Leading By Letting Go: Building A Successful Business In The New Normal

There are three ways to manage people: tell them what to do, and how to do it; tell them what to do, and let them decide how to do it; or let them decide what to do, and how to do it.

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One of the principles that we follow at my enterprise, Bayzat, is that “comfort is the enemy of growth.” We believe that one must embrace discomfort and adversity to create a foundation for personal growth and highperformance. At the beginning of 2020, we thought we were setting uncomfortable objectives for ourselves with our ambitious growth targets. Towards the end of March 2020, we got a wake-up call on what real discomfort is.

With the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic and recession, we did all the usual things such as scenario planning, reallocating and optimizing budgets, and business continuity planning. We also reassessed and revalidated our mission- to make a world-class employee experience accessible to every company.

That was the relatively straightforward part- the real challenge is that in an environment that is uncertain and unforgiving, it is unlikely that any “fix” will be permanent. In the second quarter of 2020, it seemed like that we needed to reassess a process, reporting line, or team structure every week. My impulse was to optimize for efficiency when, instead, I should have been focusing on optimizing for adaptability.

For some context, we have over 150 team members at Bayzat. At this size, most companies adopt a prescriptive approach to strategy, tactics, and execution: the CEO (me) and the executive team set the objective, and then figure out how we’re going to execute it. Executives decide what to do, and how to do it. They then push it down to the next level of management, and so on and so forth. It is not a great recipe for innovation or speed. Moreover, it is an ineffective way to engage team members in this environment where ambiguity, fear, and insecurity pervade all our personal psyches.

Related: Eight Executive Leadership Trends For 2020

How does a CEO motivate their team, navigate challenging times, and future-proof their company while working from home? The answer is actually quite simple: by letting go. There are three ways to manage people: tell them what to do, and how to do it; tell them what to do, and let them decide how to do it; or let them decide what to do, and how to do it. For the past year, we’ve been practicing management by objectives. John Doerr’s Measure What Matters and Andy Grove’s High Output Management are good starting points to learn more about this organizational and leadership practice. The biggest benefit from the global pandemic is that it has accelerated our path to implementing management by objectives correctly.

The executive team at Bayzat agreed on a few high-level objectives for the year. In the past, we would cascade these first-level objectives down into quarterly plans and departmental objectives. This time, we created “tribes” to own the strategy and execution across each of the objectives. In other words, the tribe needs to decide what to do, and how to do it.

Each tribe consists of individuals from every department at Bayzat. Tribe members do not include top-management or executives; rather, our roles are to debate, coach, and guide each tribe, as well as be their biggest advocates and cheerleaders.

All-hands meetings, companywide memos, and team offsites have a short shelf-life when it comes to engaging team members. Having meaningful ownership in a company is the North Star forcreating an environment defined by a high-level of employee engagement. An employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) does not mean meaningful ownership; it only means financial ownership. Having a say in the company’s present and future and understanding how one’s role contributes to that is what I mean by meaningful ownership.

Aside from employee engagement, we need uninhibited collaboration and connectivity across teams to attain adaptability as an organization. I believe that our tribes will achieve this more effectively than traditional hierarchies, which were created to optimize control and oversight, i.e. bureaucracy.

The truth is that no CEO has the answers right now, because the answers keep changing. I have no idea what 2021 is going to look like, let alone the rest of 2020. The best I can do is to make sure that our talented team is engaged at work, that each individual is fulfilling their role, and that each team member has a platform to achieve personal greatness.

Rudyard Kipling wrote that “for the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.” This is truer than ever in times of crisis and tumult. The ability of our team to succeed depends on the individuals, and the ability of an individual to succeed depends on our team. Letting go has been more uncomfortable than the pandemic itself- which means I must be doing something right, because comfort is the enemy of growth.

Related: A Note To Business Leaders: Don't Hit That Stop Button, No Matter How Tempting