Thursday, 4 February 2010

Trying Harder Is Over-rated - A Mini Case Study


I have known Davina for ten years. She has a lovely, solid IT business employing 45 people. Turnover is around £4.5m and grows at about 10% each year.

But… she is a workaholic and beats herself up about not being the ‘entrepreneur of the year’. She scours the bookshelves looking for the new initiatives but they always disappoint so she just works harder: push, push, push…, hassle, hassle, hassle.

And still they grow at 10% pa. Each year she gets to work earlier and leaves later. Staff turnover increases each year as they feel her demands of exponential growth are unattainable. She is going to have a heart attack.

In a backwater pub I could see her blood pressure was at boiling point so I subtly slipped in my one-liner “Trying harder is over-rated”. She pushed over the table (drinks and all) and marched out of the pub, tears streaming down her face…

10 minutes later I found her in an alleyway in tears. She spouted forth at her sheer and utter frustration and how she knew it was getting her nowhere (bad sleep, unhappy relationship, remote children and eczema for starters).

Once she calmed down we returned to the pub, apologised to the landlord and put together a simple plan. By agreeing what ‘success’ looked like we could piece together how to get there.

By splitting out her goals for her business, career and private life we could identify the various trade-offs. She could come to terms with what was realistic and achievable. Over the next two months we worked together to create and start rolling out the plan.

Davina is not a touchy-feely type of person. Her idea of HR or staff development was to take people out the back and give them a rollicking. She hates NLP (and anyone who mentions it) with a pathological vengeance.

I do not want to play the amateur psychologist but something had to give.

Now Davina works 15 days a month and spends the rest of her time practicing her golf swing (her choice), living emotionally as well as physically with her partner and kids.

I have now been through this ‘process’ with more than several clients. It is great to have a toolkit that we know works to get entrepreneurs feeling better about themselves and their businesses. After all we are only on this planet once. But that is not my point (although feel free to contact me to find out exactly what I am talking about here).

It staggers me how many business people run themselves ragged just to go faster. Running up the down escalator. If it (whatever ‘it’ is) isn’t working then it is pointless just doing more of the same. It is the first sign of madness to keep doing the same thing and to expect a different result! So do something different.

As soon as Davina broke the work-obsessive cycle she discovered that there was “more to life than work”. More importantly, with respite from her incessant banging her head against a brick wall, she was able to start being far more incisive, decisive and effective at work.

The result: year-ending April 2009 saw a 19% increase in turnover with an even greater increase in profitability. But that’s another story for another day!
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