Moving from start-up mode to a more professional organisation ready to scale up, has required a significant amount of personal change. My role is different as are the skills and habits I use daily.
How my role has changed
In the start-up phase of the business I was head of all departments: sales, operations, HR, finance – even managing the office. That doesn’t mean I was doing everything. It doesn’t even mean I was managing everyone directly. But what it did mean was that I knew what was going on in the day-to-day business, across the board. All the time.
I had my hands and eyes over every little detail. I knew when something went wrong – no matter how small – and I was the first person the team turned to in a crisis. I was on call 24/7 and rarely had time to turn off. I managed any HR issues directly. If we had a client who wasn’t paying the bill, I was the one that made the decision to write it off or send it to our lawyers.
Most of the big ideas for developing the business came from me. And I would be leading the project to implement the idea. I was involved in the sales process for any sizable new client.
Eventually, the business grew too big for one person to handle in that way, and I had to turn the business into a team-led organisation.
So I built a Senior Management Team. That team now leading the organisation is made up of a head of each department: a Finance Director, a Head of Operations with some lieutenants, a Head of Sales and a Head of HR.
These people are now the ones doing everything I used to do and my role has evolved into something new.
My job now boils down to three key tasks:
- Create the right environment for the business to flourish: by clarifying the culture and values, setting our strategy and making it clear to the team, providing the boundaries within which they can operate with autonomy, ensuring the incentives are right, and growing the profile of the business to help them sell more.
- Clarify people’s objectives: by asking individuals to tell me what they want to achieve week-to-week, month-to-month, and year-to-year – and continually reminding them of those objectives.
- Help people to achieve those objectives: by coaching them to self-discover the answer to their problems and removing any roadblocks that might be in the way.
If I successfully achieve those tasks and I have the right people in the jobs then the business will succeed.
What I have had to change in myself
That shift in my role has required a corresponding shift in my own behaviours through the skills and habits I use:
- I expect things to take longer: Instead of expecting things to happen overnight, I am more realistic about the time things take to deliver. In my previous role the tasks I was delegating were small and quick to make happen. With more senior people to delegate to, the tasks are now larger and necessarily take longer to deliver.
- I plan on a longer horizon: If things take longer to deliver I need to start things moving earlier. Instead of thinking about what needs to happen today (e.g. fix that crisis) I am now thinking about what needs to happen in three, six, twelve, even twenty-four months’ time.
- I give people more warning: I’ve realised that not everyone likes to work under pressure as I do. Professional managers like fair warning of what is expected of them so they can plan it into their schedule. Instead of planning for a meeting the day before I now plan a month ahead to give people time to prepare. Instead of dropping a new objective on people’s plates with little warning, I have fixed times in the diary when we’ll review and set objectives.
- I think, as well as do: My previous role required a lot of doing. I like doing and I think I’m pretty good at it. However, my role now requires thinking, planning, and strategising. The hard stuff.
- I let people get on with it: My role now necessarily means I need to leave the day-to-day to the team and leave people to it. Without interfering. If people need my help they ask for it. If they don’t ask, I stay out of the way.
- I help people discover instead of telling them: My role now is to shine a light on things, helping individuals discover opportunities or issues rather than dictating what they should do. Sometimes they spot the same opportunities or issues as I do. Sometimes they don’t. Either way, they spot something important and own it as their own.
- I keep focussed: My tendency is to be a bit like an excitable puppy, distracted by anything shiny. I’m full of ideas and think every one of them needs to happen now, which means I can get distracted. However, I don’t want my team distracted so I’ve learned to reign in these ideas and keep them in check.
- I make time for my team: This is perhaps the most important result of my personal change. All my relentless “doing” across a business that had become too large for one person made me largely unavailable. My team need me and so I now put them first and only “do” when I’m not needed.
What this means for me and my team
All this personal change has led to one really important result: lower stress.
For me, I’m working less frantically and am less frustrated that people aren’t hitting my previously unrealistic deadlines. I have a sense of calm that comes from being able to see the horizon and with a capable team beneath me that have taken responsibility for key areas of the day-to-day, I’m released of the huge burden I was under before.
For my team, they are in control of their own work. They set their own objectives and have enough time to hit them. They don’t have me interfering but know that I’m there when they need my help. They don’t have random new tasks thrown on their plate at 5pm on a Friday but rather have line of sight to what’s coming over the hill in the next quarter.
Doesn’t that sound like a nice place to be?