Monthly Archives July 2014


Release the Chains That Bind

The reasons given by Founders and Chief Executive Officers for hiring me are pretty consistent.

I want my business to grow, but I’m buried in administrivia and working like a dog. How do I shed all this work I hate doing?

We have a hard time keeping our better and more experienced people. What are we doing wrong?

If we’re going to grow, we need to put better processes and structure in place, but without becoming bureaucratic. Is that possible?

What do you know about the show Celebrity Wife Swap?

OK, no one’s actually asked me that last question (thank goodness). But the first three are pretty close to verbatim, and reflect issues of scale and growth.

Growth is critical for any business wanting to offer salary increases and career paths to employees, enjoy the excitement of new challenges and opportunities, and improve potential exit options. But growth is hard. Customers want more for less, employee average tenure continues to decline, and it can simply be challenging to “teach old dogs new tricks” (unless you have a Goldendoodle named Cooper).

The good news is these challenges and aspirations are solvable, and have been many times before by many people, including some not nearly as talented as you! Four approaches I’ve found to be quite successful include:

  1. Let go. The biggest reason leaders are stuck in the day-to-day is their own reluctance to relinquish at least some elements of control. If you’re bringing in talented people, allow them to step up and show what they can really do. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll live up to expectations, enjoy their jobs more, and stick around.
  2. Learn to accept that others won’t do the work the way you do. Your job as a leader is to define the objectives, the WHAT, and allow others to determine how. In many cases, when you knew how to do the work we still used rocks for tools, so allow new blood, new ideas, and/or new technology to bring your company into the modern era.
  3. Understand that the growth of an organization is accomplished via subdividing existing roles. When companies are small, employees wear many hats. As the company grows, it is necessary to increase division of labor / specialization. A secondary advantage of this approach is it is easier – and cheaper – to hire folks with a narrower band of skill than those who are awesomely multi-talented.
  4. Bring in or assign someone to manage. When managing is but one of an employee’s responsibilities, it will likely fall to the bottom of the list and get short shrift. If you’re going to grow, you have to have someone responsible for looking over the company landscape and figuring out how to drive improvement and performance against goals. Tell me, what’s the last championship sports team to have a crappy coach / manager?

Yeah, #4 is self-serving. But more to the point of this summary, these four ideas taken together can inspire, motivate, unclog what’s bottled up, and best of all, produce a healthy growing company – and a much happier owner / leader.

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