The Four Circles – You In The Business

Posted by The Icehouse on 5/09/2023 12:00:00 AM

The Four Circles forms the cornerstone of The Icehouse Owner Manager Programme. First identified and rationalised in ‘Changing Gears: how to take your Kiwi business from the kitchen table to the board room’ by Darl Kolb, David Irving, Deb Shepherd and Chris Woods, Auckland University Press, 2009, it quantifies how businesses may become more successful once they address, identify, and develop certain interconnected elements.

The Four Circles – You In The Business

Changing Gears initially identified three circles, with a fourth added several years later due to the changing face of ownership and how the business plays a role in the wider local community.

The four elements or circles are:

  • The Business – Its purpose, values strategy, business model, assets, etc.

  • You – The owner manager has a life that is healthy, punctuated with happy and fulfilling relationships with family and friends

  • You in the Community – the community and global context within which small and medium-sized business are situated

And finally, You In The Business – how owner managers manage and lead the business.

According to Changing Gears: ‘You in your business describes the way you conduct yourself in the business. Typically you are the ‘boss’, which means that you direct, manage and lead the business. These roles address matters such as the organisation of functions, people, practices, communications, work processes, specific work programmes and projects, relationships with stakeholders and so on.”

However, the problem for many owners is that they don’t start a business with a blank piece of paper. Some are lucky in that they get to design their own organisations from scratch, but many buy into or inherit a business or gradually move up the career ladder into a senior leadership position. All scenarios are fraught with challenges and pitfalls.

In short, you aren’t taught how to be an owner. What’s your high-level business strategy? Do you have any financial literacy? Sales and Marketing? Recruitment? Culture and people? How do you bring this all together with a bunch of talented and experienced people to mould an effective organisation?

We hear ‘You don’t know what you don’t know’ a lot from our alumni, which is why the Owner Manager Programme (OMP) and The Four Circles are so critical. As well as providing a platform to refresh and reconnect with the business, it enables owners to learn, learn again, learn more, and put themselves back into the heart of the organisation.

“What is unique in what we do, whether it's OMP or our other programmes and workshops, is we focus on the individual behind the business,” says Liz Wotherspoon, Chief Executive at The Icehouse.

“We used to say that we’re about the jockey, not the horse, and we still put a lot of focus on the individual behind the business. We're trying to help them to identify the skills they feel they might lack and the areas in the business that need greater focus and to help build those skills and hone their focus.

“Firstly, it’s ok not to know everything and it’s absolutely okay to ask for help when you need it. OMP isn’t about exposing deficiencies. It is for successful businesses and successful owners. We’re about helping them on their individual and business growth journey – supporting them to identify and prioritise the skills they need and then help them learn how to develop and apply them.”

Owners are the lifeblood of businesses but there’s a lot to take on, and it’s impossible to cover all the bases.

“You know what needs to be done within the business to help it move forward, but sometimes it’s just having the confidence to go ahead and make some of those tough decisions that you might have put off,” says Clare Davies, Managing Director at Capstone Management and an OMP alumni.

“OMP definitely taught me that foundation, even in business now, that it's okay to have to make those tough decisions – and we've had to make a hell of a lot of them over the last few years.”

With such a personal stake in success, it’s no wonder owners need help. Moreover, as the business evolves, owners need new skills because the business they had ten years ago isn’t the business they have now. It’s doubtful words like ‘succession’, ‘digital transformation’ and ‘exit strategy’ permeated that inaugural management meeting.

“There were a number of us who just needed to be more passionate about our business,” says Rewa Willis, Co-Founder and Director at Sherson Willis of her OMP experience.

“Succession planning, recruitment, staffing, were always major issues for everybody that sat around the table. So you realise quickly that despite being from different backgrounds and businesses, we're all facing similar problems.”

Ultimately, owners embody the essence of the business, steering it through challenges and realising its potential, underscoring their indispensable role in the entrepreneurial journey. The Four Circles aren’t a scientific formula for success. However, they can shine a light on purpose, the owner’s “why”, and identify critical next steps to finding better ways to achieve the success they and their teams deserve.


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Topics: Owner Manager Programme