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Opinion: How to balance tactical, strategic business roles

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The state of our economy is causing concern for many business owners.

A recent Goldman Sachs survey found 86% of business owners are being negatively impacted by economic trends. Of the challenges cited in the study, half of the respondents mentioned workforce issues as the greatest concern.

These labor shortages have forced many business owners to increase time working in their business to keep things running. Unfortunately, as owners increase time working in their businesses, they often neglect working on their businesses, which leads to missed opportunities. While it is not always possible to break away from daily operations for planning, a few simple steps can help business owners refocus energy and strike a balance between working in and on the business.

In the E-Myth book series, Michael Gerber highlights the contrast between strategic and tactical roles of business owners.

Tactical functions are those regular tasks necessary to keep the business operational, such as waiting on customers and fulfilling orders. These are the jobs that require you to work in the business. Strategic functions force owners to focus energy guiding the company toward a goal or vision.

Both functions are important, and priority between the two will naturally shift throughout different seasons. However, as focus shifts too far toward the tactical, owners can start to lose sight of the ultimate direction for their business. When owners lose sight of the strategic, they miss opportunities for growth and improvement.

Recently, I have spoken with several business owners who have been spending so much time directly filling client needs, they have missed opportunities for new customer pipelines or neglected to plan out labor needs for upcoming projects. Even for a one-person operation, focusing only on the tactical prevents the owner from identifying and implementing ideas to increase revenue.

Even with employee shortages causing owners to spend more time working directly in the business, there are a few things you can do to find a balance. The first step is to remember why you exist as a business. With a clear sense of purpose, you can intentionally build both tactical and strategic time into your schedule.

Best-selling author and popular TED Talk presenter Simon Sinek emphasizes the importance of focusing on why you’re in business. Understanding and articulating why your company exists provides clarity and a source of inspiration, especially in times of uncertainty. Your company’s “why” is often presented through vision and mission statements. These statements shift over time as a business grows, but your initial reason for existence remains at the core of your company.

Your “why” should be the foundation for every decision made in the company. If an opportunity for growth contradicts your mission or vision, it cannot be taken without causing conflict in some capacity. Your “why” also should shape decisions on how time is spent – especially the time of owners and top management. When tasks in your schedule hinder the achievement of your mission, it is time to refocus and reclaim your calendar.

An exercise based on the previously mentioned E-Myth methodology can assist you in building a schedule with intentionality to support what your business needs. This is something that can be done as a solopreneur or as a full management team. Start by documenting every task you do for your company throughout a week. As you create the list, categorize each task as either tactical or strategic.

Once you have a good list of what you are doing throughout the week, you then determine if this is the right mix to realize your vision. You might find several areas where your time and efforts are misplaced on unnecessary jobs or tasks you can delegate to someone else. From there, decide what an optimal mix between the functions looks like for this moment in your company. Next, schedule out specific times to work both in and on your business throughout the week. Your goal is to build in time for the important, and possibly neglected, functions in your business.

No business is immune to the affliction of uncertainty. Retaining a focus on the strategic, even when constraints force time to the tactical, allows for continued clarity and resiliency in your business.

Lance Coffman is a regional business consultant for the Missouri Small Business Development Center at Missouri State University. He can be reached at lancecoffman@missouristate.edu.

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