Am I spread too thin?

I keep getting called on to deal with problems that crop up as we try to deliver what’s been promised. Since I know more about how things work and have a broader view of where we are going, it’s a natural request. Besides, I like being in control of the decisions about how and when we commit resources to solve problems. And I’m good at juggling. But I’m sensing a limit to what I can get to. There are a lot of sales opportunities out there that I should focus on, for example, and I can’t be in two places at once.

Thoughts of the day: Unloading the things you know how to do best helps the company grow. Avoid burnout. Know that there will be failures and that while you strive for excellence, sometimes good enough is just that. Recognize that everyone in the company will benefit from gaining experience dealing with issues on the front line — so let them.

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Keeping the Nest Egg Intact


I don’t want to save money and then spend it to get through our slow months. Every year it feels like we give back all our profits when it gets quiet. Help!

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: Savings are essential. So is fiscal discipline. Know what you can and cannot afford to do. As the business grows, be careful not to increase volatility. Consider getting into complementary business.

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Help, I’m Stuck in the Day to Day!

“No matter what I do, it seems like I’m always getting pulled back into daily tasks. I know that my job as owner is to focus on building the business. But there are so many things that need to get done and I can’t afford to let things fall apart when the people around me can’t do it all.”

Thoughts of the Day: Working “in” the business instead of “on” it can cost you. You can’t afford not to let things fall where they may when it looks like the people around you can’t do it all. Check into your growth rate – if things are falling apart, you may be trying to grow too fast. Ultimately your business will be run by someone else – use that visual to get focused now on what you have to do.

Research shows that the majority of business owners in the U.S. – actually more than 90 percent of all businesses – spend most of their time working “in” and not “on” the business. Research also shows that when business owners work “in” the business, net income over the years tends to flatline. If there are profitable years, much of those profits eventually get plowed back into the business during down cycles.

The perceived risk of having things go wrong on a day-to-day basis is overshadowed by the reality of having a business that cannot stand on its own. The owner cannot take time away from the business to enjoy the rewards of what has been built for fear things will stall, or worse, decline, in his/her absence. Consequently, hard work over the years turns into more of the same.

Perhaps, most disturbing of all, when the long-term focus is working “in” the business instead of “on” the business, exit value is nowhere near what it could be. When ready to exit, owners struggle to find a ready buyer willing to take over a business that depends on the ongoing involvement of the seller. To the extent that a buyer can be found, the value of the business is severely discounted due to inconsistent performance, lack of a strong, secure management team and inadequate systems.

Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about another way to do things. Learn to get out of the way. Make people fix the problems they create. Stop rescuing.

In order for other people to learn, you have to let go. Give people specific assignments. Put the assignments in writing as job descriptions, process descriptions and agreements on conditions of success.

Teach employees how to do what’s been written down. Don’t let them off the hook when things go wrong. Ask them to describe how they plan to fix the situation. Then hold their toes to the fire while they do it.

Make sure employees understand the important role they play in building the company’s future. Have both short-term and long-term plans in place, with progress measures. Assign teams to oversee what’s going on.

Talk with employees about the importance of teamwork. No individual heroes or heroines. Everyone is responsible for the success of the company.

If problems crop up, ask the team to solve them instead of you personally jumping in to pick up the reins. Get regular reports on progress. Help the team brainstorm how they will know when the problem is fixed. Then ask everyone to stay on task to get there.

If things start to fall apart, check on whether the company overall is trying to take on too much, too fast. A growth rate of 10 percent to 15 percent, year-over-year, should be fast enough to stay ahead of inflation and slow enough to allow time to catch and fix mistakes before they become big problems.

Have a vision that includes exiting the business. Ensure that others know how to run the business in your absence. Use vacations as test runs.

Looking for a good book? Try “Work Toward Reward: Building Business Value Today for a Well Deserved Future” by Chia-Li Chien.


We Just Can’t Wing It Anymore

Right now people have a “wing it” attitude. If there’s a problem, people jump to help, which is both good and bad, but some people say it feels like there’s a lack of clarity, who does what, no agreement on how things get done, and no clear chain of command. There seems to be inadequate communication, and a lack of responsibility or accountability. We need more structure in operations. Help!

Thoughts of the Day: Operations is the guts of the business. Putting process, job descriptions, and accountabilities in place can help make things smoother. Figure out who heads up operations, preferably not the owner. Build a team to work on the best way to handle routine workload as well as exceptions. Make it clear the routine clear enough so a new person could easily learn most of what they need to know from a chart and back up descriptions.

Operations is where everything comes together. Orders from customers have to get delivered on time, in budget. Lack of planning often creates a lot of problems in operations. Things run smoother when everyone in the company takes the time to talk about workflow, defining what’s routine and what needs special handling. Departments need to layout/diagram how work flows through their department, and if they work on a variety of things, which typically happens, ask them to make multiple diagrams.

Look for interruptions and exceptions in the work flow drawing. Don’t try to define everything, you can’t solve all the company’s problems overnight, and you shouldn’t try to. Instead indicate where someone goes to get clarification if things don’t go according to plan.

Ask everyone in operations to submit a list of the things they do daily, weekly, monthly. If 2 people do the same job, ask both to submit their lists. You’d be surprised how many differences there may be as one person remembers one thing, another something else.

