Over the last few months I’ve been deconstructing how to break through growth ceilings in your business.

In my post on disrupting circular arguments I talked about adopting lenses that get you looking where you don’t expect.

This post dives into one of the lenses we use at ACThoughtful to help you find what you’re missing. Go ahead — Print out your self-assessment worksheet and follow along for your own business.

Your operating system: One component of your growth system

When it comes to looking at your business for opportunities, there are two ways you can slice the pie. When you look from both directions you can catch more opportunities you wouldn’t see otherwise.

Think of it like going into a store and buying a phone. You can’t do much with it until you load your data and apps. But you can’t load your data and apps without the phone. This article talks about the phone itself or your operating system. The discipline you use to run your business. It’s easy to write about because it can be made fairly generic to apply to all businesses just like there are only a handful of operating systems you can choose for your phone (Droid and Apple dominate the market)

Two examples of operating systems include The 12-Week Year and it’s associated Field Guide by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington & Enterprise Operating System (EOS) outlined in the book Traction by Gino Wickman. There are pros and cons to both of these systems (which I will keep for another blog post), but they are two of the standards in this space.

If you look broadly at the discipline you use to run your company — you’ll identify root causes where changes can unlock exponential results. This is your Operating System. It’s easy to evaluate because it’s relatively consistent between businesses, but it’s hard to execute because it requires discipline. And we all know how hard that can be.

When you look deep into areas of expertise, you’ll see the specific actions you can take to harness your resources and grow. This is your growth applications and where your secret sauce is; but without an operating system to sit on top of, it doesn’t do you much good.

In case that is clear as mud – here is a picture 🙂

In this post, we’ll focus on the broad review of the discipline you apply to grow your business across all the functions your business performs.

How disciplined are you?

If your company is a ship sailing to a destination, then there are three areas of discipline and a crew you need to make sure you get there — wherever “there” is.

First: Know who has to be with you on the journey.

Do you know who’s important to your success? If you’re not sure — jot down a list of the people you need to get from point a to point b, ask yourself:

  • Where is the funding coming from?
  • Who needs to support me so I can make the magic happen?
  • Who has to take care of the home front while I’m out slaying dragons?
  • Who has to roll-up their sleeves and do the work?
  • What partners do I have that need to see the bigger picture?
  • Are my customers as clear as I am on how I will solve their problems?
  • Who can help me get the message out?

This list might end up containing friends, family, business partners – but it’s a group of stakeholders. People who hold a stake in what you’re doing. They need to know the answers to some of these questions you’re about to ask.

These people are your team. They are the crew, the traders, the passengers, the dockworkers, and the investors. You need them. And they need something from you too: Clarity.

Second: Know where you’re going and cover your bases.

Your strategy sets the direction of where you’re going. If everyone knows where they are going, then it’s easier to circumnavigate barriers that come up.

It’s not enough to know you’re going to Fiji — because what if a tsunami takes out the port and you can’t dock there?

  • Are you clear on your why so everyone can act intelligently in the face of changes?
  • Is who you serve clear enough that people self-identify and for you to make sound decisions?
  • Do you know the big picture approach, investments, and earnings that need to happen?
  • Have you quantified your worst-case and can you withstand it?

Third: Know how you’re going to get there.

If a strategy is your direction, then planning is your path. Your ship needs a course charted – and you’re the Captain.

Some of these questions build on answers you already outlined in your strategy, but go to the next level of detail and prepare you to respond to things that crop up along the way you didn’t anticipate.

Following our theme (Fiji is starting to sound nice) — You need to know when and where your big stops and course changes need to happen. These are the times you need to change bodies of water, go around major obstacles or refuel.

You also need to be prepped for potential storms and unexpected repairs while you’re on the water, so you stock the ship with supplies and train your crew.

You need to make sure that you have enough help so you can get some sleep (a familiar theme for an entrepreneur). You also need to know when not to take that extra detour because you’ll run out of supplies before you get to your destination.

Here’s how this applies to your business:

  • Are you clear on the next 3-5 things you must do to grow your business?
  • Do you have plans on how to prevent or respond to the risks you’re expecting to encounter?
  • Do your specific numbers add up? I.e. time, people, money, etc. needed to make sales goals?
  • Are your priorities clear and is it equally as clear what to say no to?
  • Do you have an unambiguous and meaningful result people can understand?

Fourth: Know what you need to make happen. Make it happen. And adapt when you don’t.

When people ask me what the secret sauce is to success as an entrepreneur, I can boil it down to one word — adaptability. Adapting doesn’t mean you just run around randomly based on what feels good. It means you unabashedly set goals, miss them, make them, and learn from them. You know exactly where you need to be spending your time and resources because you are clear on what’s working, what’s not and where you need to focus.

Sometimes you need to re-plot the course. Sometimes you even need to re-set the destination. All of that is fine as long as you know you need to do it.

If you’re on your trip to Fiji, this means making sure that all 100 passengers you brought along survived the journey and you met the need that caused them to sign up. It means getting up early to make sure you are tracking that storm that is heading your way. It means leading through the crises that you planned for – and the ones you didn’t.

Success requires that you plot where you will end up each day, understand how far you made it, and adjust what you need to do tomorrow based on your progress and new obstacles and opportunities.

You may not control the storm – but you do control your ship.

There is no substitute for doing, measuring, and re-planning. As a mentor of mine once said: Love the planning, not the plan.

Ask yourself:

  • Are we all measuring the same things and do they matter?
  • Are we all keenly aware of where we are against those goals?
  • When things don’t go according to plan do we work together to adapt?
  • Do we achieve the big picture results we set out to achieve?

What can you do next?

Charter a ship to Fiji. (Just kidding)

When I facilitate workshops on this topic and poll the audience, here’s what I’ve found:

  • The biggest insights people come to is in the broad review of their discipline
  • It’s the easiest area for business owners to self-assess with the right framework
  • You can quickly narrow in on the focus

But what do you do with that knowledge? It all depends on what you find in your self-check. Now that you know the problem you need to solve — you have the first answer you need to go solve

Armed with that knowledge you can solve for what you know, google it, phone a friend, or hire an expert to help you navigate it.

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Jenny Erickson is a former Strategic Program Manager and Organizational Development Consultant in corporate america who is now fulfilling her destiny of helping America’s smallest businesses thrive by giving them access to simplified versions of the best resources she developed in her 2 decades that make sense for the unique challenges of micro-business owners. Find out what she can do for your micro-business!

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