Unintended Consequences, Part I

By Chuck Violand

March 12, 2018

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Business Owner’s Beatitudes. Some of the more popular ones are: “Blessed are the owners who work on their businesses and not in them.” “Blessed are the owners whose businesses are not dependent on them.” And one of my personal favorites, “Blessed are the owners who surround themselves with people smarter than they are.” These are all great, and most owners would agree they are worthy goals to work toward. But this is where the rub comes in. While we may be able to recite the beatitudes, many of us struggle with the reality of what to do once we achieve them.

Having worked closely with small business owners for over three decades, I can say with confidence that there is frequently a disconnect between an owner’s words and his actions.

Most businesses aren’t started by people whose lifestyles include sitting quietly on a beach with their toes in the sand. At least not in the early years. They’re started by those whose bodies are constantly in motion and whose minds are always in the “on” position. There’s no leaning on broom handles, playing solitaire on the computer, or taking the longest, most scenic route to a job. These are high-energy, impatient, and sometimes abrasive folks with a single focus and passion for the business they’ve chosen to build. These qualities are valuable assets, ideally suited for launching and building a business. But they become liabilities when the company is older, or when it’s scaling at a pace that no longer sets the owner’s hair on fire. This is when an owner’s new found “free time” can become very costly. Because, rather than doing what we should be doing with our time, we engage in activities that we’re comfortable doing.

Unfortunately, this is not a one-time event. We experience this dilemma at various stages of our business. We see it when we hire or promote our first manager to manage the workers and handle the daily annoyances that took up so much of our time and emotional bandwidth. We experience it when our companies are running smoothly; when customers are happy, workers are enjoying their jobs, projects are getting done on time, and profits and cash flow are healthy. We even experience it at the end of our careers when we’re fattening the calf for market. This is when we often have extra time on our hands and catch ourselves wondering what to do with it … or doing the wrong things.

On an intellectual level, most entrepreneurs understand the need to work ON their businesses. But the reality is that many of us are so addicted to being active, so fixated on our goals from years of being fixated on our goals that we don’t know HOW to work ON our businesses. So, we default to working IN them. We don’t know what to do with ourselves when we have time on our hands. While this might sound like a dream to some, it’s not to many entrepreneurs, and it can cause real angst to an owner whose sense of purpose has become blurry and there’s no outlet for their physical and mental energy. This combination can also cause a real disruption to their company.

In Part II of this Note I’ll offer suggestions on what to do and what not to do to make effective use of our free time when we don’t want to spend it with an umbrella drink in our hands.