Avoid The “Action!” Trap Learn From the Private Equity Experts

Nike advertising says “Just do it!”

Coaches everywhere bombard their clients with “What steps are you taking this week?”

The army lining the hills in Monty Python’s movie The Life of Brian shouts “Get on with it!”

And they’re not wrong. I’ve said all of those things myself… and I will again.

But I come from four different meetings in the past few days where clients were in full out “action” mode… and couldn’t tell me what the specific goals were for all that effort.

Regardless of whether you’re an independent professional, a leader in a corporation, or owner of a business, here’s information that should give you pause.

Investors in private-equity deals averaged 22.5% returns on their investment in the 12-months ending last June, while the S&P 500 returned 6.6%… over the past 10 years that return was 11.4% versus 6.6%; over the past 20 years it’s been 14.2% versus 9.8%.

Return on investment means return on time, money, elbow grease ‘ everything that’s put into a business. So how would you calculate the return on effort you’re getting from your own “investment?”

The seldom-discussed reason for the difference in returns is the difference in management strategies used in these two arenas. And it begins with the fundamentals of managing ‘ regardless of the size of the business.

The starting point in private equity firms is in setting specific objectives. Often, new objectives are set when new investors come on board. With new investors come new experience and new insights to help refresh the thinking of the management team. New ideas from people standing in a new line of sight on the industry, competitors, customers.

Private investors are often looking at their three to five year exit strategy as they walk in the front door, it’s a perspective that keeps attention on how every effort is increasing or diverting the value of the business.

Every business decision, every operations and management choice is deliberately aligned with that objective.

Every activity throughout the business is in turn evaluated for how well it’s moving the company’s efforts toward those results… and redesigned to be sure it IS High Payoff!

And the result is 50% higher returns on that investment of… time… money… resources!

The objective set by one of my law firm clients is to double net income in five years. That objective leads to a list of decisions that need to be made regarding: which client work to take on and which to turn away; what legal staff to bring in to do the work; what support staff and infrastructure are needed; and what new management skills have to be honed to manage that effort.

Having all of that laid out first, before leaping into ‘Action!” by hiring the wrong experience, moving to the wrong space and neglecting managing the resources already on board, is having a direct result – streamlining his daily decision making, eliminating two lines of low margin legal work commonly taken on, and setting clear directions for his marketing.

And productivity? Stripping out fully one-half of the daily confusion and stress he and his people were working under focused their concentration and accelerated the work results in the span of two days. He’s targeting that 50% boost in returns.

Whether you run your own business, manage a department of a larger organization, or staff a project, take a lesson from the private equity world and set clear objectives first. Then put on your track shoes and go for it!