Working ON the business vs Working IN the business

June 07, 2021

The concept of busy has become glorified. We are all busy, but the value of that busy depends greatly on how you’re spending your time.

We go to work every day and work IN the organization — answering emails, returning calls and producing widgets for our clients and generally running off of heroic effort.

But how much time do you spend ON the business? That’s the time you spend focused on improvement and innovation. While IN work is executing to deliver value to the customer, ON work is executing to make the organization better.

How much time do you spend focused on doing what you’re doing today faster, cheaper and better? That’s improvement. How much time do you spend looking to add value to your customer or observing your customer to discover what might excite them? That’s innovation.

We know that the survival of any organization relies on the speed at which they innovate and improve. Yet how much of your weekly calendar is dedicated to working ON the business?

Most small and medium business leaders we train spend very little time ON the organization. “There just isn’t time!” most insist. There’s that busy thing again. But what if that busy time was spent making your organization faster, cheaper and better? Working ON the business is crucial, but it is almost never urgent, so it doesn’t get time.

Time for the hard truth: If you don’t make time to work ON your business, pretty soon you will not have a business to work IN. If the threat of going out of business (or not having a job) did not create urgency, then that’s the first step. Create urgency! Working ON the business has to be done with the same urgency as working IN the organization.

In this global economy and in the information age, you can easily benchmark what you’re currently producing/servicing versus best-in-class organizations. Once you understand how fast your organization needs to improve and innovate, you’ll have a new sense of urgency.

Leaders in high-performing organizations spend more than 60 per cent of their time working ON the business, whereas others spend most of their time putting out fires – checking, chasing and correcting work.

In Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, 2002 co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, argues that the human mind has two thinking systems, one which is fast, intuitive and driven by emotion, and the other which is slower, more analytical and more logical.

IN work makes use of our subconscious mind, jumping to solutions for an immediate problem. By its very nature, IN work is fast, but it is also reactive and therefore ill-suited to deal with root causes. It is only when we work ON the organization by thinking slowly that we can ensure underlying problems, challenges, and opportunities are not easily missed by thinking fast (working IN).

Working ON the business is your investment in your future! And there is no better time to start than right now.