“Theme weeks” make me a better leader

Knowing where to focus is important.
Knowing where to focus is important.
Image: REUTERS/Edgar Su
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As a tech entrepreneur, when your business scales, your role must scale with it. While you may have started out as a one-person team managing every detail, eventually you must let the reins go and focus on gaining a more holistic view of your business. With growth, the challenge to remain an effective leader becomes a balancing act of remaining informed while limiting involvement.

“Horizon scanning” can be a useful method for ensuring that you have your finger on the pulse of operations, while keeping your eyes on your vision for the future.

How to integrate horizon scanning into your day

Horizon scanning is the framework that enables leaders to look over the entire business operation and identify what’s working well and what may need attention. In a nutshell, your horizon scan is all about enabling you to keep an eye on the metrics that are integral to your company’s success. As a data-driven leader, I find this particularly helpful.

One of the key ways to make a horizon scan successful is to invest in systems that support you in your leadership role as it evolves. To make your scan work best, you need to understand the metrics that are important to you and your business and invest in systems that will deliver this information to you in an easily digestible manner to provide you with a “thousand-foot view” of all aspects of your business. The systems don’t have to be fancy—even something as simple as Google Alerts or Analytics that let you know when your company is being mentioned in the news or that deliver automated web traffic performance can be immensely helpful. This allows you to always have a handle on the health of your business, as well as quickly identify departments that need your immediate attention; ones that you should keep a close eye on over the next week (or month, quarter, etc.); and ones that you can let be.

I use this information to help me create “themes” for my week. For example, say it comes to my attention that the sales department has been struggling for a few weeks. The sales department would be the theme of my week, and I’d schedule meetings with each of my regional salespeople over the next few days. I’ve found that organizing my weeks this way allows me to more easily focus on the task at hand, and to more clearly identify problems and trends. For example, I may meet with each of my regional representatives and find that they’re all getting negative feedback from their contacts on a new marketing campaign we’ve recently launched, and decide to pull the campaign. An easy solution, right? But had the meetings been spread out over a quarter, I may not have made the connection between the feedback each representative was receiving, making solving a simple problem a much longer process.

How to incorporate horizon scanning into your people management

While systems can provide a reliable flow of pertinent information, often the real understanding comes from consulting with people. But one thing I’ve experienced—along with most other leaders—is a reluctance from employees to deliver bad news to the boss. Without this information, we’re unable to use our knowledge and expertise to help focus on fixing whatever may be off key.

Horizon scanning helps this dilemma. When you develop this habit, employees know that you are already aware of any issues, taking the scary factor out of coming to you with problems and ultimately creating a more open and collaborative company culture. It also helps you to better manage your time—because you already know which departments are performing well and which may need a little help, you are able to have more meaningful and efficient conversations that lead to more concrete results and goals.

Pulling it all together

Horizon scanning is all about having the right data, and then using that data in the most effective way to have oversight over the entire business while letting your respective leaders take charge. For example, a huge spike in your website traffic could be driven by a recent ad campaign that’s attracted many qualified leads or a PR crisis. But if you haven’t consciously put this information on your radar by determining which metrics are important to you and setting up tools that feed them to you automatically, you may never see the spike in the first place. You may also miss out on valuable opportunities to empower your employees to work with you proactively, both when a part of the business needs some extra attention and when things are running smoothly.

David Ciccarelli is the CEO of Voices.com.