Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.
– Alfred A. Montapert, American Author
Over the past eight months, I’ve been working through the transformation from corporate executive to bootstrapping entrepreneur. Thankfully, I’d had at least some short experience earlier in my career in owning my own business, so I knew a little about what to expect. Regardless of that, it’s been a major transition.
As I’ve been asked to describe this experience to people, the one comment that I find myself making a lot is this:
“Every action I take and every moment of time I spend has a specific purpose, and it feels really good.”
The thing about this comment as I’ve thought about it more is that I’m speaking about my current experience in context of my corporate experience over the previous nine years. And, when you read between the lines, what I am saying, at least indirectly, is that within the confines of a corporate job, there’s a lot of “work” done that feels like it’s without purpose.
In the past 8 months, I haven’t:
- Gone to meeting with no apparent agenda with people who don’t want to be there
- Shot off a series of emails or made any phone calls to cover my ass
- Spend hours creating reports that no one looks at or uses in any way
- Created a presentation to justify an obviously needed expense because it doesn’t fit in an outdated budget framework created months ago when circumstances where different
- Looked at a policy (or thought about if I’m allowed to do anything in particular)
This list is just a spattering of what we could call “riding the corporate rocking horse.” It’s all about motion– feeling busy, playing at doing business. Nothing on that list creates any value or drives any progress. I knew that this stuff was part of corporate life, but I didn’t realize how much until I had to deprogram my day to day life through my transition to entrepreneur.
When I wake up in the morning now, I ask the question, “what’s the most important thing I can do today to move the business forward?” and then I put energy towards making that happen. The reason this works for me is that I am very clear on what my purpose is. I have a plan. I know the plan.
Having the perspective of my recent experience, I don’t think there has to be so much riding of the rocking horse in corporate. Engagement surveys and management gurus have long told us that one of the most important things we can do is help employees understand how their job contributes to the organization’s success. It’s become more apparent to me than ever before why this is so important. But, I don’t think it’s enough to just know how your work contributes.
In order to get employees off the corporate rocking horse, they need to know the plan (vision and strategy), understand the plan (why does this vision and strategy make sense), and have the ability to make decisions about their work towards making progress towards that plan. They need to be able to say no to attending a meeting if it’s not clear how that meeting will promote progress. They should be allowed to ask the question, “what’s the most important thing I can do today to help the business?” and then act on it.
This would require leaders who can teach and coach and provide real feedback. I think that if we all got off the corporate rocking horse and removed all of the “motion” from our organizations, the productivity and engagement we’d experience would be staggering. Working with purpose feels good and it’s great for business.