Design Business Success Starting at the Top

Once upon a time, there were two owner-manager partners of a small professional services firm. Like a lot of small businesses, they started successfully, but struggled with consistency over the years, fending off near-death cash crunches on an all too regular basis. After surviving yet another near death experience, they decided they wanted to re-design their business to align with their sense of purpose and vision. They recognized the potential benefit of engaging operational expertise to help them.

alignmentStep one was to ensure I knew and understood them, both individually and as partners. I also wanted to understand them relative to their business, to understand the cause and effect between them, the past and present state of their business.

I created and asked them to complete what I thought was a short and simple 5-question survey. I expected each partner to complete the survey and return it within a day or two. I was confident the survey was well designed for my intended purpose, but I had not idea how potent it was. After week or so I checked in with both partners on the status of the surveys. Neither had completed it, and they were having difficulty trying. After a couple of weeks, they finished. But before returning them to me, they had taken it upon themselves to “compare notes.” They were surprised at how difficult it was to complete the questions, and perhaps stunned that their answers were so different.

So we discovered that they were two experienced, hard-working, well-intentioned “partners” of a mature business that were motivated by and committed to different purposes, trying to realize different visions, with potentially different ideas “the right things” and “the right ways to do them.”

Well, there and then ended any wonder about the past and present state of the business? And while this may sound too extreme or dramatized to be realistic, it’s not. To the contrary, it is much more the norm for owner-managers of small businesses than we would expect.

One of my foundational elements of success is a Unified, Aligned, and Focused (UAF) organization. While there are many words and phrases to convey this concept, I use and define these three words purposefully and specifically because I find them to be comprehensive and relevant.

Unified – there is confirmed common understanding and commitment to the Priorities. Those include the Mission or Purpose, the Vision (where the business is going), Values (the principles that will guide how the business conducts itself), and Strategy (the scope of the business, what it will achieve to be successful, and the means to success.)

Aligned – the organization’s resources, particularly its people, are designed, developed, and arranged to promote efficient and effective performance (achievement of desired results with minimum expense or undesired results.)

Focused – there is myopic focus on the priorities and little to no distraction to those factors and variables that are unproductive or irrelevant.

How do we get our organizations UAF’d? It’s best to start at the top. Ownership has to ask, and answer, what can be tough questions. And differences discovered between owners have to be addressed and resolved. And then there has to be confirmed common understanding and commitment on each resolution. This can be very disruptive when significant differences that cannot be reconciled or compromised are discovered. But if they exist, it is better to discover and deal with them openly and respectfully than try to survive with the dysfunction those differences can cause.

And if UAF-ing your organization is the right thing to do, what is the right way to do it? The following is the survey that includes questions that guide and fuel that process.

Owner Survey

  1. What do you want to achieve with your business?
    • Professional-Career
      • Achievement
      • Position
      • Status
      • Relationships-Associations
      • Other
    • Personal
      • Transfer to heirs
      • Creative-Intellectual fulfillment
      • Philosophical – Moral – Philanthropic
      • Lifestyle – Work/Life Balance
      • Continue legacy (family business)
      • Other
    • Financial
      • Wealth generation – how much by when
      • Income – how much over time
      • Exit strategy
        • Exit rationale
        • Exit payoff
        • Lump sum
        • Earn out
        • Date of exit
        • Other
  2. What is your personal mission, your purpose?
  3. What’s the mission or purpose for your business? What’s the greater good being served?
  4. What does YOUR mission or purpose reconcile with your business’ mission or purpose?
  5. What is your “vision” of your business? Describe your business as you see it in its “ideal” future state.
  6. What will it be known and stand for?
  7. What will it be doing?
  8. Who will be doing it?
  9. Where will they be doing it?
  10. Who will they be doing it for?
  11. What do you see as the greatest challenges to achieving that future vision?
  12. What do you do that you don’t enjoy?
  13. What do you do that you aren’t good enough at or that you would like someone better qualified to do?
  14. What aren’t you doing that you would enjoy?
  15. What aren’t you doing that would be more or most valuable to your business (you, your employees, your customers, other stakeholders)?
  16. How do you define “success?”
  17. What’s the single most important success criterion for your business?
  18. What, if anything, is obstructing your success now?
  19. What would it take, what resources or other help, would enable you to realize your potential and achieve your success?

The original questionnaire was only 5 questions. Questions have been added and revised as time has passed, to make it more effective. It is not “the only” way and it doesn’t include “the only” questions that may drive this process, but it has proven effective in getting the process going in a rigorous, comprehensive, relevant way. I encourage you to review, adopt, and adapt it to make it work for you. But if nothing else, let this story, and this survey, be a catalyst for you to get your organization Unified, Aligned, and Focused.

As always, if you have questions, feedback, or would like to explore getting help with this process, please contact me. I am eager to help you and your team improve performance to improve results.

Design Your Success Starting at the Top



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