Carbon Copy

The Secret Formula

Cloning an entrepreneur isn't as tricky as cloning a sheep, but it's no cinch, either. Entrepreneurs have to choose the right clone, groom him or her properly, establish limits and prepare the rest of the company for the clone's presence.

Choosing the right person is the most important step. To make the right selection, says Stern, look at your candidates' styles, not their skills. Stern knew Rickner would make an excellent replacement when she recognized that Rickner had similar values and approaches to the business that would be helpful in keeping the company running smoothly during her recuperation. "She understood the high standards for quality and service I was trying to achieve," Stern says. "And she understood how to build client relationships."

Clones can come from outside the organization, but the best ones come from within. "You grow one," explains Paine. "Find somebody in your company who understands the goals and principles of the company--someone the other employees trust."

One reason for cloning from within is that you need to see how the potential clone interacts with your other employees, clients and suppliers before you can identify them as a clone candidate, says Paine. She first realized she had a clone candidate when Ury was named "Hero of the Year" in a staff poll for three consecutive years.

When grooming your clone, be prepared to make time--lots of it. "It takes two or three years," says Paine. While training in management skills and operational issues may well take that long, the more important issue is letting trust develop between your clone and the rest of the company. "You can buy training," Paine notes. "You can't buy trust."

Just as it would be disconcerting to encounter a duplicate of yourself walking down the street, employees might also be confused by the presence of a clone. Entrepreneurs can handle this by broadly dividing their responsibilities from the clone's responsibilities. As Paine puts it, "If somebody has a big problem, they come to me. If they have a small problem, they go to Jill."

Dividing responsibilities won't work, however, unless everybody knows where the line is, Stern notes. Her 12 employees experienced little or no confusion about the role-swapping, even after she returned to work last year. "I think that's because we were both very sensitive to these issues and planned for them," Stern says. "We always made it clear to the staff what was happening and who was in charge of what."

When it comes to clearly dividing responsibilities between clone and entrepreneur, there's no substitute for walking the walk. In other words, entrepreneurs have to allow clones to make the decisions that are supposed to be theirs to make without interfering. Putting roles into practice helps clear up gray areas of responsibility not covered by written job descriptions and organizational charts.

Stern believes being able to work closely with Rickner as her second-in-command for years before her illness lessened the amount of confusion employees felt about who was responsible for what. "We just make a great team," Stern says. "And I think the staff can see that, which made it very easy for them [to adapt]."

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This article was originally published in the May 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Carbon Copy.

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