Transforming My “In the Business” Self into an “On the Business” Crusader
One of my goals in my role at Jackrabbit Technologies is to devote more time to working “on the business” to ensure that it gets better, rather than working on projects directly related to daily operations “in the business.”
I’m being extremely transparent in sharing this with you. While what I’m sharing may be surprising to some of you, I hope that it doesn’t concern you. It shouldn’t. Rest assured that fantastically skilled, experienced, and compassionate people are taking care of your needs. They always have been and always will be. But what I have learned in the past few years is that my focus as Jackrabbit’s leader must be to ensure that we have a successful, scalable business that can continue to serve you far into the future. I must continue to ask myself “How can I make Jackrabbit better?” Becoming focused “on the business” is the way that seems clear to me to accomplish that.
Let me share.
In Jackrabbit’s early days, I worked “in the business.”
“In the business” was:
- Selling software
- Manning shows and conferences
- Planning advertising – and even putting together the ads
- Hiring employees and reviewing benefits
- Helping customers get started and learn the software
- Answering questions of users along the way
I did a lot of the stuff that kept the company going. Good stuff to be sure – but all of this stuff was “in the business.”
For years I continued to do this because I’m the typical small business owner/entrepreneur just like most of you.
Bare your soul with me for a second and answer these questions and you’ll likely see that you are deep into your “in the business” self. The answers shown are the ones typically given by the small business/entrepreneur (like you and me).
Q. Do you jump in to solve the problem because you can’t help yourself — or because you believe your employees can’t do the task?
Q. Do any of your key managers occasionally come up with big thoughts or ideas?
Q. If you believe that employees come to you with simple problems to be solved, did you give these employees training on options to solve those kinds of problems?
Q. Do you see yourself wired as more of an entrepreneur or more of a manager?
A. Everyone always chooses entrepreneur – even though they won’t relinquish the day-to-day manager role.
It was time for me to examine the facts.
I took a good, hard look at the way I was running the business and realized that I was more like the guy in the circus spinning plates. I was running between sticks just keeping all of the plates going. I imagined as I was looking up at those plates, why wasn’t I seeing the break through growth I was waiting for?
Don’t get me wrong. Jackrabbit has had phenomenal growth for more than a decade. But we’re at a crucial juncture. We can’t be the biggest fish in the small pond anymore. We can no longer behave like a small start-up. We’re entering into a medium-sized business world. There will be different expectations for us and some will have a different perspective of us.
We’ve grown up. Now we must step up.
To take that step, my focus must change to “on the business” stuff like:
- Researching new markets
- Seeking out new opportunities
- Analyzing strategic and market challenges and competitors
- Maintaining and nurturing culture
- Uncovering missed revenue opportunities
Get out of my comfort zone.
I will admit that it was easy to work “in the business” because that is what I know. Now I must be active in working “on the business” so that it’s possible for Jackrabbit to take the next step to a new level in our business growth. Working “on the business” instead “in the business” is hard – so hard that it takes 100% of my focus. But this is how I will help to make Jackrabbit better.
Did you know that when you get distracted and revert back to working “in the business,” you aren’t helping your business? In fact, when you do this, you’re not being an effective leader at all.
Working “in the business” is also easier than working “on the business” because it’s easy to micromanage everything. As an entrepreneur you believe that you do things better than anyone else. After all, who knows the business better? But that’s just not true.
See value in initiating change.
And please don’t consider that the work you do “on the business” when you’re at a business conference is sufficient to accomplish what your business needs for you to do. It may produce good ideas. But then you get back to your weekly grind and you’re back “in the business” without time to put those ideas into action. What is amazing is that when I finally implemented my “on the business” ideas, I finally began to see the value to the company that I could bring by initiating change.
“Back in the day” is gone.
When your business was a start up, you were the best that you had at doing things. But you were also all you had. You didn’t have the luxury of hiring specifically skilled people for all of the tasks you needed to have done.
As Jackrabbit grew, we were able to hire more people who were much better at many tasks than me. For example, we have an amazing customer support team that is much better at customer support than I was back in the day. We now have the revenue to support that staff. It’s a luxury that came with our growth.
I had to learn to trust.
One of the difficulties in growth for the serial entrepreneur is giving a task over to someone else’s control.
It seems simple:
- Trust your judgment
- Hire good people
- Trust the good people
But it’s not that simple because you must relinquish your direct control over tasks and allow someone else to control it. And – oh my gosh – what if they don’t do it like you did it?
And when they do the task differently than you would do it, don’t get angry. Anger can be very detrimental to your business.
First of all, anger is a waste of energy. Showing your anger will only lower the morale in your office and make it undesirable for your employees to make decisions.
Secondly, anger directed at employees usually signals one of three underlying issues that need to be addressed.
