Micromanaging Is Sucking the Life Out of You. Here's How to Stop.
In a recent conversation with one of my vendors, he commented that business was great! He has been a one-man-show for many years and his business has arrived at the transition point of needing more talent. Yay for him! Except the associate he hired to help wasn’t, well, him. The partner, while competent, didn’t respond as quickly, take as much time with prospective clients nor cared if the project landed or fell apart. The outcome was lost business and the opposite of my vendor's goal for growth.
I understand his pain.
I own one of the largest, private, woman-owned mental health practices in the state of Illinois, with 40 therapists and 5 locations. A solo practitioner for over 10 years, and not wanting to miss out on dinners, bath times and bedtimes for my new baby, I took on an associate to handle the overflow that I could no longer serve. Easy, I thought. I’ll just hire a good, competent therapist and will schedule new clients with her. Done! Not done. While the calls came in, that therapist ended up leaving my practice, not because of a lack of business, but because she wasn’t me.
Of course there are many excellent therapists to be had in the Chicagoland area, but I had been the one to answer the phones, give the talks to organizations, join the chamber of commerce, participate on the committees, connect with referral sources, treat their neighbors. In essence, the business was me. I wasn’t just the face of the business. I was the business.
Therapy, like many service-oriented industries, is based on a very personal business relationship. So referrals, it turns out, aren’t easily transferrable. I realized that if I wanted my practice to thrive, I needed to quickly figure out how to help prospective clients see the value of my associates. Here’s how I did it...
Accepting that they are NOT me
While most business owners might want their associates and employees to love the business and care for it as much as they do, that’s a complicated expectation that you are wise to do away with. The employee is not me. I lose sleep, monitor accounts and have the bottom line in my line of sight at all times. I can’t expect that of anyone else. The mindset of they are not me, and that’s ok, is critical to everyone’s success in the organization.
Acknowledge how they are LIKE me
While the employee is not me, they are in the early phases of the business, very much LIKE me. If I want a prospective client to feel good about seeing someone who is not me, I need to be able to explain why seeing another therapist makes sense. The employee really does need to be like me in approach and energy. While we currently have a wide range of mental health experience, expertise and knowledge, that did not come along until the group was well established. We were highly homogenous in the early days.
Stay front and center
For quality assurance purposes, as the business grew, I remained front and center. I returned all new calls so that I could personally explain why seeing my associate made sense. I assured prospective clients that I had hand-picked and supervised my associate. I told them about ways we were very much alike and made sure to share ways the coworker may be an even better fit. I made sure I told my associate all about the potential client and set up an accountability system whereby I knew that they had contacted the client and had a conversation to make sure they were in fact a good fit. Almost invariably, with this soft handoff the prospective client signed on with my associate.
Embrace THEIR value
Sixteen years into being a group practice, people still call and ask specifically for me. However, this happens a lot less. While I remain the primary driver of new business, I have become much better at targeting a desired market and extolling the virtues of our services, our practice, our team or even a particular provider. I speak frequently about our values and team approach. I speak about our collective culture as an asset. I haven’t answered the phone for years and I now receive nothing but a weekly report of how many calls/email inquiries came in, how many we absorbed or referred out and which therapists received a new client.
And this certainly meant making sure my co-workers made sure they knew how much I valued them. Tellingly, a recent survey conducted by Motivosity found that 7 in 10 workers polled claimed appreciation meant the most when it came from a manager or executive.
If I am honest, I admit that I had a hard time letting go of control. Like many small business owners, this was my baby and I didn’t want anyone to drop it. Trusting others is hard. If you turn over control slowly and shepherd your staff and customers through the process, growth will happen. The business needs to become itself, not a mirror or extension of just you.