One humbling lesson I’ve learnt this year
Amazing things can’t grow overnight.
I am now 11 months into becoming a CEO, and one of the humbling lessons I am learning as the year draws to an end is how long it takes to do things in business.
When I first started, I was a ball of raw energy and I sincerely believed I could move mountains as fast as I wanted, just because I was prepared to push and shove as much as required.
I had been reading all these articles about these amazing start-up companies which have gone from nothing to millions during a lightning bolt. I thought to myself: “if they can, why can’t I?” I thought that would be achievable through sheer willpower. Almost a year later, I am much wiser!
The answer came to me in an impressionist way, through little touches from different sources.
One was a conversation I had with a friend. He was telling me this story about his Australian neighbour who had an amazing garden, full of flowers and plants. He was going through a tough time and decided that he would give his yard a make-over that afternoon. He went to see the neighbour to get a bit of advice and the neighbour said: “You have to prepare the soil. It will take about 6 months”.
Another one was a conversation with my boss the other day. I was feeling disappointed because things haven’t been moving as fast as I would have wanted them to. I felt like I had failed. He answered calmly: “these things just take time”.
Another one was an article I read about private equity investment. I sadly cannot remember the reference because I would share it with you, as it was so full of truth. The author was saying that when you suddenly receive a big wad of cash, you bypass taking care about what really creates solid foundations for a business. When you have lots of money, you don’t have to ensure good customer service, you don’t have to have a good product, you don’t have to ensure your staff are at the top of their game. You don’t have to do any of this as long as you have the funds. And when those funds run out, you are left with nothing, because you don’t have cash, and you don’t have a solid business either.
Time is money. But more importantly, time is an investment. When I started, I wanted 2017 to be year 1 of my amazing growth plan. It turns out it is actually Year 0. I have spent this year sharpening the tools I am going to use for growth. If I had 5 minutes to chop down a tree, I spend half of that sharpening my axe says the lumberjack (or Lincoln?).
This year, I have been moulding the company to support my vision. I want it to be, first and foremost, a positive environment for personal growth. I want to see my colleagues enjoy coming to work. I want to see them grow from the challenges they are given. I want them to be fulfilled by what they are accomplishing on a daily basis. The other day, at our all staff monthly meeting, we were doing an exercise we call BIRDS, Breakthroughs, Insights, Reminders, Decisions, Still time to… go around the room and everyone shares one that they have come across. One colleague from our Client Services department shared a breakthrough: “I have realised that what I do is actually really important for the business”. Is this a sign of success for me? Absolutely yes.
I think back to the year that has just gone by and reflect on what I could have done to accelerate where we are now. The straight answer is nothing. Even in hindsight, there is nothing I could have done quicker, because a) I couldn’t have known what I didn’t know, b) so much in business doesn’t depend on me and c) human change takes time. There is no fast-track.
Like my friend, I wanted to have blossoms that very afternoon, so of course I have been frustrated, but frustration is expectation minus reality. I wanted to drive the company to be one of those success stories with smashed targets and unexpected exponential growth (although is a 50% increase in sales not good enough?). What have I achieved instead? I have prepared the soil which will enable that growth. I look forward to what 2018 will bring.
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