5 Things I Learned at Harvard

November 19, 2018 - 9 minutes read

Do you remember your first day at school? It’s a question rarely encountered in business. But it’s one I’ve been pondering lately.

This year I started attending Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management (OPM) program. On my first day there, I didn’t know what to expect. Little did I know, this life event wasn’t only an opportunity to innovate with talented business leaders from around the world — it was a chance to step back from my day-in-day-out role at Dogtown Media, a mobile app development company, and examine my situation from a holistic perspective.

Marc Fischer Harvard Business School

About the Program

Running a company is an all-encompassing endeavor that often leaves you with little time for personal growth. Fortunately, the folks at Harvard knew this; that’s why they established the OPM program more than 40 years ago. The program is designed to help business leaders realize their true potential.

“Through a unique and intensive learning format, OPM enables you to assess your strengths and weaknesses, identify and exploit emerging opportunities, and transform your company and your career.” According to Harvard University..

My class consisted of 160 founders and entrepreneurs from 41 different countries. Industries ranged from finance and marketing to tech, healthcare, and manufacturing. But regardless of our differences, we had one objective uniting us: to improve ourselves so we could improve our respective businesses.

Here are my 5 top takeaways from the program:

1. Cultivating Company Culture Is Crucial

Company culture can feel like a subtle aspect of your organization. But it’s integral to how your team operates. The OPM program strongly stressed the importance of examining and investing in your company culture. After all, its effects cascade through every other facet of your business.

To start this process yourself, begin with “Why?” Why is your company doing what it’s doing? Why would anyone want to join your team? Why should they care about your vision? Why do you care about your mission?

Don’t underestimate the power of “Why?” Your team is everything. The most important investment any business makes is in its people. And if you can answer “Why?” succinctly, everything else about company culture falls into place.  

Your team will understand why you exist and why you do what you do. This insight produces a vision that everyone can share. It allows you to move forward toward that vision, together.

2. Get Back to the Basics of Business

At first glance, it may seem counter-intuitive to gather business pioneers together to discuss the basic of business. But in retrospect, it makes sense — your fundamentals are your foundation. They are the building blocks for a better business.

Ask yourself, what business are you in? Who are your clients? Who are your competitors? Do you know why your clients choose you over your competitors? What about the inverse: why do you lose business to your competitors?

Digging deep into these questions yield unparalleled insight into your overall strategy. And this is the first step to making a shift to win more business. You start realizing the nuances of how your company differentiates itself and what you’re doing better or worse than competitors.

In turn, this enables you to become more customer-centric by aligning your long-term vision with the people you want to do business with. Speaking of alignment…

3. Align Your Finances With Your Vision of the Future

Is your business growing how you thought it would? Are you planning to execute a growth strategy soon, or are you content with where you’re at? And if you are intent on expanding, how will this affect pricing, cost control, cash flow, and numerous other aspects of your operations?

At the end of the day, business really isn’t all about your bottom line — it’s about how you use it to catapult yourself toward the future you envision. Ensure your strategy going forward is financially aligned with your fundamentals.

It’s not as simple as always having more cash flowing in than out. When you’re getting ready for growth, you must pay special attention to how you’re utilizing your current finances; it’s the only way to retain a great return on investment.

4. Know When to Hold on and When to Let Go

Are your duties discretely defined? Or are the lines blurred? When you’re growing a business, delegation becomes of paramount importance. Unfortunately, it’s a fact that many entrepreneurs have trouble accepting.

If you’re in charge of guiding a team towards success, you can’t be held back by the day-to-day grind. You’ve already got a vision, culture, and strategy to worry about. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Make sure you’re not biting off more than you can chew. This not only impedes progress but could actually be detrimental as well.

You’ve spent an inordinate amount of time gathering together your team. You know you’ve got the right people in the right places to make something special happen. So trust them. Empower your team to execute upon the strategy you’ve planned together.

5. You Don’t Have All the Answers. And That’s Okay.

This was my favorite insight to learn (and the hardest one to stomach). When you’re leading your business, you want to believe in yourself. You want to have all the right answers. After all, you’re often dealing with an onslaught of obstacles. So it makes sense that you’d want to trust in your abilities to handle them.

I came into the OPM program seeking answers to a plethora of questions. I wanted to learn from brilliant minds like Larry Culp, who, less than a week after the program’s end, went on to become the next CEO of General Electric.

And sure enough, I got answers. But not the ones I anticipated. As in other areas of life, business success depends on adaptability. And true adaptability begins with acceptance of the fact that you don’t have all the answers.

That’s okay. You don’t need all the answers right now. In life, we’re often faced with less-than-ideal situations where we don’t have all the information we think we need. But that doesn’t need to stop you from moving forward. You can figure out a way to move past each obstacle, no matter how insurmountable it seems. Just take it one step at a time.

Always Stay a Student

While this was my first day back to school in a while, it certainly won’t be my last. The lessons I learned at Harvard’s OPM program have given me an exceptional outlook on my role at Dogtown Media and how I can improve as a leader.

But above all else, this remains the most important insight:

Never stop learning.

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