Ask managers to review the lists and then compile the lists into job descriptions. You can also look online for standard job descriptions and salary ranges to help move the process along.

Make sure that each job description includes a list of accountabilities. These are the standards to which people are expected to deliver. What is most important in your organization? Is it speed, accuracy, price cuts, whatever the customer needs?

You need to clarify your expectations, and document them. Ensure employee responsibility by distributing the job expectations and discussing. If there are grey areas, try your best to clear them up and make your expectations concrete.

Assign someone to be in charge of operations. It’s best if this is a person is available throughout the day to field questions, deal with obstacles, and generally oversee and assist people. Make it clear to everyone that this person is in charge and has your full support.

If you’re like most business owners, when there’s a problem in operations you stand ready to step in and head it off, or deal directly with the person who caused the problem. Build a chain of command and support them in their decisions, resist temptation to do it all yourself.

Start with the manager in charge, making sure they’re aware there’s a problem. Give them time to do some homework, if necessary, and ask for a report back to you. Use your time together to listen, provide direction and teach. Asking them to solve the problem allows your employees to take responsibility and prevent the issue from recurring.

If there is a recurring problem, form a work group. Ask the group to tackle the problem and identify a more permanent solution. Resist the temptation to get involved directly, unless they ask for your input. The goal is to build a team that learns to solve problems without your involvement.

Give everyone the goal of having a well documented, error free operation. Each time a problem surfaces, treat it as an opportunity to strengthen your processes by fixing the hole that led to the occurrence. Check that instructions on how to do things are clearly written and shared with new employees. Ask new employees to make notes anytime procedures are unclear, and update the procedures for the next person. Several rounds of teaching people what’s expected, and recognizing the improvement should lead to a near-error free, well documented operation!

Looking for a good book? Operations Management: the Art & Science of Making Things Happen, by James T.H. Cooke

Want to print this article? We Can’t Just Wing it Anymore

Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc.,, a business consulting firm that specializes in helping small to mid-size, privately held businesses achieve doubled revenues and tripled profits in repetitive growth cycles. Interested in learning how Strategy Leaders can help your business? Call now for a free consultation and diagnostic process: 877-238-3535.
Business owners regularly turn to Ask Andi and Strategy Leaders for advice on how to grow profitable, successful companies. They find what they need time after time. Ask Andi is also published weekly in the Westchester and Fairfield County Business Journals and HV Biz. Written by Strategy Leaders President, Andi Gray, the Ask Andi column is a rich source of advice for owners of established, privately held businesses.
If you are a business owner and you have a question or would like to discuss some aspect of your business, call 1.877.238.3535 or send an email to

Getting on Board as Assistant to the President

As a new assistant to the President, I’m feeling my way. Sometimes I feel like I’m on my own island, not doing a lot with others. If people are having meetings, I may not be included. I also don’t know a lot about the company, who does what – think I should know more.

Thoughts of the Day: Your role can be an intimidating one for others. Carve out your niche. Introduce yourself formally. Build an orientation program. Decide what your contribution is going to be, and then make it happen.

Any new job can be a challenge. The memory of your predecessor lingers. You have yet to make an impression. People are curious about who you are, what they can count on from you.

Fitting in carries some unique challenges since you report directly to everyone’s boss. Most people are deciding how to play that out. Some may not be open with you, figuring anything they say goes back to the boss. Others may look to curry favor, hoping for good words on their behalf with the president of the company.

Treat everyone equally. Of course there will be some employees who are annoying, and some who are friendlier than others. Remember your special position as representative of the boss. Find the balance between being approachable and being a gatekeeper.

Get to know other people in the company by attending meetings. Work from the top down. While you may not be a peer to the CFO, COO, CSO and other chief officers, you are going to have to work with those folks, direct their activities, gather information from them, and get them to pay attention.

Set up an appointment to meet one on one of the company’s senior executives. Find out what they need that you can help to make happen. You want them to see it as useful to support you by opening up a 2-way street.

Learn about the company’s routines. Ask about standard meetings and reports. Figure out how information flows formally and informally. Discuss your role in supporting and enhancing that.

Ask each department to give you an tour. Take careful notes. Use those notes to build an orientation program for other new hires.

Ask for an organization chart. If one exists, keep it with you at all times. Make notes on what you’re learning about each area. Suggest edits if what you see doesn’t match what’s on paper. If there is no organization chart, draft one and review that with your boss at one of your weekly meetings. If you find problems or good things, ask your boss how much to report back.

You also have the usual challenges. What does your boss need you to do? How can you best work together? What results do you hope to produce? Clarify what’s expected.

When you interviewed for the job you probably presented yourself as organized, assertive and willing to take action. What past skills and attributes did you discuss as valuable to this company? Your collective experiences are probably a big part of why you got this job. Focus there as you learn more about your new home and your role in it.

Make sure you and your boss are on the same page. Discuss your role when it comes to giving people access to the boss’ calendar, organizing your boss’ desk, managing personal and confidential information and tasks, special projects.

Set goals. Start short term. What do you want to learn and be able to do the first, second and third months? After a month on the job clarify 6 month and 1 year goals. Stay on the same page with your boss by scheduling monthly and quarterly reviews.

Looking for a good book? I’ve Landed My Dream Job – Now What???: How to Achieve Success in the First 30 Days in a New Job, by Scot Herrick and Jason Alba.

Want to print this article? Getting on board as assistant to the president