By Gerard Burke, Founder & MD, Your Business Your Future

Your business looks and feels the way it does today, and has the opportunities and challenges it has today, because it’s yours. If it were mine or someone else’s, it would be different. And the future of your business will be primarily driven by what you want it to be — your personal goals, your personal ambitions, your personal drivers. So, if you want a different and better future for your business, start by articulating what YOU want. Then align your business to achieve that for you.

Robin Crumby and his wife, Victoria Mellor, founded research and training business Melcrum in 1996. Robin recently took a sabbatical and decided to participate in our Better Business Programme because he wanted to review his personal goals, drivers and ambitions.

Many owner managers will be able to identify with Robin when he says: “As owner managers, we’re our own worst enemies — we’re slaves to our businesses and end up putting our personal interests second and the needs of our business first. Rather than working on the business and planning its future, we spend most of our time volunteering our help, because we think we can do things better than other people, or even worse, looking over people’s shoulders and meddling. If you’re not careful, the reason you started business can be replaced by a plethora of people management issues, fire-fighting and plate spinning.

This was precisely what had happened to Robin, after 15 years of throwing his all into the business. From a commercial perspective, Melcrum was a success. It had evolved into a thriving business with 40 employees, offices in London, Washington DC and Sydney and a client base that included blue chip companies like HSBC, Pfizer, ExxonMobil and Shell. However, on a personal level, Robin wasn’t spending enough time on activities that gave him a sense of fulfilment. Taking a 14-week sabbatical from work and enrolling on the Better Business Programme in January was his way of addressing the situation and working out exactly what his place in the business should be.

In doing this, Robin has found the philosophy behind ‘know what you want’, the second pillar of the programme’s Seven Pillars of a Better Business, an enormous help. This pillar is about being clear about your personal goals, personal ambitions and personal drivers, so that you can design a business that enables you to achieve personal and professional fulfilment.

What you want and what you end up doing are two very different things when running your own business and one of the things I learnt through the programme was to try and remind myself why I started the business in the first place and reconcile that with where I spend my time today,” says Robin.

When Robin and Victoria started Melcrum, he was a ‘fresh-faced 27 year old’ with very different drivers and priorities. “In the early days it was all about survival, growth and proving to people that we could do it,” he recalls. “But the reason you started the business isn’t necessarily the reason you’re still in business today. So, I’ve had to revisit what I want in the long term and figure out how the business can deliver that.

“The Better Business Programme has been invaluable in encouraging me to think about long term goals for myself and my business and trying to align the two. It’s a novel and hugely valuable concept for me.”

One of Robin’s personal goals is to spend more time on one of his passions — creative writing. When he returns to work, he’s planning to do a part-time role so he has at least one day a week to pursue his writing.

Of course, going part-time is only an option if you’re surrounded by people you can rely on. Fortunately, Robin says Melcrum has a very high performing management team “[i]that is allowing us the growing space and the opportunity for me and Victoria to think more creatively about our roles.”. In particular, Robin is planning to hand over his group MD role to another member of the team, who has ‘stepped up and filled that space’ whilst he’s been on sabbatical. This will allow Robin to concentrate on the company’s vision and goals, as well as special projects that will have a transformational effect on growth.

Of course, it’s not just about what Robin wants. Victoria is Robin’s business partner and his wife. So, what she wants is equally important.

Because we're married to each other, there’s very strong alignment between our personal goals! Essentially, we want the same things,” says Robin. “[i]At the same time, I think these are often expressed in different ways and at different times. For example, because Victoria did a programme that Gerard ran seven years ago she managed to get herself to a point where she was working on the business not in it. Now, I've caught up and I'm much closer than I was to aligning my personal goals to those of the business.”

Even so, he concedes that emotions can get in the way and that they do sometimes find themselves becoming wrapped up in day to day issues at the expense of focusing on the future they want for themselves and the business. To offset that, Robin and Victoria have established a network of advisors who coach them and make sure they’re making progress towards their long term goals.