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Taking a Step Back: A Business Owner’s Perspective on Letting the Team Take Over

Posted on September 23, 2008 by Brian

Hey business owner, are you willing to be bored? (Don’t let your employees read this.)

If you’ve worked on a startup you can likely argue that it involves little boredom.  However, what I’m finding now, a bit over four years in, is that a little boredom at the top may be a necessary evil.  I think understanding this issue requires understanding resources, growth vs. leveling off, and good management.  So the question I ask myself is “If we’ve tapped into all of the financial resources available and established a qualified, motivated team, charged with managing and growing the business according to our plan, what should I be spending my time on?” 

I have come up with seven options that may be likely considerations:

  1. Get all in my management team’s mix - I could repeatedly request status, take over decisions, drive their teams, and other micro management efforts.  I think we know this undermines their efforts, creates inertia and waste, prevents learning, and ultimately renders the team impotent.  The key is to get the right people, build trust, and let them go within a wide boundary.
  2. Find random little things to involve everyone in - You know, that neat new idea I just read a blog about.  Instead of efficiently rolling new ideas into the strategic plan, I can simply nab people here and there to run down what I consider to be fun, but are ultimately distractions.  Nimbleness should be innate, not the result of boredom.
  3. Keep coming up with new projects, assignments, and responsibilities – Even the good projects, valuable assignments and important responsibilities cannot be tackled effectively without new resources. The assumption that my team has endless capacity to tackle new opportunities will quickly lead to burnout and de-motivation.  Eventually they’ll just stop getting anything done, or ignore me.
  4. Join the "data team" - I could throw my body at whatever projects are currently in work.  I am sure that there are tasks that are consistently in need of an extra hand: Data entry, physical inventory of the warehouse, answering calls, issuing refunds, cleaning the trash bin, etc.  This is a tricky one since it seems like a good idea to jump on whatever fires I can see, and I’ve done so in the past.  At some point, however, we have to stop covering the fires with elbow grease from higher compensated workers.  We need to let those groups work through their staffing, processes, or focus issues rather than building in inefficient use of our dollars.  I’ve also found that sometimes I’m more trouble than I’m worth when I randomly toss myself into a department for a couple days.
  5. Here’s a scary one… replace someone on the management team - Let’s face it, my partners and I have done each of their jobs at some point in our history.  We may be a bit rusty but it could be done again.  Assuming we don’t want our business to level off and slowly die, this may be the worst idea on the list.  If we’ve worked to put together a team that can use the available resources to grow the company, any reduction to that team would be a step backward to some previous point in time.  Our growth mentality makes this a last resort driven only by necessity, and definitely not boredom.
  6. Get outside the office - This may be the best option, given the right team.  If your team needs to see your car in the parking lot every day you may have to take up web browsing as a profession.  Otherwise, I can get my creative juices working on the next thing, related or unrelated to this business.  The risk here is taking your eye off the ball, moving to something new too early, or not resisting trap number three above.  There is a possible upside to this, you may quickly test your assumptions about a “qualified, motivated team”.
  7. Find more resources - Maybe this is my real job.  Debt, equity, grants, profits, couch cushions, recycling, Guido…  My partners and I need to make sure we are always on the limit of what we can do, and are willing to do, in terms of fueling our business with financial resources.  This goes back to my assumption … assuming we’ve tapped into all of the financial resources available. 

At the risk of sounding pompous, I suppose I’m learning the difference between managing and leading, or maybe a GM vs. a CEO.  At the core, I think the lesson is that we can’t always do more, even if I have time to spend.  If we’re leveraging every resource available to attack the highest priority opportunities in the best way possible, maybe it’s time to let the team carry the torch, while I simply make sure the two basic assumptions are progressively being met.  Eventually, as they build, we’ll reach new milestones that will require more of my involvement and guidance.  Otherwise, if I choose the wrong option above we change our trajectory, which isn’t best for anyone.  If I’ve maxed resources, setup the team, and created the plan, maybe I can use any extra time on a random Thursday to jump start a new venture of my own with personal resources.  I wonder if Guido will still give me that short term loan at 45%?  Uh, I guess I like my knee caps too much to take that deal.

 

 

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