A Stroke Nearly Killed Me. It Was the Best Thing to Happen to My Business.
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At the young age of 33, I had a stroke. Shocking, I know!
It came completely out of the blue and utterly rocked my world. I wasn't overly stressed or overweight. I played college football and considered myself to be a healthy person. The doctors discovered that I was born with a defective heart valve which lead to a large aneurysm in my aorta. Ultimately, I needed open heart surgery to replace my valve and aorta.
That's when I realized two things: I'm not invincible, and my life would never be same. While it was an absolutely horrifying event for me and my family, it came with a silver lining: I realized I was doing business all wrong.
Growing up in a family of hard-working contractors, I was raised on the job-site with everybody digging ditches and swinging hammers. My family owned a small company, and everybody worked with a first-in, last-out mentality. When I started Global Disposal Reduction Services, Inc. a decade ago with my business partners, I took the same approach. This led to a problem...the company centered around me. This is a common problem many business owners face.
In 2012, I bought out my partners, and the company was definitely spinning on my axis. All of that changed in the fall of 2013. While driving to a sales appointment, I had a stroke. Not only did this moment change my life, but it revolutionized how I was running my business.
I'd spent the past five years pouring my everything into this business. When I wasn't physically at work, my mental energy was spent planning and strategizing. In this defining moment of extreme vulnerability, I had an epiphany: I hadn't planned for something like this. Nowhere in my projections, goals and company outlines had I accommodated for having a stroke and open heart surgery. This wasn't even on my radar, and why would it be? After all, I was a perfectly healthy 33 year old (or so I thought).
As I was lying in the hospital bed, unsure of the future, my focus shifted. I began asking myself very tough questions. "What happens to the company if I'm gone?" "How can I protect my family and my employees?" I immediately implemented changes across the board, so the company could grow into a business capable of sustaining itself whether I was there to run it or not.
The three biggest changes I made:
I got help improving operations.
I hired somebody to organize and systematize the company and define every position's job description, especially mine. I had her work through all my core positions in the company so that she had a clear understanding of how everything functioned together. This helped create a step-by-step manual on how to complete each job in that division. Once she became familiar with each position, she was able to attack issues head-on with complete understanding of how a particular decision at one end of the business could affect matters at the other end.
I shifted focus onto employee success.
I started focusing my energy on making sure the employees had everything they needed to succeed. I realized there were unnecessary redundancies hindering job performance. I discovered my company had duplicative processes that created nothing but added confusion and frustration. From this, I simplified tasks and cut down on the number of people involved in a particular issue.
I let my team do more and they like it.
I gave up control and quickly found many of the people I was working with had talents that far surpassed mine and were eager to take on new challenges. Looking back, I now see that the stop-gaps and issues with performance were directly related to the inefficiency in my company. So many times I thought I was the only person qualified to speak with a client. What I was doing was cutting out my employees from the process and keeping them in dark.
The outcome of these changes had an astronomical effect on my business and left me with three important takeaways on how I view my company and employees.
Don't wait for an emergency.
Don't wait for an extreme circumstance to start your company on the path toward self-sufficiency. You can take steps now to ensure you are building something that is capable of operating with or without you or anybody else in your company. Everybody should think about what they are doing as if somebody else was going to have to do it tomorrow.
Set your goals and make a plan.
Set clear goals for both the company and each employee and identify how you will achieve those goals. Many companies set arbitrary goals but fail to effectively chart a path toward success for each and every employee. Owners must let go of the fear that they are the only ones who can achieve these goals for their companies. If one of your employees is consistently overachieving, then continue to increase his/her responsibilities and challenge him/her with new projects. You will never really know what your employees are capable of until you let go of the reins.
Stop underestimating your team.
Look for talent within your company, and empower your people to succeed. Make sure the company is focused on the customer, and you are focused on the company. A really cool tool I started to implement is the CliftonStrengths talent assessment. This is an awesome opportunity to identify what your employees do best and build upon their talents. The online test takes about 45 minutes and is a way to put your employees in the best position possible to succeed.
My life and business today are much different than they were four years ago. I have more time to spend enjoying life and my family. My business doesn't depend on my every waking second because I've structured it that way. My employees are happier and feel more ownership of their jobs as they now have a clear sense of direction and can see how their contributions directly impact the overall health of the company. Their renewed sense of vigor fuels me as I strive to fulfill my role in growing and expanding the company to new heights.
I'm at peace knowing that if circumstances pull me away from my business for an extended period of time or even permanently, my business will continue to flourish. My employees will continue to have a secure job, and my family will continue to benefit from the years of blood, sweat and tears I poured into this business because it now thrives with or without me.