Entrepreneur: Work on your business not in your business

I have been a member of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation (EO) for five years.  There is a regular theme at any large international gathering (see you in EO Cape Town?) about the role of an entrepreneur.  The saying is that “you should work on your business not in your business”.

The successful scale entrepreneurs are those that work on their business rather than in their business.  They are like a mechanic working on the engine rather than the carburettor within the engine.  If they become part of the engine the energy gets dedicated to just keeping the motor running rather than improving the motor.

My early professional work experience was in Accenture. I spent 9 years in total, with 4 in the role of project manager. Accenture prides itself on “hands-on” management – where managers take full responsibility and are involved in the details of the work.  A “good” Accenture manager is details oriented, knowledgeable, dedicated and highly responsive to his team, peers, bosses and clients (ie lives on his blackberry/laptop).  This is my model of how to run an organisation.  I have spent the last 6 years as an entrepreneur (applying my Accenture manager model) and have now decided that I need to change my belief system around what role I should be playing as manager/leader of my business.  I feel a need to respond to employee emails. I feel a need to be on top of sales process. I feel that I owe people my time and energy.  I want to break this cycle. I didn’t stop being an employee in someone elses organisation to become an employee in my own organisation (on less salary and nobody to thank me in the bi-annual performance interview).

Cameron Herold of Back Pocket COO was asked by Fortune magazine “How do you motivate your employees?”  He said, “I don’t. I refuse to try to motivate people. What I want to do is try to take people who are already motivated and inspire them to do the stuff they know they have to do, and give them the systems and tools to create change. Then be there to support them.”

I like his philosophy. My scarce resource is energy (here is Sid Savara on self motivation) – I can use it up on others or use it up on myself and surround myself with those that bring their own. That is my plan.

Postscript…  Jacques Small (in comments) wrote a subsequent blog post inspired by the thought “work on your business not in your business

Author: Conor Neill

Hi, I’m Conor Neill, an Entrepreneur and Teacher at IESE Business School. I speak about Moving People to Action.

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