Make time to ask questions about your business

During the 15 years I owned and operated a franchise pizza restaurant, it seemed as if there were too many days that the business was running me instead of me running the business.

I often found myself reacting to a problem, barely a step ahead of the next issue.

I worried about:

How to serve delivery customers on busy nights when a couple of delivery drivers called in sick;

A 20 percent increase in cheese prices in just a few days when commodity traders in Chicago speculated that cows in the Midwest would be producing less milk because of warmer weather; and

How to counsel an employee who was having difficulties outside of work that were preventing the worker from being on time.

Like many business owners, I found it difficult to set aside time to plan for the future, to look at the “big picture.”

Successfully operating the restaurant by serving customers that day or that week seemed so much more consequential than contemplating what my business would need to look like in two to five years. I had a payroll to meet.

Of course, planning for the future, getting ahead of problems is the smart path to take, but it’s sometimes hard to see that when you’re knee deep in alligators.

My experience has taught me that spending dedicated time focused on the “big picture” is as critical as excelling at clearing away the alligators.

It starts with a commitment each week, no matter what crisis is happening at the business, to have quiet, reflective time away from the business. With this time, I’d focus initially on a better understanding of the future direction of your industry.

For my pizza business it meant addressing the impact of the major industry players (Pizza Hut and Domino’s, for example) competing primarily on price and the challenge of a customer expectation that pizza should only be purchased with a coupon or at a discount.

The next step is to answer the tough questions about improving the management and marketing practices of your business.

A great source for these types of questions is a recent article in Inc. Magazine, “100 Great Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask,” tinyurl.com/Inc100Qs.

This list of questions was generated by entrepreneurs and business writers and thinkers from across the county.

Here are some of my favorite from that list:

“What is it like to work for me?” Bob Sutton, author and management professor at Stanford University.

“If our company went out of business tomorrow, would anyone who doesn’t get a paycheck here care?” Daniel Pink, business writer.

“Are we changing as fast as the world around us?” Gary Hamel, author and management consultant.

“How can we become the company that would put us out of business?” Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality.

“What prevents me from making the changes I know will make me a more effective leader?” Marshall Goldsmith, leadership coach and author.

“What should we stop doing?” Peter Drucker, management expert and author.

“Do you see more potential in people than they do in themselves?” Adam Grant, author and professor at the Wharton School.

“Do I know what I’m doing? And who do I call if I don’t?” Erin Pooley, business journalist.

“Are we relevant? Will we be relevant five years from now? Ten?” Debra Kaye, innovation consultant and author.

Lastly, fully engage your employees in the conversation about the answers to these questions.

I guarantee you they’ll have insights that you would never think of.

They’ll also appreciate being asked to participate in making the company they work for, a better place for them and your customers.

Pat Sisneros is the vice president of College Services at Everett Community College. Send your comments to entrepreneurship@everettcc.edu.

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