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Leaders: Think Small To Act Bigger

By News Creatives Authors , in Small Business , at November 18, 2021

Bret Furio is Chief Executive Officer at Canidae Pet Food, where he leads a team of over 150 employees.

Earlier this year, Michael Punke, author of The Revenant, published his second novel, Ridgeline. While reading it, I was struck by a passage describing how a Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, hunted with the mindset of making his target as small as possible. Rather than aiming at the buffalo, the warrior aimed at a piece of hair. The lesson, as I understood it: While your target (ambition) may be big, you need to think and act small to ensure success. It reminded me of why, despite running a leading pet food company, I often find myself thinking and acting like the founder of a startup: focused, agile and lean.

When you’re building a business, there are so many competing priorities that it can often feel overwhelming. Your to-do list is a million miles long and growing by the hour, so how can you ensure that you’re prioritizing the things that will make a measurable difference? The only sure way to achieve success, in any industry, is to ensure you and your team concentrate on the most important initiatives at the right time, aiming your collective “arrow” at a single piece of “hair” on the “buffalo’s” immense frame.

With this in mind, I want to share a few ways in which thinking and acting small has benefited me and my team as we work together to grow the Canidae brand, business and culture.

Prioritization, like everything in business, is easier said than done. But if you believe that employees are what make companies go, then the first order of business must be to build — and keep — the right team. Assessing your talent and determining whether or not you have the right people is of utmost importance.

While capabilities and know-how are critical elements, equally essential is to ensure your team possesses a “can do,” “whatever it takes” mindset and that they embrace the core value of teamwork. A team-first mindset must be shared by every single employee regardless of job title. Anyone who thinks and behaves with a “me-first” attitude not only hinders progress but undermines the capacity to instill a team performance culture that is crucial to sustained success.

While building your team and culture, you must also determine whether fundamental business processes and practices are in place. When assuming the responsibility of a company in which employee engagement is low and the business is underperforming, it can be tempting to implement quick “fixes” to address and solve serious problems. Admittedly, the pressure to turn around performance can be intense. But without taking the proper time to conduct detailed due diligence to identify the root causes and then investing additional time and effort devising thoughtful solutions, precious time and resources will be expended, often with core issues remaining unsolved.

Adopting a disciplined “think small” approach will ensure that problems are properly prioritized and effectively diagnosed with appropriate actions devised to help establish a strong foundation upon which to scale your business.

The role of CEO can be lonely at times, especially when tasked with taking a small startup to the next level or turning around a poorly performing business. The good news is that you are not alone, and identifying who your key stakeholders are and communicating clearly with them on how they can best support you is critical to achieving your objectives.

To state the obvious, your most important key stakeholders are your team and organization. Investing time to make sure they understand what your vision is and how it will be realized ensures that every employee fully appreciates the impact of their daily contributions. Said another way, each employee will gain an appreciation of the importance of “thinking small,” ensuring that the most important initiatives get the attention required. 

Explaining the “why” behind the “what” also applies to your customers and business partners. Having them clearly understand your strategy and plans will allow for the establishment of mutual objectives and expectations, keeping everyone aligned on the tasks that need to be implemented.

Finally, keep your board fully up to speed on your business, especially critical issues and challenges. Embracing the mentality that your board is in place to help you, rather than as an entity that you report to, is an important nuance. The board’s role is to assist you in making important decisions, and it is in the board’s best interest that you are successful. Ensuring your board is never surprised and always up to speed on the “hot topics” will foster a trusting rapport and partnership, benefitting your ability to successfully steer your business.

The concept of thinking and acting small is not rocket science, and much has been written about the importance of prioritization and alignment. That said, it can be hard to consistently practice. Business is tough and daily fire drills are the norm rather than the exception, pulling your team’s attention in multiple directions and often resulting in tremendous energy spent on initiatives that are not core to your long-term mission.

Recently, my team and I discussed our top objectives. As you can imagine, the list was much longer than I’d anticipated since everyone had a pet project or two that they wanted to champion. Upon review and reflection, it was obvious to us that we did not have the resources, money or time to tackle everything on the list. It was time to embrace the concept of thinking small, and in doing so, the more difficult question was asked: “What are we not going to do?”

Subtracting is always more difficult than adding, but the exercise ensures that the most important items get the attention they deserve. In doing so, they deliver the best return on investment. So, as you take aim of your priorities, make sure to select those that are truly necessary to achieve your business objectives.

Remember, you only have so many arrows. Aim at a piece of hair. It’s the only way to take down the buffalo.


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