Why can't my business run without me?

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As a business owner, some days are easier than others, but they’re always stressful. It seems like everyone has problems, but no solutions. You often feel like you’re the only one with a fire extinguisher. You question yourself, “Why can’t my business run without me? Why do my employees need me to hold their hands? When can I take a day off?” These questions are signs of a business that is too reliant on the owner.  

Owning a business that is too reliant on the owner drains its people, creates dependency, and prevents the business from being more profitable. While the owner may be involved in the business, they should not be the only person who keeps it running. Everyone needs a break, and you deserve one, just as your employees do.

Here are three common reasons a business may be too reliant on the owner – and how to solve them:

 

  • Unclear values

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it in every business book out there – strong core values are imperative to the success of your organization. Now, you may have come up with some nice words that mean something to you and use them as your company values; however, that is not enough. Your values must be clear, actionable, and understandable. Having clear values will give your employees better decision-making capabilities – which takes the pressure off you to make every decision.

Let’s think about this in the real world. Consider an organization where the values are clear and understood by all employees. Let’s say one of the company values is “responsive”, which is defined as making sure clients get answers when they need them. When an employee is faced with deciding to either respond to an urgent client request or handle a critical internal dilemma, they will reflect on the core value to be “responsive” and respond to the client first. In the absence of clear values, the same employee would have waited until you became available so you could confirm which task to prioritize.  Clear values allow the entire team to make decisions more consistently, and without your constant input.  For some tips on implementing clear values, see our blog on how to effectively incorporate values into your business.

 

  • Lack of processes

A second sign of an overly-reliant business is one that does not have clear processes – or worse, no processes! Developing a standard way of accomplishing tasks is one of the keys to ensuring your employees can run the business in your absence. By spending the time to break down a task, write down the steps, and develop the process around it – you’re able to extend yourself (and other knowledgeable employees) to a broader team. 

Be sure to enlist your team when you create processes, as their day-to-day involvement with the details of the business will naturally shape the process, even if you need to refine their input to achieve an optimal way of performing the task. 

Once your processes are in place, you’ve essentially multiplied the organization’s ability to perform the work in your absence.  With effective processes, your time can be spent on bigger picture issues for the business.

If you are constantly being pulled into the operations of the business, you are stuck working “in the business”, when you really need to get to a place of working “on the business”.

 

  • Lack of delegation

We get it – you’re the owner, of course you know best! Delegating can feel like a waste of time when you know you’re going to have to end up doing it anyways. But failing to delegate tasks causes unhealthy dynamics throughout the organization. 

First, you feel stressed because your to-do list is out of control. This also means that you can’t get to other important tasks – business strategy, planning, critical thinking – since you are consumed with the everyday matters.

Lack of delegations is also unhealthy for your employees.  They are missing important opportunities to develop new skills and take on more responsibilities, both which lead to lower levels of engagement and productivity. Many of the tasks you find routine and boring, someone else in the organization likely would find the task new and exciting.

While you spend time feeling overwhelmed by tasks that seem they must be done by you, an employee may be feeling stagnant and would love to try their hand at one of your tasks. Delegation can be one of the scariest things as a business owner, but trust us, it really is imperative to growing a business that can run without you.

Leadership guru John Maxwell provides this rule of thumb – if you can delegate a task to someone who is 80% as effective as you are, then you need to delegate the task.  Try this approach:

      a. Identify a task that you currently do at least a few times a month

      b. Decide who in your organization can perform the task at 80% of your level once they are trained on doing the task

      c. Let the person know the importance of the task and how it will save you time, which helps the company be healthier.  Explain how they will benefit from learning how to do the task. 

      d. Have the person watch you perform the task and share your insights

      e. Watch the person do the task, provide guidance, and answer any questions

      f. Have the person do the task by themselves and you review the results; make sure to let them know to come to you with any questions

      g. Periodically check the quality of the results for the next few times

Now just think, every time that task is completed by your employee you have reclaimed that time and can use it for a more valuable purpose.

 

The best way to test the progress you are making on creating a more independent organization is to take time off – an afternoon or morning at the start, then a full day, then a couple of days, and finally a week or more.  Consciously see how the organization does in your absence.  Each time you take time off you will identify gaps in the organization – where values need to be clearer, where processes need to be expanded, and where additional delegation is needed.

Over time, you will stop asking yourself “Why can’t my business run without me?” and begin asking yourself “What am I going to do with all my freedom?”

Remember that if your business can’t run without you, it won’t grow beyond you


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