Sew, Mow or Row
In your business, are you the:
- Sewer? (The clothing type – not wastewater!!)
They are the fixers. They spend an extraordinary amount of their time (perhaps all of it) working on things in their business that are broken, or in need of repair.
On the face of it, it would appear if they did not do this, then the “wheels will fall off”. It would end in disaster. So, to those working closely with these people, they feel grateful that the boss is always working on keeping things going. There is a calm amongst the team that everything is in hand and we all just keep on “keeping on”. Nothing ever seems to be an issue because the boss always fixes it.
This is a good quality in any business – until the owner/sewer needs fixing. Then the machine shudders to an abrupt halt. Small groups huddle together and utter the unthinkable words – “now what do we do?”
In any business, sewers are important, and we need them. What is often missed is the lack of resilience in the staff to cope when the sewer is out of action. The trick is to have more than one sewer. The ultimate goal is to teach everyone to sew – but what we often find is that the chief sewer is very reluctant to share all the sewing secrets!!
Left unchecked, what tends to be the result is the business owner becomes “stuck” in the trenches. They become part of the day-to-day operation and the business rarely progresses from what it always does. This can be ok, until the market changes, then it can be a disaster. It is very hard to measure progress and the business can start to shrink.
Pros: Business is resilient and always manages to get through almost all adversity. Stable.
Cons: Vulnerable to a market shift. Very little to show for their effort. Virtually impossible to sell this business.
These are the maintainers. They are always busy – running from one item to the next. They are often repeating tasks on the premiss that they are 1) and essential task, and 2) that they are the only ones that can complete the task to a high standard. It is always hard to pin these ones down for a meeting, or even a quick discussion about an important development. You can hear them saying things like, “Sorry, can’t stop now, I have to be somewhere. Can you just deal with it please?”
These owners appear to be in control, and from the outside, they look to be productive and competent. But if you watch long enough, you soon realise that they are busy doing the same things, the same way. If you ask them why, you get either 1) there is no one else here to do it, or 2) I don’t trust anyone else to do it right. The result of this is they never have time to focus on the big picture – which is The Business!!
The trick here is to look at capability within the team and develop the talent from within. If there are any gaps, then look to recruit. One important thing to note here is the mowers often recruit another mower – so, if possible, you need to get someone else involved in identifying what is missing in the business and then recruit to address that specific area.
Left unchecked, this business will continue to do what it always has done and look good in the process of doing so. After all, it is a busy place!! Then someone will leave, and the owner will take on the mowing duties of that area – until they replace them with another similar person. They will miss the chance to enhance and improve the business. This is because the mower always likes things to look the same.
Pros: Attracts new staff. Finds it easy to generate new business.
Cons: Works every hour under the sun. Poor return for their effort. Takes a long time to sell – usually for a low price.
These are the Sloggers. Full of energy. They are committed to the cause and give it their all. They are usually first to arrive at work and last to leave. There is no job too small and would not ask anything of their staff that they would not do themselves. Nothing is beneath them. They, and the business are on the move. Progress can be easily measured. The business is usually growing at a frenetic pace.
You can often hear the owner saying things like “we are almost there” and “come on, we can do it”. Staff are upbeat as the energy in the business is positive.
Sounds good, but – they are a problem!!
Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses was a rower. Famous for saying “this time next year we will be millionaires”.
SO, why are they a problem?
Well, their intent is fine. They want the best and are determined to get there. They want their staff to go with them for the ride and cross the finish line together. To that end they are generous and open with their teams.
The problem is two-fold. 1) The pace of growth in a business can be problematic – especially if it is outpacing its capability (financial and people) to support the activity. Growing businesses often spend money faster than they make it. 2) The smallest issue can send the business way off course or even sink it.
Something that started with so much promise can end in catastrophe. It can happen in the blink of an eye and without warning. A prospering business can disintegrate overnight with what was a seemingly insignificant event. Rowing races can be lost by missing a single stroke. All that effort for nothing!!
Why? Because when you are “steaming” towards the finish line, you can become obsessed with progress towards it. You can become so transfixed that you lose sight of the other important things that are needed to complete the mission. Things like staff welfare. Often owners have an overstated view of staff’s stamina (or appetite) for a goal or objective. Instead, they only measure progress towards the finish line and assume everyone is in sync. When someone leaves, the owner is “gutted” to the point of feeling betrayed.
The trick here is to widen the measurables when assessing progress and even success. The health of the business needs to be monitored on many levels – not just results. Ultimately, the result is important – but in order to win the race, first you need to have the ability to finish it.
Cons: The business has no money – flirting with insolvency. The owner is exhausted.
The ideal business has all these qualities – but most importantly, they are present in the right mix amongst the team (not the owner). When these traits are nicely balanced, they can enhance the overall capability of the business. And best of all, they can be a key factor in maximising the value of a business.
How does an owner achieve this?
- Have a plan. It must be written down to be valid and meaningful – otherwise it is just a wish.
- Set goals. These goals must be specific. No goals = no achievements.
- Measure progress towards the goals. What gets measured gets done.
- Stick to the plan. If the plan isn’t working, review the plan.
- You must understand why you are doing this? None of the above matters a “jot” without a vision.
- Always, always make sure you engage with the required sewers, mowers, and rowers.
Once these ingredients are in the business, the owner can then focus on becoming the grower!!!
Engaging a professional business advisor will help you become the grower and will be a decision you will never regret.
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