Every entrepreneur I meet in my role as a small business advisor dreams of making the business run like clockwork, even without them. You are all frustrated when that never happens, even after years of 16-hour days, repeated efforts to hire the right people, and multiple campaigns to delegate more and sign up for less. There is no time for fun, and vacations never happen.
For example, Elon Musk, while being a highly respected and successful entrepreneur for years, still readily admits to regular 100-hour work weeks, no social life, and sleeping under his desk all too often in the Tesla factory. Is this the definition of success you want to experience? Frankly, I’ve never been sure what to tell entrepreneurs who want to break free of these bonds.
Recently, I completed a new book, “Clockwork: Design Your Business to Run Itself,” by Mike Michalowicz, that really helped me pull my own thoughts and recommendations together for the beleaguered business owners I try to help. Mike uses his own experience as a recovering workaholic building two multimillion-dollar companies to net out seven steps in his transformation.
I’ll paraphrase his key points here, based on my own experience in large and small businesses, and input from the entrepreneurs I have worked with over the years:
- Track where your time is actually being spent today. As business owners, you all have to balance getting work done (doing), making decisions (deciding), managing people (delegating), and constant improvement (designing). Only then can you start to adjust your time and your company to let it run without your constant involvement.
For example, I was on the Advisory Board of a small company whose founder was killing his health through overwork, even though he felt high focused. After some honest tracking efforts, he realized that he was still involved in every detail of daily activities.
- Identify a single key function to your company’s success. Within every company there exists a core function that embodies the uniqueness and value that you bring to the table. It is where your offering meets the best talents of you and your team. Make sure you focus your design efforts on this area, and delegate or cut time spent on all the rest.
- Empower the team to ensure your core function is fulfilled. In a highly efficient business, everyone knows that the core function is always the priority, and controls are in place so that the people and resources who serve it are protected. Also you need to make sure that highly skilled key people are not diluted by unfulfilling routine work.
For example, I once worked for a company whose core competency was computer hardware. Someone decided to initiate a software arm to grow the business, so key executives and skilled resources were re-allocated to start a software project. The result was a big hit to the hardware business, as well as an unsuccessful software business.
- Document required systems for repeatability without you. Each of us as a team member or entrepreneur has our way of executing various tasks, but often these get left undocumented and non-transferrable without our continuous involvement. It’s easier to use screen-captures and notes on existing processes, rather than write detailed manuals.
- Adjust roles and shift resources for optimal performance. To get maximum business autonomy, you need to match the inherent strength traits of employees to key jobs, always adjusting for market change and people growth. Have the right people do the right things at the right time. Use mentoring to help people develop as your business develops.
In one of my own positions as an executive in IBM, I found that putting a high-potential employee on my own staff for a few weeks was more effective, both short-term and long-term, in gaining me some work relief than any training class I could imagine.
- Focus on satisfying your ideal and best customers. The more services you provide to a wider mix of customers, the more variability you have, and the harder it becomes to provide extraordinary and consistent services. Make sure your team knows that all customers are not the same, and how to provide memorable experiences to the key set.
- Free yourself from the need to always be at work. Your ideal business is one that delivers consistent results, including growth goals, without your active involvement. The final step is to create a business “dashboard” that enables you, and everyone else there, to stay on top of the business from anywhere.
The final big hurdle to overcome is you. I find that many entrepreneurs can’t get over their ego, or their fears, that the business can’t operate without them. Some are just stuck. Let me assure you that your best path to business success, as well as your personal satisfaction, is to work on making your business work without you, rather than working harder on the business.