Help, I’m Stuck in the Day to Day!

“No matter what I do, it seems like I’m always getting pulled back into daily tasks. I know that my job as owner is to focus on building the business. But there are so many things that need to get done and I can’t afford to let things fall apart when the people around me can’t do it all.”

Thoughts of the Day: Working “in” the business instead of “on” it can cost you. You can’t afford not to let things fall where they may when it looks like the people around you can’t do it all. Check into your growth rate – if things are falling apart, you may be trying to grow too fast. Ultimately your business will be run by someone else – use that visual to get focused now on what you have to do.

Research shows that the majority of business owners in the U.S. – actually more than 90 percent of all businesses – spend most of their time working “in” and not “on” the business. Research also shows that when business owners work “in” the business, net income over the years tends to flatline. If there are profitable years, much of those profits eventually get plowed back into the business during down cycles.

The perceived risk of having things go wrong on a day-to-day basis is overshadowed by the reality of having a business that cannot stand on its own. The owner cannot take time away from the business to enjoy the rewards of what has been built for fear things will stall, or worse, decline, in his/her absence. Consequently, hard work over the years turns into more of the same.

Perhaps, most disturbing of all, when the long-term focus is working “in” the business instead of “on” the business, exit value is nowhere near what it could be. When ready to exit, owners struggle to find a ready buyer willing to take over a business that depends on the ongoing involvement of the seller. To the extent that a buyer can be found, the value of the business is severely discounted due to inconsistent performance, lack of a strong, secure management team and inadequate systems.

Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about another way to do things. Learn to get out of the way. Make people fix the problems they create. Stop rescuing.

In order for other people to learn, you have to let go. Give people specific assignments. Put the assignments in writing as job descriptions, process descriptions and agreements on conditions of success.

Teach employees how to do what’s been written down. Don’t let them off the hook when things go wrong. Ask them to describe how they plan to fix the situation. Then hold their toes to the fire while they do it.

Make sure employees understand the important role they play in building the company’s future. Have both short-term and long-term plans in place, with progress measures. Assign teams to oversee what’s going on.

Talk with employees about the importance of teamwork. No individual heroes or heroines. Everyone is responsible for the success of the company.

If problems crop up, ask the team to solve them instead of you personally jumping in to pick up the reins. Get regular reports on progress. Help the team brainstorm how they will know when the problem is fixed. Then ask everyone to stay on task to get there.

If things start to fall apart, check on whether the company overall is trying to take on too much, too fast. A growth rate of 10 percent to 15 percent, year-over-year, should be fast enough to stay ahead of inflation and slow enough to allow time to catch and fix mistakes before they become big problems.

Have a vision that includes exiting the business. Ensure that others know how to run the business in your absence. Use vacations as test runs.

Looking for a good book? Try “Work Toward Reward: Building Business Value Today for a Well Deserved Future” by Chia-Li Chien.