New businesses are like demanding toddlers, needing constant attention and supervision lest they get themselves into a scrape and have to be rescued. Eventually, however, they need to be given some independence and learn how to cope when you’re not around. Like dropping your child off to nursery for the first time, you need to prepare both yourself and your business to make sure it doesn’t fall apart if you’re away.
First things first: assuming you haven’t hired crooks, liars and thieves (unless, of course, that is your line of business), you need to have a modicum of faith that your employees are capable of doing their jobs. Give them clear guidelines and goals; show them how the job should be done, and let them get on with it. If they make a complete hash of it, show them again, but otherwise, allow them to make the odd slip-up. They will learn from their mistakes and will be more equipped to cope without turning a minor mishap into a five-alarm crisis.
The next thing to do is to set up clear systems for how things are supposed to be done. Yes, I know it’s a chore, and it’s far more fun to plot the demise of your competitors, but it will make things easier in the long run. Imagine you were selling the business and handing it over to somebody who had no idea how to operate. Now, write the instruction manual. Include everything, from who makes the tea in the morning to the correct procedure for dealing with creditors. Your business is your baby. You wouldn’t leave the babysitter with vague instructions, so the company manual shouldn’t be hazy on detail either.
Once you know exactly how the business operates, you can start delegating. All your employees know how to do their jobs and what is expected of them; now you can give them a little authority. Allow them to make decisions for themselves, but remember to set firm boundaries. Yes, they can reorder stationery if necessary; no, they can’t switch suppliers. Yes, they can make a sales decision, but not if it requires a strategic rethink. If someone will need to make decisions about spending money, make sure they know what they are allowed to spend it on, and also how much they can spend before they need to call you for authorisation. If your employees feel empowered to make the small decisions, they’re less likely to panic if something unexpected happens. You never know, they may find a new way to work around a problem that you hadn’t thought of before.
Naturally, you should also have a backup plan, regardless of whether you’re working from home for the day or you’re backpacking through the Himalayas. If a genuine emergency occurs, your employees need to be able to contact you. Let them know when and how you can be contacted. It doesn’t have to be constant contact: you could tell them that you will be available at certain hours every day, or maybe even only on certain days a week. Regardless, it’s important that you don’t fall off the radar completely. The last thing you want is for your employees to feel that (a) they’ve been abandoned, or (b) they can get away with murder because there’s no way you’ll find out. As it is, most entrepreneurs I know don’t need this advice, as they’re usually the ones phoning in every few hours to make sure that things are running smoothly. Some of them are quite disappointed to hear that their presence has not been missed.
Finally, if you have done all of the above and are satisfied that you’ve prepared both your business and your employees for a spell without you at the helm, you have one last decision to make: what are you drinking?
[Image by *Micky]