4 Steps to Earning an MBA-in-a-Day in Your Own Company
A Note From The Editor
Think your company has what it takes to make our Top Company Cultures list? Apply now.Apply now »
Ensuring a baseline knowledge of business basics should be a top priority of every leader. Often, the business knowledge that has proven successful over and over again is attributed to the acquisition of an MBA. This credential is sometimes placed on a pedestal, and can be just out of reach for entrepreneurs who are strapped for time and resources as they busily build up their companies.
To become an “MBA in a Day,” entrepreneurs and business leaders can incorporate the same, basic strategies that universities and business schools offer, minus years of additional education or pricey tuition. Busy, already-savvy entrepreneurs can apply the consolidated and on-the-job knowledge to every stage of their business growth.
Related: Is an MBA Still Necessary?
Here are the key elements you can implement to become an MBA in a day.
1. Strategy. Michael Porter, the godfather of business strategy, advises that you must build on your deep knowledge of your market to create your company’s unique position.
The first notable is that you’re tasked with building a strategy based on knowledge you already have. This means that you should be educated on the size of your market, who are the players and what the current landscape is like. With a firm grasp of this knowledge, you can carve out your unique position.
There are only three positions for a business in any given market:
- Low-cost provider.
- Unique experience or exclusive product offering.
- Market dominance.
It is a conscious choice which of the three positions you are taking. Once you’ve made a choice, there are strategic trade-offs to be made. Trade-offs are the equivalent of a strategic fork in the road. It’s an either/or decision that likely will be hard to undo. But, if made correctly, you will have put a stake in the ground, claiming the territory for your business.
As an example, at Voices.com, we decided early on that we wouldn’t build any recording studios and, as such, we wouldn’t have any voice talent come into our offices to record. We leveraged the fact that the cost of recording studio technology has dropped to the point where tens of thousands of professionals have built home recording studios.
We realized we could break through time zones, geographic boundaries and language barriers by directing business to run through our online platform instead of requiring voice talent to come into our office.
You likely have made some strategic trade-offs and possibly categorized them as activities on your not-to-do list. But what about all the activities you carry out on a daily basis? You can now finish off your strategy by aligning those business activities so they interact and reinforce one another.
2. Execution. Many business have failed because of weak strategy but more businesses have entrepreneurs struggling with execution of the strategy to move from the theoretical into the land of the practical.
Execution starts with determining how you’ll measure success, then focusing exclusively on those wildly important goals.
Have you noticed that the more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish? We often forget this because we’re ambitious. To overcome this challenge, implement the discipline of focus by selecting a few goals. Try three. Doing this, you can easily distinguish between top priorities and the whirlwind.
Your main business activities are to market, sell and service. Determine the appropriate KPI (shorthand for "key performance indicator'') for each. Your marketing KPI could be new leads, while your sales KPI is (in Salesforce-speak) to close won opportunities. Lastly, your service metric is a measure of customer satisfaction.
Set an annual goal for each of these areas. Break that down into quarterly or even monthly targets to aim for.
Next, create a compelling scorecard that’s visible to the entire company. In my experience, from the playground as a kid to high school sports and now in business, people play and work differently when we’re keeping score. This occurs because high performance comes from people who are emotionally engaged in the process.
Capture the game of business on a scoreboard designed solely for the players on your team. Try a clearboard or a digital dashboard. Both present information in an engaging way.
To ensure that everyone is playing their part, you’ll need a rhythm of accountability in the form of periodic and predictable check-ins. Our most popular check-in is the daily huddle, a 10-minute company-wide meeting held just before lunch.
In the huddle, discuss good news, systems issues, upcoming projects and have leaders report their groups’ numbers, which are transcribed onto a giant clearboard. While hard to pin-point, there is something to be said for putting Sharpie to whiteboard, or should I say, clearboard. That demonstrates a commitment to accountability that keeps your team focused on executing company strategy.
Related: 5 Reasons Why Strategy Fails
3. Structure. Your organizational structure should be defined by the business activities you carry out, representative of the departments comprising your company, such as marketing, sales, production, finance, technology and customer service.
You might have even more specific groups for research and development, or even for quality assurance. While no two companies are identical, creating some kind of diagram depicting the organizational hierarchy and relationships between departments is your first assignment. That will provide tremendous clarity for new and current staff.
Selecting the proper systems to support each organizational unit strengthens your overall structure. Picking a business operating system such as Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, the Zoho office suite or even Google Apps, then extending the functionality with third-party add-ons, will move you closer to the Holy Grail of business operations, a single platform that runs your entire company.
It’s prudent to establish some standard operating procedures. While some work is free-flowing and creative, other work is situational and often repetitive. Documenting your best practices in either a process map or as step-by-step instructions will greatly improve the quality of results delivered by your team.
4. Culture. At the heart of every company is its people. It’s your people that determine your culture.
In my visits to offices in New York, Silicon Valley and Toronto, I’ve observed that every single company has a culture. Often difficult to define, your corporate culture is a set of behavioral norms that guide discretionary behavior. While your employee handbook defines the policies, your culture picks up where the handbook leaves off.
These unwritten rules reveal themselves as expected behaviors and inform everyone in your company how to respond to unprecedented requests, whether to risk sharing an idea, to surface or to hide problems. The fact is that employees make hundreds of decisions every day. Culture is your guide.
Your task here is to develop and maintain a performance-oriented culture. Start with a clearly defined mission statement, the “what” you are trying to accomplish. Follow with the vision statement, which is the purpose or reason “why” you exist, and then a set of values.
Author Patrick Lencioni separates values into two categories, permission-to-play values and aspirational values. For example, a permission-to-play value might be integrity. You’ve either do it or you don’t. Whereas, being a good steward of resources and exercising frugality, may be something that your organization strives for and therefore would be considered an aspirational value.
The Exam. It’s time to survey your employees, the most difficult task of all.
Seriously, run an anonymous survey asking them to answer questions regarding your strategy, how you execute the strategy and what structure you have in place to ensure success. In this same survey, you could ask, on a scale of one to 10, if an employee is clear on their role and responsibilities.
Another question could be “Does the organization give support and guidance rather than blaming?” How about “Does the organization recognize and reward people when things go well?”
To give your team confidence the survey results are truly anonymous, consider engaging an outside firm to run this survey for you. In effect, your organization has given you the exam and your grade is an outcome of how well you’ve implemented the elements of MBA in a Day.
At first blush, it may be hard to read but read it anyway. The results will point you in the direction you need to take the company, with some specifics for improving your organization.
Related: Time for a Company Culture Audit