager. In this role, I traveled to offices in a three-state area. My primary responsibility was to improve the performance of each office. I did this through training, planning, and accountability. Often, when I visited an office I would go on a sales call with the manager. It was a good time to talk about their operation as well as watch what they were doing in the field. 75 % of my time was spent working on the business, but I continued to work in the biz.

100 Percent

As vice president of operations overseeing all aspects of the business I no longer had time to work in the business, I was too busy directing sales, marketing, and installation to work in the field. My time was spent training managers, planning for growth, creating systems, and documenting procedures. When I took over the position, the company didn’t have procedural manuals, job descriptions, checklists, or training materials. We were attempting to run a supermarket as if it were a roadside stand. It was a culture of personality not procedures, and that can only go so far. By the end of my tenure we had become a systemized organization, which was replicated in other markets. The company doubled its net volume three times while I was VP. As VP I worked 100 % on the business.

Where Are You in the Journey?

Like I said, transitioning from working in the business to working on the business isn’t overnight. It’s a work in progress. However, if you never make the transition you will eventually hit a brick wall. Regardless how exceptional one person might be they can never accomplish as much as a focused and dedicated team. So, are you working in or on your business?

How Can I Help You?

I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me. 

Does your business have a management training plan? Many organizations, large and small, use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program. I’m also available to conduct training.

Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash