Bottleneck #4: The CEO Bottleneck

Back in March I spoke at Todd Herman’s 90 Day Year Live event in La Jolla, CA on Breaking the 4 Bottlenecks That’ll Keep You From Scaling Your Business. This blog series is drawn from that talk.

Business owners usually call me pretty much when they reach a crunch point in their scaling. That’s the niche I serve. They’ve figured out the really hard stuff (well, from my viewpoint it’s the hard stuff!) like creating a product that people love and getting it to market, and getting rave reviews. To put in 90 Day Year-speak, their Marketing & Sales pillars are firing on all cylinders — and it’s actually that success that is creating breakpoints in other parts of their businesses, typically over the Operations pillar.

Are you facing a similar problem-set? If your small business has successful products, you’ve cracked your market, and things are selling — you’ll need to take a good hard look at your team, and your tech and your operations. This series will help you identify the bottlenecks in your business – and help you square things away so you have a solid foundation on which to scale your business.

Bottleneck #1 — Technology/Software Bottlenecks
Bottleneck #2 — Team Member Bottlenecks
Bottleneck #3 — You’re Missing a Kitchen Manager
Bottleneck #4 — CEO Bottleneck (below!)

This last bottleneck was the most popular of the talk. Literally every business owner in the room had their hands up, as a confession that they themselves were a bottleneck (even the main bottleneck) in their business.

Here’s how CEO bottlenecks tend to form:

  • Projects require too much of your time or your input to move forward, and they don’t move forward without your constant attention.
  • When you write out your Entrepreneur Scorecard, you have lots of entries in the 1st two left-hand columns. Not sure what that is? Quick-shot: 4 columns, titled Admin, Work, Management, Strategy. Log your activities each day — where do you spend the most time??
  • OR maybe you’re involved appropriately (more or less) but there are too many projects going all at once which spreads you too think

How many of you think that the way you’re working now is ok to scale?

There’s good news, because I can map a route out of the madness for you. Here it is:

1. Be more intentional about your projects and what you sign your team up for doing. 

The good news is that there are MANY great systems out there for doing this, including the 90 Day Year. Use a system (even just DIY one that gets you to set monthly or quarterly goals) to make sure your goals and projects are worthy of your time and effort — and your team’s time and effort. Adhering to a system will make sure your planning game is strong.

2. When you move a project onto your team’s active to-do list, give a lot of up-front guidance and be deliberate and intentional about what your touch-points in the project will be. 

I want to be clear that, as much as you may want to lay the blame at your team’s feet on this one, you do this to yourself. You create projects where you must be constantly present to move it forward.

And the fix is: Do a better job up front of handing your team all the details that they need to know to move forward without you. There will be a learning curve here – on both sides, probably – but you must learn to do it. There is only one of you – you must take yourself out of your own way and let work get done.

Now, I feel like I’m glossing over things a bit, because honestly, I could give an entire blog post on HOW to do this (and I will!) and all I’m really saying here is: You need to do this. But I’m also talking to some of smartest, most enterprising people I know so…you’ll find your way.

3. You’ll also need to  probably need to pick fewer projects to be running at once. 

Note: I didn’t say fewer. I’m specifically saying fewer at one time. Move a smaller number of projects to a finish line, and then go back and grab the next bunch and move them to the finish line. That’s way easier on you AND your staff than trying to inch 50 projects forward at once. And it doesn’t really slow the overall pace if you do it this way.

And for my last piece of advice here, I have something that may be very hard to hear. Well, it probably isn’t hard to hear, but it’s really hard for you to do, since I have yet to meet a business owner that hasn’t needed a hard lesson here.

4. You need to approach change management in a controlled and disciplined way.

If that was a little too biz-speak for you, here it is in planer language: You need to stop changing shit up mid-stream.

  • Now most the time you’re doing this because you didn’t put enough thought into it in the first place when you initiated the project. This goes hand-in-glove with the idea that you touch a project 500 times between its start & completion.
  • Invest in the up-front effort to clearly decide what you want the piece of work to be. Design Thinking has some wonderful tools and exercises for going wide and then narrowing and making good decisions.
  • And I’m not saying you can’t iterate. But iteration is a disciplined process where you decide on A, you build A and then you decide what to do next. It is NOT, “Two days before A is due, you decide on adding something-other-than-A and throw your team into a scramble.
  • Remember you’re running a business now. You’re the CEO not Vito Corleone — have some self discipline. Put in the up-front effort and everybody reaps the rewards on the back-end.

I know I unloaded a lot of tough-love here, but these are patterns I’ve seen in my years of working this, and I promise you — tackling and solving these bottlenecks are really the key to unlocking all that potential to scale.