The happy place between visions and nitty-gritties

Balancing daily operations with strategy

Possible…? Possibly, yes.

A whopping 70.6% deemed it difficult to balance daily operational work and fire-fighting with strategy and strategic work; half of which said it was even “Very Difficult”. That’s the response I received upon polling the experiences of seasoned (3 years+) entrepreneurs in the region.

Running a company is not for the faint of heart, and that’s one of the reasons why. Although you get sucked into the vortex of day-to-day operational details, you still have a tantalizing obligation to have a grip over your strategy and strategic tasks.

Operations is what feeds you today and strategy is what will feed you tomorrow; so the key challenge is that you actually need both.[1]

This is part of the massive psychological load you have to bear, and you can hardly delegate it.

The 2 key components of getting strategy work done are:

  1. Dedicating time for it
  2. Isolating yourself to focus

Upon reading this, any entrepreneur with sizeable experience in the market will most-probably react as follows: either laugh painfully, or aspire wishfully to simpler times. And rightfully so; here is why:

1- It is very hard to find the time to do it

Strategic thinking takes a lot of deep focus and reflection as well as time to rationalize and digest available data that would enable me to take the right decisions to move the company forward. Finding time to do all of that and give it the necessary focus is difficult since I always have the day-to-day issues at the back of my mind”, said Moataz Kotb — Founder & CEO of Cultark.

Having talked to seasoned entrepreneurs, this is in fact THE prevailing challenge. Most of them have recognized, that delegating the nitty-gritties is the 1st step to overcome this challenge and free up the necessary time and space. Which takes us to the next challenge:

2- Finding the people & delegate daily tasks to them

Building the right team[2], and “delegating all the work[3], seem to be the challenge that is symptomatic to the well-recognized “scarcity of calibers[4]. This obviously results in having “limited number of employees[5] to whom you can only delegate so much. It is also amplified if you additionally have “cash flow problems[6] typical to startups entering the growth phase. However, if you are of the “fortunate” ones who overcame this hurdle, don’t exhale in relief just yet. There is more…

3- Communicating & enforcing the strategy throughout your company

Another more subtle challenge is communication; better explained by Karim Taha, Co-Founder of Splus Marketing Strategies as “cascading the strategy [to your team] and making sure [everyone] has a close perception of [it]”.

It is not enough to delegate the operational tasks. You must make sure everyone sees eye-to-eye when nurturing & executing your company’s strategy.

Am I screwed?

Despite said challenges now seeming hilariously draconian, there are a few techniques to help overcome them. However, none of them is a slam dunk. But, so is every technique tackling a complex situation: use what works for you, and drop what doesn’t. So, choose wisely:

1- Freaking make time for it

Be it “on a weekly basis at the office from 7 am to 9 am, and during Fridays and Saturdays[7], by “keep[ing] all the strategy/analysis work to do at night after the emails/phone calls calm down[8], or perhaps by “retreats, even daily ones sometimes[9]. It really depends on how you generally approach big issues in your life: fix it within your daily routine, or let it grow organically by contemplating it in your “free” time.

Personally, I go hybrid:

  • I let things evolve “organically” and subconsciously in the back of my mind.
  • When they become vivid enough, I start actively thinking about them and discussing them with others.
  • Once they become actionable, I go into lockdown to focus until I’m done.

But that’s just me. So, try this at home at your own risk.

2- “Projectize” your strategy work

[Break] the strategy into very short term tasks so as to make sure things are being done; and as a mental reward, you [feel good for] accomplishing something and moving forward[10]

I’ve had more success delivering strategic work by transforming it into projects with distinct deliverables: slides, spreadsheets, designs, etc. In other words, I define certain outputs for said projects. Here are some examples:

  • A blog post about my deep dives into product data analysis. A real life example of mine is “Finding the aha-moment of iqraaly” as summarized here and detailed here.
  • A presentation on a full/partial company performance review presentation over a certain month or quarter.

The guilt you feel due to postponing the strategy-projects will keep growing with time. Hopefully, it overweighs you one day to man-up and focus to get it done.

3- Present your findings to the team or stakeholders

Never underestimate the power of social and peer pressure, especially if you are trying to maintain an image of leadership with your team.

If you are deadline oriented or are mostly driven by urgency, this should do it for you. It can be a periodical event. And you can also engage other team members with assignments that feed into your deliverables. Which takes us to the next technique…

4- Sacred periodic meetings and workshops

Amr Saleh, Co-founder & CEO of Integreight, prefers “monthly meetings to focus on the [bigger] pictures, and weekly meetings to see [their] updates.” This is one of the more practical all-in-one ways to manage the development, execution and effective cascading of a live strategy within your team.

Basically, dedicate the longer, less frequent meetings or workshops to ponder and reflect. The shorter, more frequent meetings in between should focus on managing the execution. The weekly operations meeting is an awesome tool everyone should use. Combined with monthly or bi-quarterly meetings to address the big picture makes you quite unstoppable. Having it offsite you say? Well, that’s the next technique…

5- Do your strategy work offsite

A hack I always use when I have an overwhelming task ahead of me that requires isolation and concentration, is doing it in a new(ish) place. With the current abundance of work-friendly cafes, co-working spaces and generous friends’ offices, said places should be easy to attain.

Changing the venue helps get people out of their daily fixations. Just make sure you remove the operational distractions from your offsite work. Otherwise you have just changed the scenery for you and your team.

6- Delegation: Operations & Strategy

On delegating operations, Abdulrahman Khedr, Co-Founder & CEO of Axeer Studio said: “It’s a process: start by enhancing the operations through empowering [your] people, then start getting out of operations bit by bit and focus more on [the] strategic.

I advise you to look into the age-old arts of situational leadership and delegation. I’ve personally tried it many times throughout the years, and it works. Period.

Optimally, within a team of Co-Founders, the CEO owns the strategy, its development, refinement & delivery. It is part of being a leader in your company, not just managing it.

Finally, my friend Mostafa Ashour, Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Tryvin, said it best: “I have observed that relatively mediocre teams with a solid enforced strategy usually outperform talented teams lead by [strong] but tactical leaders. Understanding where you are going and constantly checking that your direction is correct is of paramount importance.


[1] Hussein Mohieldin, Co-Founder & Managing Director of Robusta Studio

[2] Waleed Khalil, Founder & CEO of Oteena

[3] Eman Hylooz, Founder & CEO of Abjjad

[4] Moustafa Abou SamrA, Co-Founder & CEO of the Fooodies

[5] Josline El Kholy, Co-Founder of Jozee Boutique

[6] Ala’a Suleiman, Co-Founder & CEO of Masmoo3

[7] Moataz Kotb, Founder & CEO of Cultark

[8] Ahmed Galal, Founder & CEO of Taskty

[9] Muhammad A. Ali, Co-Founder & Ex-CEO of eSpace, Founder & CEO of Nezal, CTO of Sanubi

[10] Mostafa Ashour, Co-Founder & CEO of Khayal, Co-Founder & CEO of Tryvin

An edited version is published on http://www.wamda.com/2016/08/Be-the-CEO-not-the-COO

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