Business owners are a very interesting breed. In the early days, when they are most entrepreneurial, most are willing to do “whatever it takes” in order to get the business off the ground and well established. The average executive at this point in the life cycle of a small business wears every hat and can predictably be found doing dirty jobs because there’s no one else there to do them. As the business experiences a little success, hirings are made and there are others to whom some tasks can be delegated. At this point, the owner may still take on tough assignments like outside sales, negotiating contracts with vendors and customers, and handling sticky customer service situations. If the business grows beyond the first 5-10 employees, some specialization of labor begins to occur and the owner should be smartly stepping away from business disciplines that don’t match what I’ve heard referred to as “motivated ability.”
However, it is very common that a business will hit a plateau at some point in it’s first several years. When this occurs–whether due to changes in the competitive environment, or simply apathy on the part of the original 5-10 employees, it is time to do something that hasn’t been done in a while. One must roll up his sleeves and get the job done. What job? Spending time outside the office, talking to customers, suppliers, even competitors in an effort to determine what is working and what is not. Why don’t most executives do this? It can be attributed to an acute case of deskitis.
In case you are not familiar with the term, deskitis is an affliction in which the infected feels attached to his desk at work and that prolonged contact with the desk will resolve all problems known to man. You chuckle only because you’ve encountered people who suffer from the malady described and it seems to you to be as trivial as the common cold. Unfortunately, this is a very severe disease and must be treated with the utmost care and concern.
Who are the prime sufferers from this affliction?
- Billable hour professionals who think that billable work is more important than community involvement, networking, and relationship maintenance.
- Owners of a trade business (one that relies on a specific skill that is often learned through apprenticeship)
- Any executive in a small business whose base compensation is over six figures per year
What can be done to counteract onset of the condition known as deskitis?
- Leave the office, damn it!
- Visit someone who is important to the success of your business–
- a referral source
- a client
- a fellow board member of a non-profit
- your attorney, CPA, banker (as long as they are not going to charge you for the appointment)
- your spouse
- an association executive in your industry
- someone who is a good networker
- the local chamber of commerce executive
- your friendliest competitor
- a supplier
- Ask the other person what they think about the direction of your niche market.
- Take notes!
- Ask many follow-up questions; you do not know it all!
- Buy their lunch, coffee, etc; thank them; ask what you can do for them in return.
- Go to your vehicle and review your notes.
- Identify what new questions come to mind, what nuggets you’ve found, and actions you think you should take.
- Review your lists the very next day with your leadership team.
- Reinvent your business continually!
Hope that these suggestions are helpful to you. As a business development mentor, organizational development consultant, and management succession resource, I observe deskitis more often than I should. Don’t become a statistic–become vigilant instead!