How to successfully transition from entrepreneur to executive
Many entrepreneurs start out as technicians. Perhaps having never run a business, they find gaps in their systems and organization because they still spend most of their time working in the business rather than in it. They try to fill in the gaps as they go, but are overstretched to find more permanent solutions. As a result, many entrepreneurs feel stuck and overworked with no clear way out at this stage.
After Emmet Scott started his consulting business, he was stuck running the show. He delivered work to clients, recruited, did sales, marketing and performed all required administrative tasks. Although he had other perfectly capable team members, all of Scott’s activity revolved around him. Scott realized he had to make a change. He needed to move from entrepreneur to executive. In 2009, he co-founded a new company, Community Dental Partners, and became its CEO. Today, the company is worth over $100 million. Scott now coaches other entrepreneurs through the process of becoming executives and covers the subject on his podcast, DSO Secrets, and in his book, DSO Secrets: The Ultimate Guide to Building Your Dental Empire.
There’s a huge difference between running a startup and running a full-fledged business. The latter requires a new state of mind and a new approach: from entrepreneur to executive. In the transition phase, you move away from your technical mindset and adopt a mindset focused on defining and strategically guiding the business. Here’s how to make it work for you.
1. Define the vision
As an entrepreneur, you focus on what you need to do this week. As an executive, Scott says your role is to chart the course of your business for the much longer term. This makes you a visionary, and it is your responsibility to convey this vision to your team.
“You have to know where you are leading your people and what that place is like,” he said. “What are the rewards that everyone the company touches will reap? I like to use the analogy of pulling out your telescope and looking into the distance. What do you see?”
When this vision is clear, you will be able to see a few things. First, you’ll see who you are heroes for and the changes you’re making in their lives. Then you will see how you serve them and how your team performs to make that future a reality.
From these details, you can create a business mantra, which is a short, memorable phrase that informs how your business thinks or acts. Scott said to regard it as “a North Star that can point your people in the right direction, no matter how big you become.”
2. Chart your course
The next step is strategic planning, which stems from your vision. To reach the place you saw through your telescope, you may need to start acquiring certain locations or businesses, invest in research and development, improve systems and processes, or recruit new talent.
At this point, it’s important not to lose the entrepreneurial agility that got you here. “Focusing on these lenses doesn’t require a telescope so much as the shorter vision of binoculars,” says Scott. “It’s your job to communicate what you’ve seen and provide binoculars to those who need to focus on the strategies that will achieve your vision.”
This is where your project management team comes in. This team sits between your C-suite and the managers, directors, and team leaders who need to execute. They decide which of the many choices offered by your vision can and should be pursued based on ROI.
Scott’s project managers work from a simple acronym they call DOPE. First, document all potential strategic ideas and initiatives. Second, to organise these ideas to better understand the scope, timelines and responsibilities. The third, to prioritize these ideas based on return on investment and resource allocation. Ultimately, run on these ideas using the principles of project management.
“Remember that as a leader, it’s your job to build your team, including those project managers,” Scott said. “Once the team is in place, give them the support they need.”
3. Find the right communication balance
Entrepreneurs early in their journey can get away with haphazard communication approaches. With an all-hands-on-deck mentality, they catch casual conversations and set up random meetings. “But clear, structured communication,” says Scott, “is crucial to a successful leader.” Without it, no one in your business can lead, organize, coordinate, influence, or teach. Clear and regular communication flows from you and rises to you. So how much should you communicate?
Scott says it’s a delicate balance. Too much communication ends up micromanaging and can come across as judgmental. Too little communication ends in disconnection and leadership gaps.
“Part of an executive’s job is to find the right communication cadence, which is how often you will review feedback from your team and continue to push your vision and your mantra,” said said Scott.
There’s no “right” meeting cadence, Scott explained, because it depends on your culture. Watch, learn and improve as you go. If your team is living the mantra and your company is achieving its goals, moving towards your vision, communication is most likely on the right track.
Besides the cadence of communication, another consideration is your method of communication. Whether you use Zoom or have in-person meetings, email or prefer Slack, choose a method that takes the friction out of important conversations with your team.
Are you ready to make the transition?
Going from a specialist whose job was to generate results (an entrepreneur) to a senior manager is difficult. Plus, as Scott pointed out, it’s not for everyone. There’s no shame in staying in that entrepreneurial role, as long as you don’t put the brakes on your business.
But if you’re ready for that next step, it’s time to become an executive.
“As an executive, if you set the organization’s vision, lead strategic planning and oversee communication cadences, you can move mountains,” Scott said.