Business Plan

How To Get Into Smart Rhythm For Growing Your Business


Anyone running a business knows—or at least should know—that smart change management is an important key to their success.

In fact, a long time ago a really savvy guy said the secret of change is to “focus all your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.” (That really savvy guy was a philosopher named Socrates.)

In today’s world, many business leaders get trapped by the paradox of hitting numbers “now” versus targeting future growth and possibility. That can be a risky approach to running a business.

Successful serial entrepreneur Patrick Thean introduces a simple system to empower business people to be focused, aligned, and accountable—what he calls a three-rhythm process for effective execution:

  • Think Rhythm: a rhythm of strategic thinking to keep your teams focused and working on the future of the business,
  • Plan Rhythm: a rhythm of planning that facilitates choosing the right priorities and getting teams aligned with those priorities, and
  • Do Rhythm: a rhythm of executing plans and making effective and timely adjustments every week.

Thean’s tools and methods were integrated into the curriculum for the Entrepreneurs Master’s Program at MIT. He also brought his methodology to Cornell University’s Family Business Initiative.

Thean’s book is aptly titled Rhythm: How to Achieve Breakthrough Execution and Accelerate Growth.

Roger Dean Duncan: You suggest that every entrepreneur should have a “stop doing” list and should “stop overeating at the buffet of opportunities.” Please tell us about that.

Patrick Thean: Entrepreneurs are used to saying YES to business opportunities. In the early days, it’s good to say YES to most opportunities. However, once your strategy starts working and your business grows, more and more choices flow in. At that point, we need to learn to say NO to things that are too small or take us away from our overall strategy. We might have already collected a number of projects that are not profitable. These suck the life out of companies. The only way to stop this from happening is to examine and very intentionally create a “stop doing” list.

Duncan: Slowing down, you say, is a way to go faster. Can you give us some examples?

Thean: Although it seems counterintuitive, we need to slow down in order to create the right plan of attack with teammates, often from other departments. Doing so allows us to become more aligned and grants us the ability to help each other. On the other hand, if we rush the work and neglect intentional cross-functional planning, we lose time and energy, especially when a teammate is not aware that we need them for a critical path part of the project. When that happens, we now have to wait for their delivery before moving forward.

A bit of planning goes a long way toward increasing the overall speed and accuracy of delivery. For example, engineering delivers a product to marketing. Marketing was not aware of the timeline and was not ready to campaign and create leads and prospects. We now wait for marketing to get their messaging and creative work done before we can launch the new product. Sales did not realize they had to sell a new product, so they did not know how to seek training. Lack of training causes mistakes and lacks confidence in selling the product. Now we have a slower speed, mistakes and rework.

Duncan: What seems to be the keys to getting a team focused and aligned with a plan?

Thean: First, spend some time thinking about what we want to do and why it’s important. Then, involve the right people and build an action plan. Finally, work on the plan, do the work and be accountable to each other every week to stay aligned. Getting aligned at the start is easier than staying aligned throughout the project life cycle.

Duncan: What tips do you have for running a successful planning session?

Thean: It’s simple: Discuss, debate, and decide. Make sure to have a clear agenda of critical topics that need to be discussed and debated. Make sure you have a skilled facilitator who can get those who talk a lot to give up airtime for others to speak up. Try and give everyone equal airtime. After strong debates, choose and decide on the top priorities. Make sure everyone’s concerns are heard before choosing and deciding on the top priorities. Share why we had to pass on the other ideas that are not being worked on.

Duncan: How can a leader help team members avoid a silo mentality?

Thean: First choose enterprise-wide goals and priorities that will make a strong impact on the business. Business has gotten complicated, so most company goals and priorities are cross-functional these days. Encourage all members of the team to share their knowledge and wisdom.

During the planning process, visualize together how these priorities are going to get done and point out any cross-functional aspects that can accelerate progress. Make sure people recognize that other teams need to be involved for them to succeed. We will avoid a silo mentality if we realize that silo mentalities hurt our own progress and slow down our own performance.

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