Are you Working In or On?

Your grammar can determine your results.

My big sister Marla, an English teacher, taught me that a preposition is “anything a mouse can do in a house.” A mouse can be in the house, under the house, or behind the house. As much as I don’t care for mice, the phrase led me to clearly understand the importance of prepositions. This little part of speech continues to impact my views on leadership today. Stay with me…

Two prepositions have particular significance on your effectiveness as a leader. When you are in charge of a work group or a business unit, you can choose between spending your time working IN your organization or working ON your organization. Your impact will be determined by the preposition you select.

Working IN Your Organization

When you are working IN your organization, you are:

* Delivering products or services
* Working directly with customers
* Making sales
* Finishing routes
* Preparing reports
* Responding to crises
* Reacting to customer and staff demands

Working IN  your organization can be time consuming, and involve effort that is often short-term focused and reactionary. When you work IN your organization, you are maintaining the status quo and keeping the ship afloat. In my case, if I’m not delivering a webinar or creating new performance management systems for clients, I won’t be in business for long.

We all need to work IN the organization to keep things moving. However, if you spend every minute working IN your work, it’s difficult to have an impact ON your work. When you work IN your work, you are focused on the here and now, rather than building for the future.

Working ON Your Organization

Leaders who work ON their organizations are focused beyond the present and are willing to ask questions like:

* How could we do this more efficiently?
* What can we do to improve?
* How are we doing?
* How could we do better?
* Where do we want to be in X months or years?
* What do we need to do to move the group from here to there?

When you work ON your business, you are taking time to think strategically about your operation, engaging others in the conversation, and driving for an improved situation. The more time you spend working ON your organization, the more effective your team becomes, leading you to be less reactionary.

Leaders who work ON  organizations initiate practices like:

* Strategic planning
* Organizational assessments
* Regular staff meetings that encourage the team to think forward
* Visioning
* Scenario planning
* Benchmarking and best practice identification
* Customer surveys
* Employee climate surveys
* 360-degree feedback and coaching
* Individual development planning
* Succession planning

We all have to work IN the business to keep the wheels spinning. After all, you were hired to run the place. There will always be fires to put out and reports to prepare. But, if you spend 100% of your time on these “IN the business” activities you’re not really leading.

Instead spend time each day asking:

* What can I do to spend a little more time ON the organization rather than  IN it?
* Where do I focus most of my attention now? IN the organization or ON the organization?
* If I was to focus ON the organization, what would be our most pressing need?

According to my sister, a mouse can be inside, outside, above, below, throughout, across from, within, around, and under a house. Each preposition gives the mouse a different perspective on the structure. You’ll have an improved perspective if you do the same with your organization. Work ON it, not just IN it.

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