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Like just about every entrepreneur I know, I started my first business with a staff of one. Just me. I was solely responsible for every facet of the organization: sales, marketing, operations, billing, service and IT. No surprise, I was better at some of those things than others, and some I simply didn’t enjoy at all. I also knew that I couldn’t sustain filling all roles myself without burning out. When the time came to bring in reinforcements, I was pumped.
One of the great joys of owning a business is watching it grow, and that means bringing on new staff: talented people who are better than you in their personal areas of expertise. Beware, though. If you don’t trust them to do their job well, and if you don’t empower them to execute their job independently, you’ll be working three, five, or even ten times harder than you have to — with no return on investment for the time lost to micromanagement.
To build a business, you simply have to learn to let go
It sounds counterintuitive. It’s easy to believe that you and the company you started from the ground up are one and the same. But just like a carpenter needs an electrician and a plumber to build a house, you need a team to build a flourishing business. More than that, you need to trust those team members and empower them to lead.
If I got hit by an ice cream truck tomorrow, my business would survive. There are processes in place. There is an organizational structure, so everyone knows who does what. We talk about and teach our core values and principles so everyone on the team knows why we do things the way that we do.
If you were unexpectedly unable to attend to your company’s needs, could you say the same? Furthermore, consider this: If your ultimate goal is to sell someday and get scooped up by a larger corporation or venture capitalist, would you need to be included as part of the deal? Hint: They probably want to buy a business, not a person.
If you find yourself tensing up at the mere thought of letting go, take a moment to breathe. Imagine what it would be like to focus only on the things you are best at, the tasks that give you energy, leaving all the rest in the very capable hands of your talented and well-trained leadership team. Imagine working fewer hours and getting better results because the individuals who are smarter than you in certain areas are taking care of those tasks in smarter ways.
Where to begin?
Assuming you’re at the beginning stages, you’re growing and ready to make some new hires, how do you start and what do you let go of first? Great question.
Complete a thorough audit of how your time is spent each week:
How many hours of the week do you devote to the various segments of the business?
Which are you best at and which give you energy?
Which tasks are your weaknesses and drain your energy?
If you can pass off something you’re not so great at doing to someone who is fantastic at it, your work week will transform into a much more fulfilling and productive one.
Still, a lot of founders struggle with the responsibility of assigning responsibilities to others. It is entrepreneur-nature to jump in when our staff does something just slightly different than what we have been doing. It’s an easy trap to fall into — believe me — feeling like we are the only ones who can do what needs to be done the right way.
Steve Jobs explained it so well: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” It’s going to take some faith, a lot of trust and an open mind.
When you hire strategically and choose wisely (or have an extremely competent human resources director hiring other extremely competent people), take the time to listen and learn. Presumably, they’re very smart and talented. Trust in their experience, respect it and empower them to try things their way. Set clear expectations and goals. Gather data from the results to test it, sure, but you have to be open to change. Otherwise, why bother hiring anyone at all? My philosophy is to hire, train, then get out of the way.
How to help your staff succeed
One helpful tactic is to ensure that everyone who joins your team goes through a complete onboarding process. Equip each staff member with deep knowledge of the organization: history, culture, philosophy, systems and metrics for decision-making. That knowledge is power for your business because now you have 100 percent of your people on the same page, knowing which indicators to track before making any moves. Basically, you have now empowered an army of mini-you’s who will always act in the best interests of the company because they understand the foundation of those interests.
Communication and accountability are critical to establishing a solid foundation for your remote team:
Communicate the vision and purpose of the company.
Make the organizational structure, roles and responsibilities known to everyone.
Establish an education venue for shared company knowledge.
Create OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) as a team and monitor the output metrics.
Utilize a project management platform to ensure the team can see the big picture and that each person knows the components for which they’re responsible.
All of my team, one-on-one, and company-wide meetings are conducted over Zoom for face-to-face interaction.
With clear communication and specific accountability, everything runs more smoothly, and you have your finger on the pulse of the company.
Step back and watch the company grow
Now for the fun — and challenging — part. Step back. Really step back (take another deep breath if you need to) and embrace a culture of trust. To do that, staff must be armed with the proper amount of authority to make decisions without having to ask for a green light. Strong leaders can only lead their departments if those departments are able to come to conclusions independently and then act on them.
Certainly, some critical decisions must go all the way up the ladder, but only the ones that will have a marked impact on the company’s operations. Perhaps you don’t need to weigh in on font pairings, first rounds of intern interviews or routine website maintenance. Perhaps you do need to weigh in on strategic planning, key client acquisitions and final budget approvals. The more you show your staff that you trust them, support them and value their judgment, the more confident and engaged they become. And, as you delegate and allow this trust to grow, so will your company.
Barriers to delegation primarily come down to trust, power and control. By accepting delegation as a necessity for growth, you can practice it just as you would any other skill. Practice trusting the people you hire, practice sharing your power little by little, and practice relinquishing control of the day-to-day operations. When you master those things, as contrary as it sounds, you’ll find freedom. Fewer hours spent at work. Less weight on your shoulders as you share the burden. More hours spent on the things that are meaningful and rewarding. More business growth.
Surround yourself with the best people, share your vision and learn to trust your team. Empower your greatest asset — your employees — and hold them accountable. Focus your efforts on your unique entrepreneurial skills. Go ahead: Find the freedom and watch the growth in leading by letting go.
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