Year after year I come to understand a single principle more clearly. Business owners who out perform their peers are hard workers. Further their employees are hard workers. Further still, they have invested in creating a culture of hard work. But just what is hard work? It is not what you might first think.
As business owners we have the flexibility to choose what it is we want to do each day. There is little accountability. There is much freedom. To the uninitiated it is easy to move from idea to idea, initiative to initiative and to do so whenever the urge strikes. This often leads to a trail of unfinished projects, abandoned goals and forgotten strategies. The hard workers are those that invest in the planning to decide what things they should be doing. And then these same hard workers execute, tie up loose ends and get closure. That's it.
I talk a lot about the planning piece in this blog. And many business owners actually enjoy the process, even if they must learn how to do it effectively. It is disciplined execution that separates the leaders from the rest. I will give you three examples of what effective execution looks like.
First, leaders execute within a predictable schedule and set of processes. These might include daily meetings, weekly meetings, monthly planning sessions, quarterly goal setting and annual strategy reviews. Vern Harnish describes a rhythm in organizational life built around such processes. It is not easy to do. The discipline to do the same things every day, week in, week out is not sexy. Business owners like the fact that they can set their own schedule. But unless they subject themselves to the type of structure their team needs to communicate and receive feedback their goals will be hard to attain.
Second, leaders do the hard things, the unenjoyable things. Sometimes you will hear successful business owners attribute their success to working smart, not hard. When questioned further I have found that most of the time this boils down to doing the unenjoyable thing first. To understand this consider the business owner that knows she must reconcile customer accounts before the team can move forward with several important proposals. Rather than sit down to reconcile the accounts the undesirable task is pushed off all morning while less pressing business is completed. After lunch the owner does a complex proposal herself because staff cannot complete it without the reconciliation. Finally, as everyone else is leaving for the day the dreaded task is begun and by 8 pm it is done. The next day everyone considers what a "hard worker" they have for a boss.
By contrast the business owner who shuts the office door and tackles the task at 8 am is done by mid morning, turns over the proposal for staff to complete and spends the afternoon golfing with a customer. Is this working smart or just doing hard things first?
Third, leaders live lives of public accountability. Accountability is in short supply for business owners. No one does their annual reviews. No one pats them on the back for a job well done. Yet they understand the need for someone to hold their feet to the fire when things start to look bleak. While it is true many leaders will join peer groups and hire business coaches their ability to create accountability for themselves goes far beyond having a handful of people look over their shoulder.
Leaders make their vision and goals known to as many people as possible. Whether it is a business or personal affair, they proclaim their intent for all to hear. After all, the prospect of a public failure is much more motivating than a private one. They make public statements about leading their industry. They talk openly about passing competitors. They don't mince words or talk in vague language. One of my favorite examples of this type of behavior is Sir Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group. Sir Richard's shenanigans are legendary and when he does something to land on the front page he knows how that public spectacle will serve as motivational fuel to succeed in the future.
The next time someone talks about hard work think intently about exactly what they mean. Working hard is not the same as doing hard things. Working hard conjures up images of long hours, bleak prospects and calloused hands. Doing hard things is more about determination and discipline, two things that can get you back on the golf course that much faster.