What's in your way?

What’s in Your Way?
Analyzing & Dealing with Obstacles 

In the Small Business Accelerator and CEO Roundtable Programs at Everett Community College, Members are consistently working on building their companies.  Priorities often focus on growing the businesses by double digit annual rates and substantially improving performance and profitability.

There are many techniques entrepreneurs use for planning and tracking progress.  They usually start with a long term vision or picture of what the company is to become.  Financial targets are identified for the current year and for some period in the future, say 5 years.  Goals or priorities are set for the short term and the long term.  Ideally, these and other details go into a written business plan which guides company actions. 

The priorities and financial targets become milestones against which progress can be measured.  Follow-up is done through regular disciplined review.  If adjustments are required, the Management Team is alerted to the need by this review and has time to take action. 

While the process usually works well, there are times when companies find themselves stuck and unable to move forward.  Things that worked before, aren’t working now.  What’s wrong?  What happened?  Or perhaps the better question is, “What’s the obstacle that’s got in the way?” 

Recently, Members of the Accelerator’s CEO Roundtable began asking that question.  What is getting in my way?  What are the obstacles blocking my path?

In numerous conversations, we’ve found that many obstacles are known, but are viewed as something to work around.  These issues never seemed to get fixed, leading to much time and effort being wasted. 

What would it be like if we actually removed an obstacle or two?  Could we break through to new levels of growth and profitability? 

An example of a common obstacle:  Lack of time to work “on” the business. 

Most business owners work 50 to 60 hours a week, perhaps more.  When asked about working “on the business”, they frequently say, “I know I should, but I don’t have enough time”.  Often this excuse becomes a reason for inaction.  And inaction can cause a lot of unnecessary effort to work around it.  Is this an obstacle to building a business?  In my mind, it’s one of the big ones! 

Not having time to plan, set direction, grow employees, develop systems, find new products or locate the right customers slows down a company and can stunt profitability.  A business owners must always be working “on” the business.  That’s one of the “Most Valuable and Profitable” (MVP) Priorities we’ve identified in the Accelerator Programs.  The issue shouldn’t be whether I can find the time, but how do I take my time back. 

Finding more time is about changing the priority of activities an owner engages in.  Most work in a company is important.  But some work is most important for the owner to do.  An owner is worth $300 an hour or more.  Our experience suggests that owners work hundreds of hours on tasks valued at as little as $15 per hour. 

By focusing on their “MVPs” at least 60% of the time, owners are far more likely to experience positive changes in the business.  Removing the obstacle of an owner having to work on $15 activities will provide hundreds of hours of time for MVPs.  What could you do it you could focus on $300 an hour work.  Aren’t you likely to have greater impact?    

Common Obstacles

Through analysis and discussion, we’ve found a number of common obstacles getting in the way.

  • Don’t know where we’re going
  • Unable to find and develop the right people
  • Inadequate levels of cash and equity capital
  • Lack of financial and operating data.  Inadequate financial reports
  • Can’t attract new customers or retain old ones
  • Weak relationships with key customers, suppliers or distributors. 

Any one of these obstacles can be a show stopper.  Avoiding them can leave you with nothing but hard work and low pay. Reviewing your obstacles and dealing with them effectively may allow you to dramatically change the way the company performs.

Dealing with Obstacles

How do we go about dealing with obstacles?  This can normally be done in regular management team meetings or in the annual planning retreat.  Here’s a few steps to consider:

  • Set time aside to brainstorm obstacles – Develop a list of possible obstacles that are in the way.
  • Sort them into groups – those we have no control over and those we have some influence or direct control.
  • Obstacles that can’t be controlled are removed from the list.  We will have to develop work-around tactics to deal with them.
  • Prioritize the obstacles that can be influenced or controlled.
  • Create an action plan to eliminate each obstacle.  Assign a champion to lead the effort.
  • Follow-up and evaluate progress regularly.

Obstacle Analysis and removal has gotten the attention of our member companies.  The more we focus on obstacles, the more things improve.  The important point about obstacles is that they are initially overlooked.  Obstacle Analysis can bring them to light and open new possibilities for improvement. 

About the author: Travis Snider is the Lead Instructor and Business Coach for Small Business Accelerator at Everett Community College

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