As the first week of the year draws to a close, we continue with our “Lessons” series.
I have known Joram since primary school, we never spoke then, we spoke on and off in college when we met. I knew Joram was an entrepreneur and dedicated at what he did, but until he shared his lessons, I didn’t realise how determined he is to see his company live up to its name and impact the world.
Joram’s lessons are relevant to entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs alike. Reading what he so graciously took the time to reflect on from 2017, I believe it will help you re-shape how you work. I sure know lesson number 6 is the most powerful lesson for me.
And now for the fancy intro!
As the MD of a growing, professional services SME and brand in Kenya and the region, the year 2017 was one of mixed fortunes. It was a year where we lost a lot of productivity due to the prolonged election but also a year where our team grew and consolidated gains made in foundations that had been laid over the previous 10 years. My lessons for the year are below.
- Manage by Rhythms
I noticed that as my team grew, my role needed to shift from day to day operations to overseeing the teams activities and making sure that we are productive and aligned with the organisation’s goals and vision.
We developed a strategic plan which I had to learn to execute religiously since most people only put one on paper and forget to execute the brilliant ideas generated. By the end of the year, only 1 objective was running behind schedule but progress had been made on all the other outputs for the year. To ensure that this was the case I had to learn to manage by creating consistent rhythms around executing tasks. The rhythms were:
- a.I met the entire company twice a month in a general meeting where broad objectives are discussed. Financial performance, large projects, issues that need resolving and inspirational messages from team members to boost each other’s morale.
- b.I met the management team twice a month to discuss financials, collections and other key issues that need fixing.
- c.I met department heads twice a month for 30 minutes to discuss departmental issues and also personal leadership and management matters that can be improved or optimized for better performance.
- d. I sat in for departmental meetings weekly; rotating the different departments that I met. If a department needed more attention I give it more time to address emerging and strategic issues until it stabilized.
- e.I met all team members individually at least once a month also for a brief 30-minute meeting. We are still a small team so it’s still manageable however, it has been difficult to manage this rhythm when client assignments, which require my attention, pop up during those meetings and we are forced to postpone.
- In most of the meetings above which now take most of my time, (I’m in meetings all day and that sometimes makes me unreachable. I am seriously considering getting a strong executive assistant but I’m being careful not to break the bank) I focus on coaching, 2 way feedback(what I can improve and vice versa), capacity building and joint co-creation of solutions, new products or services.
To achieve all the above it has meant that I become less and less involved in direct client work and operational stuff. This is a challenge to a growing company, mainly because long-standing, loyal, major clients get used to seeing me around. And convincing them that my team is as capable to serve them in my absence can be a tall order.
We have made small progress with a few clients who are now comfortable carrying out certain processes in my absence. My diminishing role in most assignments is oversight and relationship management. I try to keep the rhythms on a consistent recurring calendar that always sends me notifications.
- Keep having hard conversations
This has been a very difficult one for me because, by nature, I have a big heart and love people. In the past, I was the kind of person to avoid conflict at all costs but I have grown to realise that leadership is by nature confrontational, especially in a growing company. And the larger it is the more opportunities for confrontation arise when stakes are higher. I have had to learn to give candid feedback on things I am unhappy about and I have also had to learn to receive feedback and even apologise where I have been wrong. Very humbling.
What I have noted though is that hard conversations enable the biggest problems to be addressed quickly and in a timely fashion rather than letting issues fester and blow out of proportion when emotions build up. However, one needs a very transparent and open environment where people feel safe to give and receive feedback which in the Kenyan “polite” cultural context can be quite a task.
- Be happy in winning ONE battle at a time
Leadership means you are dealing with a lot of issues on a daily basis both urgent and important and in different departments. I have learnt to space out my battles and focus on winning one battle at a time in each area that I address. I try and prioritize one issue and push for its execution and leave the rest for later. Trying to deal with everything at once can be overwhelming, tiring and eventually you get nothing much done because of being too spaced out.
- Drown out the noise and keep focused
Especially during the election year, it was easy to get distracted by politics and doom and gloom scenarios. To some extent, I managed to keep focused on the tasks that needed execution. While I was active in a friend’s political campaign, the activities were outside of work hours and I took the last week off officially from my leave days to help his campaign.
- No Excuses
I have noted that it’s easy to allow your team to justify reasons for not executing tasks that have been agreed upon. This can turn into a culture of excuses that keeps you running around in circles or discussing great ideas which never see the light of day. I have become comfortable with executing half-baked ideas rather than waiting for perfection. I am even embarking on reading a book “leadership without excuses”. It’s easy to allow excuses to creep in and hold back crucial strategic matters and sweep stuff under the carpet under the guise of lack of resources or capacity. At the end of the day, one becomes more creative about getting solutions to a problem when they have a ‘no excuses’ mindset.
- Learn to say ‘no’
In a video shared by a staff member on Essentialism (the art of getting more done by doing less), I have had to struggle to learn how to say no tactfully to many requests for leadership, board seats, mentorship or handouts. In the growing profile of an MD of a brand becoming more recognized, or when you have a reputation for being an effective person, you can become a target for solving problems for all family members (immediate and extended), friends, church and the community around you. I have had to increasingly learn how to prioritise and select what I can handle, evaluate what is beneficial to the path that I’m on or what I am passionate about. This is probably the part I struggle with most because I LOVE to help people.
I still need lots of improvement in this one area. I am constantly battling not to burn out or experience exhaustion. I have had to quit several boards this year and limit or build solid boundaries without feeling guilty about my church service, community service and the 4 other boards I am on. I try to limit how I help people to only what I can afford or give within my boundaries.
I am not perfect and I still have a lot to learn on the path of building a company whose influence is growing nationally as well as regionally. The more we grow, the more weaknesses I have, get exposed. One big plus is that I have started using a great tool called Wunderlist for managing tasks and ensuring I track all activities that I am to do, or that I have delegated. I am still in the search for more effective tools, tips and systems to help me grow and become more effective.