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Are You Working In or On

It's getting to be late in the afternoon after a full day of meeting to talk about changes, strategy, business, and what's next. Everyone is getting antsy as the time for returning to the airport ticks closer and closer.

Suddenly, there's an epiphany. You know, that ah-ha moment that defines the whole day.

But, I'll come back to that.

In or On?

If you are a leader in a multi-person company, you have a role that defines who you are and what you do. As that leader in your multi-person company, it can be challenging to determine when you should be "working-on" or "working-in" your business.

When you are working-in your business, you're focused on the get stuff done side of the equation. Activities like paying bills and processing paperwork. Making sales and calling clients. You are changing hats as fast as needed. You are it!

When you are working-on your business, you are focused on growing your company to the point that your business can create revenue even if you aren't there.


Working-in your business happens a lot. Most of us are creatures of habit who were brought up in the school of 8 to 5, wired to work a shift and make stuff happen. After all, that's how we're taught to be measured. By our stuff. Right? The number of widgets we turn out. The number of calls we make.

We love to do the stuff we love to do. It's comfortable. We know it. That's why it has to us doing the stuff. We have to be the ones managing the project. We love projects! We have to be the ones doing the product demo. We love demos! It's our baby, and by golly, we're going to keep it in diapers as long as we can.

We also work-in the business because we're the best. We don't love doing it all the time. But, we're the best, and we can't trust anyone else to be as good as we are. If we're not doing it, whatever it is, it will never be perfect. No one can do it the way we do. Period. We can't just let it go at less than 100%.

Now, there are times when the working-in will outweigh the working-on. Times like covering for a person out on leave. Or, training a new team member on the nuances of their job and leading by example.

However, working-in should never become the norm for your behavior. After all, if you are working-in, who is going to do the working-on part of growing your business.

"If your business depends on you, you don't own a business—you have a job. And it's the worst job in the world because you're working for a lunatic!" ― Michael E. Gerber, Author E-Myth

If you are working-on your business, you have to treat time like money. I know it is an old saying - - time is money. But, in this case, time is money. Every minute you spend focused on the act of doing stuff, you have to forfeit, or spend, the minute you could have had doing something that would grow your business. There is no recovery. The minute is gone.

Making the Shift

Moving from working-in to working-on won't happen instantly. You have to be diligent and stick to a plan. Here are some suggestions that may help.

Step back from your business and look at it through a new lens. Engage a mentor or coach to work with you to help you decide what activities you can change or not do at all.

Look for low hanging fruit and delegate the repeatable stuff. If the things you are doing are repeatable, teach someone else how to do it and delegate to them. If you are a one-person shop, delegate to a family member, or outsource the activity.

Get used to 70%. Strive for the absolute best you can do. Don't give up on quality. But don't wait for perfection. Work on it. Make the decision and then move on.

"If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you're probably slow." - Jeff Bezos

Focus your thoughts and have a plan. It's easy to get caught up into working-in when you start your day without a plan. Learn how to build a prioritized set of activities and develop personal habits that support being productive. Find a mentor and study what they do to be productive.

Finally, make a committed decision and grant your team authority to hold you to the transformation. Tell your team what you are doing and why you are doing it. Trust them and empower them to do more than they were before. They'll be excited and will likely get behind you. Underperformers will be vanquished, and new leaders will emerge.

The Epiphany

You see, we had been talking most of the day about why this company would not be able to move forward — the "why" it could not change its revenue stance and grow. We had exhausted strategy. Explored markets and modified/created sales funnels. Scratched our heads and took wild guesses.

The epiphany?

It turned out the "why" was one person. The bottleneck for growth fell to "work-in," and the "work-on" had been sidelined.

In the very moment when we hit the epiphany, you could visibly see shoulders rise. There were smiles all around. The room brightened, and suddenly there was hope - and from hope a plan of action.

Stuff that no longer needed to be done. Stuff that could be delegated and done by others who could be trained to do it well. And, with new freedoms, other stuff could be done that could reshape the business, revenue, and happiness. The "work-on" could start!

The Challenge

Step back and look at your business. Look at your job. What can you change today to start the process of moving from "work-in" to "work-on."

Drop me a note. I'd love to hear about your journey!

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