Dierschow: Focus on the essential, avoid getting lost in details

Most businesses are quite complicated. With customers, employees, partners, regulations, financials, industry dynamics … it’s a whole lot to wrap your mind around.

Don’t get me wrong — that’s all necessary.

The problem is that your team can get lost in all that detail. The larger the organization, the smaller each person’s contribution feels. So motivation slowly ebbs and nobody even notices.

To keep your folks motivated, you need to sustain what feels vibrant and necessary. What’s essential.

In the big picture, a business should be pretty simple:

  • We create stuff that people want and need.
  • We deliver it to them in a way that is reliable, high quality, and cost effective.
  • We engage the right customers who are willing to pay us for what we do.
  • We employ people who are quite good at what they do.
  • We do all of this in a way that is sustainable over the long term.

The next level of detail will differ greatly from one organization to another, but the basic picture is pretty simple.

Why is that important? Because most of your people aren’t NEARLY as deep into the specifics as you are. Sure, they have one narrow piece that is their job, but the rest of it fades into the background.

But it’s critical to shift people from just doing their job into actually caring about the results that matter.

Let’s imagine that we’re talking with the marketing department. Their role is simply to find and engage those who we consider to be the best customers. They’ll have money to spend and be willing to give us some. But more importantly, we need to create a compelling exchange of value in the customer’s mind.

Since the products and services aren’t typically created by the marketing department, we’ll need to rely on other groups to do that. It doesn’t help when we complain about others not “doing their job” — that doesn’t yield great business results.

No, marketing needs to partner with those developers and service providers to create something that is truly special and compelling. Together, as a team.

In just a few sentences, we have painted the picture of marketing’s reason for being a critical part of this company and some key relationships it needs to nurture in order to succeed. If I were an employee, I might start being a bit more motivated to do good work. Because it’s an essential part of this company. My work matters.

To you as the business owner, this is all quite elementary, because you hold the big picture in your mind every day. You may have even designed it in the first place. But to many employees, a lot of this swims around in a vague sea. They may not worry about it too much because it’s “not my job.”

But the health and the success of the business is everybody’s job. Not just managers at the top of the org chart.

This is an especially important concept when it comes to financial matters. That’s something we don’t like to talk about much in our culture, and we hide financial information for various reasons.

But the basic financial picture actually isn’t that complicated. We have revenue flowing in, expenses flowing out, and what remains is what allows us to continue staying in business. Expenses go to our paychecks, employee benefits, outside suppliers, taxes, and stuff we need to do what we do. If you think about it, there are direct analogies to how someone manages their household.

So why is it that most employees don’t understand these foundational concepts? Because we quickly get lost in the details. And it’s “not my job.”

But this explains why it’s great to have more of the right customers. Why we worry about more than just employees’ wages. why it’s important to understand whether buying that nifty new computer will be a good choice. And what we actually do with the much-maligned “overhead.”

As you can tell, I resist using “not my job” as an excuse for not understanding why we do what we do. Everybody in the organization needs to have some of the fundamental pictures in their mind, if only that they can appreciate the value they provide and the hard work of others.

Could your employees draw some of these basic pictures with a few boxes and arrows?

Carl Dierschow is a Small Fish Business Coach based in Fort Collins, specializing in companies committed to improving society and the world. His website is www.smallfish.us