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CEO, Are You Working “On” the Business or “In” It?
January 30, 2024

One letter makes a significant impact on the future value of the company you’re building.

With our CEO Collective members, we often address the balance between working "on" the business and working "in" it. For CEOs committed to elevating their companies, being clear on the difference and building the discipline to work “on” the business is necessary to drive growth.

Defining Working "On" Versus Working "In"

Working "in" the business means dealing with the day-to-day, “business as usual” activities —including operations, admin duties, human resources, team training, and executing marketing/sales plans.

On the flip side, working "on" the business involves moving beyond the day-to-day operations. It requires setting aside time to envision the company in the future—identifying and designing new capabilities, creating spaces for brainstorming, meeting with customers to understand trends and investing time in collaborative sessions with team members.

While the day-to-day work must happen, the real game-changers come when we shift gears to do the high level work of strategy development, leadership refinement, organizational optimization, research and development, innovation, and all that’s required for scaling and growth.

If You Don’t Make the Time to Work “On” the Business, It Won’t Happen

Allocating time to work "on" the business is your secret sauce for growth, but it doesn’t happen by default. It is a conscious choice you have to make, again and again.

Need some motivation to make the time? Your business is dynamic, facing ever-changing demands, evolving technology, organizational shifts, and fierce competition. Regularly stepping back and investing in bigger picture thinking is crucial for staying competitive. Just do it. Your future self will thank you. 

Cultivate an “On” the Business Culture that Can Move the Needle 

As the CEO, you're the orchestrator of this higher-level focus. You set the tone. Lead by example—scheduling off-site strategy meetings for your executive team, encouraging them to make space for this thinking on their teams, attending strategic conferences, building relationships with potential partners, and dedicating time away from the office just to think. Making these choices will serve to fuel innovation and picture planning for the future.

When you're disciplined about working "on" the business, the entire organization aligns. Cultures that embrace this mindset are the ones thriving in today's dynamic and competitive business landscape. Make sure that’s how others would describe you and your company’s culture. 

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