If you’re often angry, it could be that:
- You haven’t trained people properly.
- You have people doing the wrong tasks.
- You still think that everyone should think like you.
Lead with empowerment and watch employees thrive.
And even though you think you know how to do everything the best, “leading by example” not only soaks up more than 60 hours a week, it is actually not a good example to set for employees. You’re simply showing them how to get overworked and burnout. And burnout can cause degradation of culture and employee attrition. It’s simply a trap that you don’t want to show them. Let your example be delegation, empowerment, and trust.
If you empower employees with decision making freedoms and get rid of your expectations that they will mimic you in their roles, then they will thrive. You will likely see that they do that old task of yours better than you did.
Delegating isn’t a sign of laziness. When I first began to do it, I felt as though I was pawning off work to others when I could do it. But this is a necessity to your ability to work on the business. It might surprise you that your staff will probably be happy to help you get things off of your plate.
Being connected gives you control.
Create ways to stay connected using documentation (something small companies usually fail to create), monitoring, and reporting processes to track job performance. Don’t rely on faith – even though you trust your employees – or you will not know when your staff does need your help. Monitor, don’t micromanage. Micromanaging good people suffocates them.
Don’t revert back to your old “in the business” self.
As noted above, if you’re the owner and you find yourself bogged down in simple details that your employees could be handling, you are not being an effective leader. But there is also another detrimental result: if you’ve reverted back to your old ways, then the “on the business” leader is absent so no one is spotting problems and delegating solutions, setting goals and planning for the future. Yikes!
The only person who will be genuinely motivated to grow your company is you. Motivation and passion are not things you can delegate. Every minute that you spend working on tasks that can be delegated is a minute that you are not spending building the best business possible.
You are in charge of the big picture.
When you see areas that need improvement, delegate the work, so you can continue to be the troubleshooter and visionary that you need to be. Don’t go off and try to do it yourself.
I’m finding that it takes some practice. I was accustomed to being very hands-on in the business. But my employees appreciate the trust and responsibility I’ve given them. They will see that I can do the job of leading our business that no one else can do – and they are very willing and able to handle the details.
You are the biggest obstacle.
You are the one who can get in the way of your business’s progress. You have to get out from under the day-to-day, learn new things, and unlearn some old ones.
- You must hire wisely. If you don’t, you will still be spinning plates in five years. If you do, you can simply get out of the way and watch your employees thrive.
- You must exemplify standards. Reputation and customer satisfaction depends on what your business expects of itself. This will define your business.
- You must train. People are not mind readers. You are wasting valuable time (and therefore money) by allowing them to try to figure things out on their own. Help them to get it right from the beginning.
- You must establish systems and procedures. It’s the only way to avoid costly, inconsistencies and mistakes, disagreements and disputes.
- You must be able to identify and eliminate the wrong people. A bad hire or the wrong fit will not serve your business well. It’s best to act on these discoveries quickly.
- You must delegate. When the occasion occurs that something isn’t done as well as you could have done it, remember that you can afford to fix occasional mistakes more easily than you can afford to do everything yourself.
- You must pay for quality. Your business can’t thrive if you are constantly replacing good people. Good employees want good pay, respect, and a stress-free environment for work.
- You must listen. Ask for the truth and be willing to listen to it and act on it.
It’s not an entertaining transformation.
You are the boss. Sometimes the top can be a lonely place, but there is no greater feeling than having your team’s support on a common cause without having to read their minds to know it.
Transformation of my “in the business” self is frustrating, sometimes stressful, and as I noted earlier, difficult. It is not entertaining as the circus plate spinner usually is.
But when I see what is ahead, I’m even more resolved to focus my attention “on the business” so that Jackrabbit continues to grow to meet your needs and our expectations as the future unfolds before us.
The next step for Jackrabbit.
We’ve talked about working ON and not IN the business as a concept and made plans to do it. But now we’re executing on our plan and I want you to know how we’re doing that.
We have a new team member who is a critical part of our plan. His name is Darin Soll and he is Jackrabbit’s new Chief Operating Officer. A number of you have already had the opportunity to meet Darin. He will be responsible for Jackrabbit’s day-to-day operations, clearing the way for me and co-owner and co-founder Mike Carper to take on the strategic roles we’ve talked about, dreamed about, and even planned for. Look for him to be instrumental in making sure everything is firing on all cylinders, and becoming a frequent contributor on the Jackrabbit blogs.
Mike and I will be active in doing the things that will keep Jackrabbit growing, adapting, and innovating so that we continue to provide you with the best possible software and services for your businesses.
We obviously have more experience than anyone working in the business of Jackrabbit, but we are new to working on the business. However, we know that we are the best people to lay the groundwork for Jackrabbit’s future so that is where we will be refocusing our time. We will still be here working hard with your best interests, and the company’s best interests at heart.