Putting Your Business In Your Employees' Hands
Making the shift from managing your vision to executing it requires handing the operational reigns of your business over to your employees. Here's how you make the leap.
As an entrepreneur and passionate business owner, I know that entrusting your business to your team feels like putting your heart in their hands. In fact, this is how it should be and it should never change.
You should not lose your passion for your business; you should inspire and empower your team to execute your purpose and vision with as much care and expertise as you would.
I would like to suggest the following four principles as keys to building a strong team you can trust:
1. Inspire your team with your purpose and vision
Inspiring your team requires communicating a clear purpose with heart, and sustaining it by your powerful example. This purpose should be freed from your own ego, fluid enough to be embraced by your entire team and lived by you every day. Team members must understand and experience how their efforts contribute to the big picture or you will be bogged down by the operational details.
There is a familiar story about how Walt Disney inspired his team to execute his vision for the first fully animated feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: He spent three-and-a-half hours telling them the story and acting out each character with such passion that it inspired them to spend the next four years making his vision a reality.
The wisdom and success of Walt Disney’s example is apparent in this comment from the company CEO Bob Iger, who said, “95% of the decisions made at the company are made by other people.”
Are you communicating your vision effectively and inspiring your team to think for themselves? Or are you communicating instructions?
Communicating your vision has the potential to become self-sustaining; communicating instructions never will. If your team understands and embraces your vision completely, they will find a way to make it happen. Even if it is not your way, it will be your vision, which is all that matters.
2. Empower them to make their own decisions
Performing through others is not a new concept. Arthur Elliott Carlisle published an article in Organisational Dynamics in 1995 about a refinery manager he interviewed and named MacGregor for anonymity. He wrote: MacGregor’s overriding concern was with results: The results his subordinates achieved through methods they developed either by themselves or by working with their peers. He simply refused to do their work for them, even at the risk of incurring short-run costs. By refusing, he enabled them to grow in terms of their ability to make decisions even under conditions of uncertainty.
MacGregor’s plant was the most efficient in the corporation and many of his managers were promoted to manage their own plants. This can be credited to his relentless, active approach to empowering them to make their own decisions. However, in order to achieve results, you must provide your team members with the necessary means and ability. This will take time initially, but it’s well worth the investment.
Firstly, you have to take the time to engage with your team members individually and understand their aspirations, passions and abilities. You cannot effectively lead or empower someone you don’t know. You have to know whether they are appointed in the right position and what they need to achieve success.
Once you understand them, you need to invest more time in empowering them. This can be outsourced to an extent by enrolling them on leadership courses and skills training, but it has to be supported by your example and engagement, continuously inspiring them with the purpose and vision of the company.
Finally, you need to trust your team with the responsibility. You have to trust them to the extent that you are prepared to create a space for them to come up with their own solutions and learn from their mistakes. There can be no mixed messages regarding who is accountable for the outcome. If you don’t give them the platform, they can’t step up to the plate.
3. Keep them accountable for the results
Relying on your team to make the decisions does not mean you hand over the reins. Like MacGregor, taking the time to empower your team (lead factor) means you are free to focus on the results (lag factor). I think most leaders are more afraid of holding their teams accountable than they are willing to admit.
They prefer to do or re-do something themselves, rather than addressing it with the person responsible for the outcome. This is one of the worst mistakes you can make as an entrepreneur because it leaves the business utterly dependent on you and your judgement.
Keeping your team accountable will ensure you take the business forward as a collective. If things are going well, it’s your responsibility to ensure that the team doesn’t get comfortable and still make the most of opportunities. When things are not going so well, it is incumbent on you to drive the necessary conversations and actions to hold team members accountable and to address challenges that inhibit success.
4. Keep empowering yourself
Another vital element of focusing on the results is defining them. It’s critical to realise that determining the direction and growth of the company is your core responsibility. This is where you must focus the bulk of your time.
To do this effectively, you must commit to learning on a continuous basis and be the example for your team. It is critical that you empower yourself to fulfil your true role of being an effective leader and influential strategist. Take the time to familiarise yourself with the factors that could influence your business and acquire the knowledge and connections that will enable you to position your company favourably.
When Charles Brindamour became CEO of Intact, he blocked three to four hours every morning to gain a better understanding of areas that could influence his company or the lives of his employees. However, learning is about more than just acquiring the information.
You have to be open to adapt your views, and even your vision, according to the knowledge you gain. In Vince Barabba’s book, The Decision Loom: A Design for Interactive Decision-Making in Organisations, he presents a case study that investigates Kodak’s failure to adapt to a changing landscape. Even though they had very accurate information regarding how digital photography would affect their industry, they failed to shift their focus and consider digital as a replacement for film. They did not take any action to adapt, which proved to be their downfall.
As I mentioned above, your purpose and vision has to be freed from your ego. You have to be humble enough to learn from anyone who might have insight into your business, including your team.
In conclusion, executing through others means putting your heart on the line in more ways than one: This means displaying the passion in your heart, putting your heart in the hands of those you empower, opening your heart to keep them accountable and reinventing your heart to stay relevant. Always remember: If your heart is not in it, don’t expect your team to have their hearts in it. Take care of their hearts and they will take care of yours.