A YouGov study has found that small business owners identified most strongly with the analogy of a juggling act when asked about running their businesses.
The analogy was strongest in the North West, in Yorkshire and Humberside, where 63 percent in each region compared themselves to jugglers.
Bookkeeping was rated the biggest chore by 27% of the 1000 respondents, while 42 percent of respondents believed central government added to the hassle for small businesses.
As an analogy it makes sense where dropping one ball can cause a knock on effect such as the consequences of not having contingency plans or missed payments or failure to file Tax Returns.
Among the issues identified in an article in The Economist on the same subject is knowing the right time to take certain steps in a business. In that sense, it argues, the juggling act is a permanent exercise in balancing a variety of trade-offs. Such as holding high stock levels can help avoid the consequences of being let down by suppliers but it ties up working capital.
Knowing the right time to expand is a major issue: “by expanding too fast, companies risk losing control of product quality and messing up their management structure”.
Another is the tension between centralisation and delegation. A hierarchical structure can lead to a rigid and inflexible business structure and a loss of agility, while delegation of roles can only work if staff are well trained and the business has a clearly-defined set of goals with which everyone is familiar and on which they act in harmony.
Another juggling act is created by the tension between sticking with the core products or services and how much you can diversify away from the core.
“Choosing the right time to expand and diversify, and the right organisational structure to do it, is a matter of judgment. That judgment, and the flexibility to change plans, is what makes a good manager.” is the Economist writer’s view.
So how can an effective CEO handle the juggling act?
Firstly, they should learn to delegate effectively. They should not be trying to do everything themselves. However, this means that those to whom tasks are delegated must be well-trained and know the company’s goals and be suitably motivated and trustworthy when left to carry them out.
The effective CEO will always be juggling priorities but there are ways of managing them although this involves being well organised.
It helps to see a business as a system of systems by breaking it down into discrete and manageable sub-systems or processes with delegation and clear lines of communication to keep track of all the various activities.
Planning and managing time have been covered in previous blogs and are essential to ensure balls are not dropped. It is easy to put off tasks which can turn out to bite you on the backside if ignored. Examples of activities that are often put off are: the collection in book debts, paying suppliers, VAT and PAYE, boring things like compliance, insurance, allocating time for staff reviews, and even speaking with customers; indeed there is much to oversee the trick is not to do it all but have systems and processes in place to ensure each necessary activity is done.
Check lists and using management systems can make juggling easier. This might mean having KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), check lists such as one listing all the month-end accounting tasks, a monthly management report that consolidates information from departments including management accounts, an order management system to track the fulfilment and invoicing orders, a way of monitoring sales & marketing activities and their results. There are myriad sub-systems and processes that can make the juggling easier but they all need to be optimised and integrated as part of the overall business.
It is possible to make the juggling act manageable and efficient in a way that frees up the time of the CEO so they can focus on the future of the business giving them time to develop strategy. To work on the business, rather than be bogged down in the business.