5 Steps to Becoming a Better Clock Builder

Business guru Jim Collins posts a great question in his book “Built to Last.”


“Imagine that you met a remarkable person who could look at the sun or the stars and, amazingly, state the exact time and date. Wouldn’t it be even more amazing still if, instead of telling the time, that person built a clock that could tell the time forever, even after he or she were dead and gone?”


The central idea of what his question is determing is if you are building your business around a time teller, or if you are building a clock so your business knows what time it is without having ot ask the clock buider.

If you’re building a business around a time teller then it will never scale, or last longer than the time teller since at the end of the day, they are the business. I’d venture a guess that all business owners would experience more life and freedom if they knew their business could run without them and will endure beyond them.


Below are 5 steps to becoming a clock builder instead of a time teller.


1) Get 100% Leadership Buy-in

  • The core leadership team needs to buy into the idea of clock building in order for the clock to be built. If they resist, then the rest of the business’ leaders and team members will resist, and the time teller will never get to become a clock builder. Statements such as, “We’ve always done things this way”, or “That’s just the way things are” should be red flags to an owner and bought in leaders that someone is not supporting the clock building effort. Make sure your core leadership understands this shift in focus, and is willing to champion the cause alongside of you.


2) Have a 10 Year Target

  • Business owners who always look towards tomorrow will miss opportunities today. However, the tall task of clock building does not make any sense in the short term. Only in the context of the future will clock building reveal its fruit. When you set that 10-year target, set it as if you have built your clock. Imagine what your business will be like in 10 years, and keep in mind that it will now be running without your efforts. It’s not just revenues that are important for this goal, but what is just as important is how your life and how others’ lives will be different.


3) Be Clear About the Things that Don’t Change

  • Clock Builders know they are building something much bigger than themselves, and that stands for something greater than what they have to offer. These are the core values and the ways peoples’ lives are impacted for the better. Business strategies, products and services, marketing campaigns, and even the company’s core business may change over time when you are clock building. But the heart and soul of the business needs to be clearly defined since it will be the center pin around which all the pieces of the clock move. Think about the things that make your business unique that are not related to what you do. It’s the drive of why you do it and how you do it. Those are the concepts that will never change.


4) Written Down, Followed by All

  • Clock building requires documenting, training, and keeping people accountable to scalable processes that will evolve with time and practice. When Henry Ford developed the assembly line in 1913 it changed the approach to mass automobile production, a perfect example of a clock building approach to business. However, that 1913 assembly line has evolved over time and while an assembly line in 2016 is completely different, the clock building principal remains the same. The major processes of your business need to be clearly documented, and all your team members need to be trained on those processes. More importantly, they need to be held accountable to those processes. Clear metrics on what winning and losing looks like are key to making sure that clock is running as it should.


I think Jim Collins picked clock building as a wonderful analogy. Building a fine clock that will span the decades takes a tremendous amount of (ironically) time, energy, and attention to detail. However, once created and dialed in they can be as dependable as the sunrise with very little ongoing maintenance. The same skills of patience, craftsmanship, and hard work are shared between building an actual clock and a sustaining business. Stop telling people what time it is in your business, and start building a clock so they always know for themselves.

Written by Josh Elmore

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