Recently, I read an article about how successful entrepreneurs should render themselves obsolete – and they are absolutely right. It’s not just business owners, but any project managers, supervisors, and employees.
But that’s crazy talk, you are thinking – “If I’m not indispensible, I’ll be replaced!”
That’s not the way to think in a thriving, growing environment. If you work in an atmosphere of fear, where people are not appreciated, I can understand why you might want to keep things close to the chest, and maybe not write everything down. But in that environment, you are probably going to be replaced eventually – you’ll either get tired of living under siege at work every day, or someone will treat you poorly, or the company will stagnate, in any case.
Even in a good environment, people go off on maternity leaves, take vacation, or sometimes are unexpectedly away from the office – if you haven’t built a good structure, written everything down, and cross-trained team members, change will be painful when you are dealing with the unexpected.
I worked with an IT fellow many years ago who thought that hoarding information was job security – and as a result, many company tasks had to go through him. He was constantly stressed, behind schedule, being yelled at by management for sloppy processes, and he eventually quit. You can imagine the mess left behind as our new IT person had to decipher everything the outgoing fellow had done.
In this article, we aren’t talking about removing you from the company, we are talking about freeing you up from being slaved to a specific role – a good CEO or entrepreneur will spend 60-70% of their time looking forward, planning the future of the company, and making it a better place to work, rather than running around putting out fires and involving themselves in everyone else’s tasks. And this is honestly a good approach for everyone – if you can free up everyone at your company to take 10-20% of their time and put it towards growth, you are on the right track. Everyone can be like Google, and give their employees “20% Time”, with the right structure.
In an environment where you render yourself obsolete, you need to have trust – trust that someone else can step into your role if you are hit by a bus, or can fill in for you when you take on a special project. This means giving people authority, access, and ability to step in and handle important processes. Not everything needs to be locked down, with only a few people in management or IT holding all the passwords and all the statistics.
Trust means also investing in your team, and training them to do jobs above and beyond their core role.
It also means being transparent – if you share the “whys” and “hows” of the company, people who work with you will understand where the company is pointed, and the reasons behind your processes – it won’t be a bureaucratic black box of mystery, and when people need to step in and handle something, they understand the fundamental reasons why things need to be done in a certain way.
Share The Load
A good first step to trusting everyone is sharing their workload – if one person is responsible for a task, see if you can grow it to two people. Not only does it cross-train people, it gives your team members room to breathe on a day to day basis when they get swamped, because they have someone who can field client calls, run database updates, or run reports.
Put Them In Charge
If you free up people's time, they will come up with new ideas, company projects and initiatives, or generally take charge of things and start making changes. Don't panic! That's exactly what you want. However, give some structure to this so chaos doesn't ensue -- make sure people know that your team member has taken on a challenge, and make sure they communicate with everyone around them so everyone is in the loop.
Write It Down!
So, if you trust everyone, that means you can write down your processes and share them. And you make all those processes available to everyone. If someone wants to know how daily financial reconciliations are done, there should be nothing stopping them from looking at your written process. They may not understand it, but they can always ask the project owner.
Remove The Security Blanket
It’s easy to talk about material things like manuals, processes, and responsibility, but there is an intangible that I think a lot of people – employees and managers – don’t realize. When you have one person responsible for a specific task or group of people, they become a security blanket for their team members. It’s far easier to ask someone else for their opinion on what to do, or double check with them to make sure you aren’t making a mistake – and that’s when the trust and sharing the load can fall back on one person.
Case in point – since the inception of our company, I’ve worked in our Cambridge office most of the time, and many of the team members there have been with Kingston Data and Credit for two years or more, and handle a number of responsibilities. But there is usually a stream of people by my desk asking me what I think about a given situation – our Cambridge team is more than capable of making decisions, and do handle things when I’m absent, but they have become used to me being there, to be a sounding board. Now that I’m spending about half my time in our Brantford location, the team there is less reliant on me, because that’s the established office culture. It’s intangible, but still meaningful as I plan our company’s growth, and our plans for a fourth office in Sarnia.
If you want to grow your company, or grow your role with the company you work with, take the time to explain what you are doing, write it down, and share your work process with people before you go on vacation, and everyone will benefit from a more agile environment. It doesn’t have to be scary, and in fact if you can spread out the responsibilities, you create a less stressful work environment where everyone works more tightly together by necessity, which builds a better team culture.
Doesn’t that sound better than hiding in your office and no one knows what you do for the company?
In our office, everyone processes payments, every project manager has a backup person for reports or client access, and our instruction manuals are being updated to reflect new tasks as we go. We also have a staff-wide email address to share updates and changes to keep everyone in the loop. Recently, we had a project manager off with pneumonia for almost a week – for the most part, members of her team were able to jump in and handle things while she was gone.
If you want to talk about company processes, environment, or empowering your team, I’m happy to share my opinions and experiences. Feel free to give me a call.
KINGSTON Data & Credit