“Successful entrepreneurs don’t let themselves get lost in the weeds,” said franchise consultant Pete Gilfillan. “Instead they know to focus on the big picture, always looking ahead and planning accordingly. That allows them to take advantage of opportunities and avoid pitfalls.”
Entrepreneurs are often the visionaries and big-picture people within an organization, the people responsible for having the vision and imagination that led to a company getting off the ground.
While some entrepreneurs are great tacticians, their value within a company is not as the blockers and tacklers. The entrepreneur’s value lies in crafting a vision for a company and guiding it. Tactical aspects are generally best handled by capable managers.
“What we sometimes see successful profitable organizations doing is losing sight of the importance of long-term views,” said CEO Kim Anderson of Longitude Partners at the Financial Service Centers of America conference I attended earlier this month in Las Vegas.
“In that process we also pay a big price in losing the longer-term view because we didn’t see how the market was actually changing, how other providers and companies and new entrants were bringing new attractive products to market that better served what we used to call our market,” he said, referring to the mistake made by many entrepreneurs in letting go of the big picture and becoming too immersed in the details.
“Focusing on one thing means neglecting all others,” wrote Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir in their book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. “We’ve all had the experience of being so engrossed in a book or a TV show that we failed to register a question from a friend sitting next to us.” Individuals who focus too intensely on the details run the risk of developing tunnel vision, neglecting important tasks such as maintaining control of the organization’s long-term vision and objectives, they said.
The following are tips to help entrepreneurs avoid the tunneling trap and stay focused on the larger mission and vision of their enterprise:
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1. Invest in people.
“Leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with ‘where’ but with ‘who,’” wrote Good to Great author Jim Collins. “They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”
An entrepreneur should have sufficient trust in the people who will manage the tactical day-to-day aspects of the organization. If not, the entrepreneur will become overburdened with the details of the business, resulting in lost opportunities or forgoing chances to innovate.
Entrepreneurs should let go of their ego and hire people they perceive to be smarter than they are. As advertising executive David Ogilvy once said, “Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.”
2. Obsess over the competition.
Entrepreneurs should always be strategic. While little harm comes from his or her occasional dabbling in tactical activities, the entrepreneur’s primary objective should be ensuring that the organization’s strategic plan remains relevant. A great way to test the strategic plan is by evaluating it light of the competition's.
Keeping close tabs on the competition and its products and services means the entrepreneur is not lost in the company's day-to-day details. Changes in the company's environment should prompt an appropriate strategic response by the entrepreneur, which should be pushed down the line to the management team to execute.
3. Focus on key metrics.
“Prioritizing what to do is something many entrepreneurs are less qualified to do,” said Alan Gleeson, general manager of Palo Alto Software Ltd. “They often focus on the things they like doing, or the things they are more comfortable with, to the detriment of their fledgling businesses.”
Rather than spending their valuable time on unnecessary tasks, entrepreneurs should develop a set of key metrics to review on a daily basis. These metrics should provide the entrepreneur with enough information about the organization's direction and whether it's on track to achieve its objectives. Metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs), consist of a number of important data points for business owners to evaluate and use to manage their enterprise. The critical KPIs vary from industry to industry but serve as an essential tool providing at-a-glance data to track progress and success.
Entrepreneurs must recognize their role as the strategic and visionary leaders of the organization. While they may love to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, they should be sure to not fall into the tunneling trap. Entrepreneurs should invest in people, survey the competition and focus on the important metrics to stay above the weeds and make the strategic contributions that their teams expect.
Related: Does Your Startup Have a Strategy?