The way many enterprises, especially family businesses, are run, reminds EMCS Director Silvan Mifsud of “a hamster I once had, who spent most of his life running on its wheel, without ever going anywhere”.
The comparison was brought to mind during an event organised by the National Productivity Board, which identified business leaders’ tendency to focus on short term objectives over long term ambitions as the main barrier to productivity increases.
“Dealing with issues and challenges when they become a crisis means that the family business is wasting most of its energy running on the spot,” wrote Mr Mifsud in a new blog post.
With many of the things that make running a business easier relegated to the backburner, the issue then becomes that the backburner becomes overloaded.
How many businesses dedicate an appropriate amount of time to thinking about their strategic plan, with detailed scenario planning and proper budgeting?
How many carve out the time to analyse internal structures and processes, to document them for the future while finding ways to improve them?
Similarly, things like undertaking deep training of managers and staff to influence changes in mindset and attitude, that can have a big impact on the company’s value creation, are often pushed aside as things that are ‘nice to have’ but far less urgent than finding a replacement for a staff member who called in sick.
Adequate succession planning will always be less urgent than dealing with a delivery van involved in an incident.
But is it less important?
Mr Mifsud argues that a prioritisation exercise using a time management matrix would be a useful addition to any business leader’s skillset, allowing them to distinguish between those tasks that are Urgent and Important, Not Urgent but Important, Urgent but Not Important, and Not Urgent and Not Important.
“Many family business owners and leaders spend all their dealing only with Urgent and Important things. The end result of spending most of their time on [these] activities is constant stress and ultimate burnout.”
He continues: “Many fail to realise that [some] activities may even be more important, but not necessarily more urgent.”
One benefit of focusing on activities which are Not Urgent but Important, Mr Mifsud says, is that it will help to avoid crises that give rise to Urgent and Important tasks.
He stresses that it is not only those leading small or micro businesses of a few employees who fall into this trap.
“I constantly see family business leaders and owners who employ 40, 50, 60 employees or more….involved in their comfort zone – micromanaging things. They seem to be like firemen, always running around dealing with the latest crisis (fire) they need to sort (put out).”
If these leaders take a step back and re-assess their priorities, they will have less fires to put out, and will be able to dedicate more time to pushing the business forward.
This does not entail slowing down your productivity, but it concerns setting boundaries between personal life and work.
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Effective prioritisation can help establish the areas of focus that really matter.