It’s the holy grail of business growth. A company whose revenues, profits, and impacts continually climb when you aren’t there.

How long should you plan ahead for this?

My recommendation: As soon as you have clarity on what you want your business baby to be. That is: Why you exist. What you’re selling. How you will sell, deliver, support, and collect on it. Who you want to serve.

That usually takes a minimum of a year for even the most driven business owner to figure that out.

After that, you need to be actively tackling how to build a team that will grow your company when you aren’t there because you need to build that muscle in your business before you need it.

Why is this important?

Because you can’t flip a switch and create a company that operates when you aren’t there. Your daily choices build that company for you.

Those daily choices include where you invest, who you hire, how you set-up your work structure, and how you lead.

I’ve met business owners who have kick-@$$ teams. Their team will run the business when they aren’t there. The day-to-operations flow smoothly. Work gets staffed. Customer complaints get addressed. Quality is accomplished. Invoicing might even go out.

But their business doesn’t grow when they aren’t there. And that means you can’t step away for an extended period.

So how do you make this happen?

Hire, incent, and lead to purpose-driven outcomes and attitude

It’s easy to assign someone tasks and activities. But when you stop assigning them tasks — what happens?

A team capable of growing your business will make choices on where to spend their time without your intervention, and they will generally be aligned with your business growth.

A team that hasn’t been built to do that will wait for the next task to be assigned.

If you have a motivated team, they will ask what the next task should be.

If they are really motivated, they will recommend a few options.

But until they see themselves as accountable for driving their workday and making decisions that are generally aligned to your direction, you haven’t arrived yet.

How do you assess your teams’ level of ownership?

If you don’t know the answer to this question already — then test yourself. Don’t assign your team anything for a week. Observe what happens and ask them lots of questions to understand their rationale for what they do.

  • Do they make the next thing happen?
  • Do the things they choose to work on valuable and lined up to your purpose?
  • How do they interact with you and others on the team to make it happen?

If this doesn’t happen on its’ own, you have some work to do. And yes — It’s you as the owner who has to do the work, not them. If ownership hasn’t been part of the gig before, then there are many reasons why not to start now.

How do you develop your team’s sense of ownership?

Hire for it. Check out our Hire Like it Counts blog to learn more on how to do this.

Incent it. Commissions, bonuses, recognition, the goals you set, and how you respond to their choices all incent (or dis-incent) ownership.

Lead like it matters.

  • Structure work to focus on outcomes vs. tasks or activities. Example, instead of “handling social,” you ask them to increase good quality leads in the pipeline so you can grow more; and social might be one of the ways you could do it.
  • Instead of giving them the answer, ask questions to find an answer that works for them (and you).
  • Give feedback in broad strokes and let them figure out the details.
  • Support them when things go wrong, and help them deconstruct what to differently next time.

Know that not all failures are created equal.

Celebrate their successes and the failures that required bravery.

Not all failures are equal. Some require correction (for instance, they were crabby and took it out on a customer); others are merely failed attempts to make magic. Encourage Edison’s version of failure. Correct the others.

Incent individual contributions and shared outcomes

Great leadership happens when individual contributions connect under a common vision. Spend your energy setting common goals and being transparent about what growth looks like at your company.

Then make sure that each person sees a path for themselves to contribute and reinforce the individual choices that get you closer to those shared outcomes.

I encourage people to have a 30-day retrospective and planning session for the first 90-days (minimum). Once the team member is consistently hitting their results and has grasped all the key foundational aspects of the company and their role, you may choose to make this every 90-days or keep it every 30 days, but you should never go more than 90-days without this type of check-in.

This retrospective and planning session is a structured 1:1 where you focus on reviewing the goals for the last month, what you learned, and setting goals and plans for the next month.

Make sure your incentives match the goals and think through the unintended consequences of whatever your comp model is. For every comp model, there is a fatal flaw. Know it, and make sure you are managing it in other ways.

Hire people with a growth mindset

You are looking for people who can turn problems into solutions. These people lap up feedback as a way to improve. They are independent and driven, they share, they listen, and they push back when needed.

Want more tips on how to hire for this? Check out our Hire Like it Counts blog post

Be aware of where your team is on the learning curve

Situational Leadership ® is one of the best tools I learned early in my management career because of its simplicity. (https://situational.com/situational-leadership)

Here’s the gist of it — Early in learning specific aspects of a role, people need more guidance. They usually don’t know what they don’t know. As their knowledge amps up, they start to realize how much they don’t know and need a lot of direct guidance and encouragement to navigate that. As they start to get good at what they do, they need less direction but the encouragement becomes important to continuing the effort. Finally, they become rockstars. That is when your team member is truly flying solo in that aspect of their job and typically needs very little from you in that area.

But here’s the real kicker. You might have a very senior employee that is selling for the first time, and they might be right back to square one.

Just because you’re a Ph.D. in engineering does not mean you can play Bach as a concert pianist. They are two different skills, and each needs to be addressed on its own.

Know where your people are on the learning curve for all the competencies in their role. Then adjust how you interact with them based on that.

Matchmake people to roles they love and what you need

Fulfilled people working in their strengths = Productive people. We all get that. The closer people are to their happy (and natural) place, the more they will lean in for us, and the more they can accomplish with less effort.

But sometimes we don’t see holes in our team because they aren’t there. We are filling them.

I know a ton of people whose company will run day-to-day without them, but they hang onto sales, or financials, or some aspect of running the company that keeps the company from growing without them.

Mike Michalowicz talks about this in his book “Clockwork.” He says that for your company to grow without you there, you need to be able to take a 4-week vacation and be completely out of pocket. I find it to be a good litmus test.

Would you be able to leave for 4 weeks right now? Most people would say no.

So what do you need to cross-train or delegate so you can? That is your path to a company that will grow without you.

Top 3 takeaways to create a company that grows without you

If all this seems like too much — I can boil it down to three things:

  • Focus on ownership vs. tasks. You’ll need to connect some dots, but over time it’ll be worth the payback.
  • Ask more. Tell less. If your team has been around for a while, it is time to give them the space to shine.
  • Let Go. Chances are you are holding onto key functions in your biz (or) the “right” way to do things. The company will never grow without you there if no one owns it and feels safe making mistakes.

You’ve got this! It’s a journey, but in just a few short years, you can step back and watch your company grow while you are off on your next adventure or dealing with a life that reared up its head.

But that’s another article…

Where do you start?

If you’re not sure which of these five areas should be your focus (or how to get there), schedule a virtual coffee, and we can talk through your specific situation and how ACThoughtful can help.

Jenny Erickson and her team grow micro-businesses by getting them from where they are to where they want to be through advice, coaching, and fractional-COO support. Which business are you?

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