As Your Company Grows, You Need to Stop Constantly Dealing With Day-to-Day Fires
In today's workforce, attention to detail is the key to any successful business. From managing the minutiae of customer engagement to dealing with business logistics, there's no doubt that focusing on the little things plays a key role in providing an excellent customer experience. Certainly, attention to detail is a skill to hire for -- but what role does it play in the entrepreneurial tool belt?
As Seth Godin reminds us, "Leadership determines the survival, success and legacy of organizations." Leadership is about vision. It's about thinking big picture. An organization without a vision can't grow. That's why, as a business grows, it's important to take a step back and refocus on the road ahead.
When the employee headcount at my company grew, so did my job as CEO. I had to learn ways to get out of the day-to-day fires and focus on growth and leadership.
Here are five ways to help you do that:
1. Focus on high-value tasks.
How do you measure your productivity as an entrepreneur? Think about it. When your business is a startup and you're the only pair of hands on deck, your work is less about the value and more about necessity. If the floors need to be mopped, it's pretty easy to know who needs to do the mopping.
When you've got a team at your disposal (no matter how small), you've got to think beyond the immediacy of a single task and plan for the future. As an executive, the bulk of your time should be spent on high-value tasks. If you'd pay an employee $30 an hour for accounting work but only $12 an hour to clean the floors, focus your time on the big dollar items and outsource, hire out or delegate the other tasks.
C-level tasks -- the kinds of activities that CEOs, CMOs and COOs are doing -- are the kinds of tasks where you should focus as much of your time as possible. This might include creating team processes, hiring or recruiting top industry talent, promoting your business or forming partnerships in your field. Because these tasks can drastically impact your business, it's important to reflect on your week and make sure you're doing the most valuable possible.
You don't want to be a foot soldier for your business; you want to be its general.
2. Delegate nonessential responsibilities.
This is something small-business CEOs often struggle with, particularly if they've built a business from the ground up. As your business begins to grow, it's essential to liberate yourself from tasks which don't require your immediate attention and oversight so that you can focus on the big picture.
Delegating tasks can be difficult. As Tim Ferriss mentions in his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, "Each delegated task must be both time-consuming and well-defined." (Here's a podcast from Ferriss discussing similar topics.) Here's how to figure which tasks to delegate:
Pick any deliverable -- product or service -- your business provides and break down the cost of production. Compare that cost with your internal process and checklist. In the beginning, I prefer using a per-project price instead of an hourly rate to better understand what to delegate.
While you'll likely find a handful of essential tasks that require your personal attention, you may also discover tasks that are ripe for delegation. If you're seeing redundancy in your production process, I recommend delegating those tasks to a subordinate or outsourcing them entirely.
3. Automate all non-customer interactions.
One of the first businesses I built was a janitorial supply company. It grew to the point where our website featured 20,000 products. I needed to be competitive in the market, and I wanted to charge less than my peers, so I hired a programmer to search their websites for pricing information and log it into a database. Then I had my programmer use that data to set prices on my website so that they were always offered at a slightly lower, randomized rate.
My business saw amazing growth as a result, and it wouldn't have been possible without automation. Also, because I used a script, I didn't have to delegate this task out to a team of researchers to keep things current. The script did it all on its own.
By allowing automation to handle repetitive tasks, you're freeing up more time for yourself and your team to focus on the most important aspects of business growth.
4. Create a standardized, internal process.
Have you ever noticed that the major fast-food chains are essentially identical to one another? There's a reason for that: Creating a strong and standardized procedure allows your employees to perform consistently from customer to customer.
From the employee hiring process to sales scripts and return policies, there's almost no limit to what processes can be systemized. While building out this framework, consider this: You can increase the value of your business by doing very little work once you have a standardized process in place.
Your process gives your employees a structured workflow, allows you to scale your growth and, most importantly, allows you to move on to growing another part of your business.
5. Promote employee empowerment.
One of your most valuable assets should be your workforce, and employee empowerment is one of the best ways to grow your business in unique and powerful ways. Employees who feel valued and are given the freedom to try new and exciting things provide new ideas and insights to help your business grow.
I like my employees to solve problems as quickly as possible. One way I've empowered them to do this is by giving them the authority to incur a company loss of $500 in order to resolve a service issue. If a customer is upset, an employee can offer a refund of $500 or less without even asking me. In addition to removing myself from every service situation, the employee has some room to navigate a customer problem and satisfy them. Everybody wins.
To empower your employees, set guidelines that make sense for your company with the universal goal of creating happy customers. Keep in mind that it's a learning process for everyone involved. Maybe your employees give away too much at first. Maybe they give away too little. Make adjustments to the overall process and provide training as necessary.
At the most basic level, a business is built on its details. The customer cares most about the quality and delivery of the final product, but you can improve the quality of your workplace by trusting your employees and giving them the tools they need to complete their own tasks.
In doing so, you'll have the time to step away from the small things and look to the future.