While we all would like to believe there are sharp distinctions between our personal and professional lives, the similarities are frequent and sometimes quite striking. Consider this comparison between entrepreneurial ventures and … youth soccer.
When kids start playing soccer at an early age, the parents on the sideline are very entertained by “magnet ball.” In this early version of athletic endeavor, the kids all run to the ball, clustering around it, kicking in all directions, more likely to connect with each other’s shins than the ball.
Well, except for the one or two kids who are aimlessly strolling around the pitch, watching birds, or looking for flowers or really cool bugs or mom and dad.
In this version of the game, the ball periodically emerges from the scrum, shooting away with one or two of the more skilled youth initially in pursuit. Almost immediately, the mob re-forms, some yards down the field, all desiring to make contact and perhaps even score a goal.
As the years go by, the players’ skills improve and coaches start introducing strategy and game-planning to the mix. Players are taught to play positions, no longer congregating around the ball, no more sky-gazing, no more carefree waves to parents and friends’ parents. Passing the ball, running set plays, communicating, and focus are now required, and when done well often result in success.
So now look at your own early-stage company. The entrepreneur begins with a passion for an idea, a product or service which they know can be produced or delivered better than history has demonstrated. They pull in others to help, to play with them.
For the initial phase, the company works together, congregating around the work. Communication is easy, because more often than not there aren’t any walls (literally or figuratively). Whatever needs to be done gets done, usually with less concern for formal roles or responsibilities.
It’s an exciting and energizing time. The market is validating the team’s beliefs and efforts, and growth seems easy, a sure bet for the future.
But at some point, maybe with annual revenues in the $1.5-2.0MM range, progress slows. The leader, and perhaps others in the company start feeling the frustration, the roadblocks.
“I have a stack of leads on my desk and no time to get to them.”
“Why do all the decisions have to go through me?”
When leaders hear themselves uttering the statements above, it’s time to start playing positions, developing and applying strategy, and passing the ball. This is when companies establish more specific targets, track performance, implement process, and define roles and responsibilities.
Many companies fear this stage, believing that the result will be bureaucracy, metrics posted all over the walls, and the loss of company culture. It doesn’t have to be this way.
You’ll still get to run after the ball. You’ll still get to wave to mom and dad. You may even now have time to stare at the sky and centipedes. But the forward march - progress, success - will be smoother and more satisfying.