How to make the transition from entrepreneur to executive

Many entrepreneurs start as technicians. Perhaps never having owned a business, they find gaps in their systems and organization as they still spend most of their time working on the business rather than in it. They try to fill in the gaps as they go, but stretch themselves too far to find more permanent solutions. As a result, many entrepreneurs feel stuck and overworked, with no clear path out of this phase.

After Emmet Scott started his consulting business, he was stuck running the show. He was delivering work to the client, recruiting, doing sales, marketing and doing all the administrative tasks required. Although he had other highly trained team members, Scott’s entire business revolved around him. Scott realized that he needed to make a change. He needed to go from businessman to executive. In 2009, he co-founded a new business, Community Dental Partners, and became its CEO. Today, the business is worth more than $100 million. Scott now coaches other entrepreneurs through the process of becoming an executive and covers the subject on his podcast, DSO Secrets, and in his book, DSO Secrets: The Ultimate Guide to Building Your Dental Empire.

There is a big difference between running a startup and running a full-fledged company. The latter requires a new mindset and approach: from entrepreneur to executive. In the transition phase, you move away from a technician mentality and adopt one focused on defining and leading the strategic direction of the company. Here’s how to make it work for you.

1. Set the vision

As an entrepreneur, you are focused on what you need to do this week. As an executive, Scott says his role includes charting the long-term direction of his business. That makes him a visionary and it is his responsibility to convey that vision to his team.

“You need to know where you are leading your people and what that place is like,” he said. “What are the rewards for everyone involved in the business? I like to use the analogy of taking out the telescope and looking into the distance. Do you see?”

When that vision is focused, you’ll be able to see a couple of things. First, you’ll see who you’re being a hero for and the changes you’re making in their lives. Then you will see how you are serving them and how your team is behaving to make this future a reality.

From these details, you can create a business mantra, which is a short, memorable phrase that informs the way your company thinks or acts. Scott said that he thought of it as “a north star that can point its people in the right direction no matter what size it becomes.”

2. Chart your course

The next step is strategic planning, which flows from your vision. To get to the place you saw in 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 stage it is important not to lose the business agility that has brought you this far. “Focusing on these targets doesn’t require a telescope as much as the shorter view of binoculars,” explains Scott. “It is your job to communicate what you have seen and provide binoculars to those who must focus on the strategies that will achieve your vision.”

That’s where your project management team comes in. This team sits between your C-suite and the managers, directors, and team leaders they must execute. They decide, from the many options their vision provides, which ones can and should be pursued based on ROI.

Scott’s project managers work with a simple acronym they call DOPE. First, document all ideas and possible strategic initiatives. Second, organize these ideas to better understand scope, timelines, and responsibilities. Third, prioritize these ideas based on ROI and resource allocation. Finally, run on these ideas using project management principles.

“Remember that as an executive, it’s your job to build your team, including these 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 approaches to communication. With a hands-on mentality, they take to casual conversations and set up random meetups. “But clear, structured communication,” says Scott, “is crucial to an executive’s success.” Without it, no one in your business can lead, organize, coordinate, influence, or teach. Clear and regular communication flows down and to you. So how much should you communicate?

Scott says it’s a tricky balance. Too much communication ends up in micromanagement 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 drive your vision and mantra,” Scott said.

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 business is achieving its goals, moving toward your vision, communication is most likely on track.

In addition to 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 having important conversations with your team.

Are you ready to make the transition?

The transition from a specialist whose job included driving results (an entrepreneur) to a high-level executive is difficult. Also, as Scott pointed out, it’s not for everyone. There’s no shame in staying in that entrepreneurial role, as long as you’re not holding your company back.

But if you’re ready for the next step, it’s time to become an executive.

“As an executive, if you’re setting the vision for the organization, leading the strategic planning and overseeing the cadences of communication, you can move mountains,” Scott said.

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