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Get Your Life Back

Q. I own a small business that has about 25 employees. The good news is that the business has been growing nicely and it’s profitable. The bad news is that it has taken over my life. I’m working 70 to 80 hours a week and I never get a day off. Do you have any suggestions for helping me get my life back?

A. We don’t know the details of your business, but based on what you told us, it seems that you need to delegate more effectively. It’s likely that you are performing functions that were completely appropriate when your business was smaller. You’re probably very good at them. These tasks include things such as making most tactical decisions and hiring and managing front line employees. Your skills in these areas have made your business successful.

As your business has grown, the time it takes to perform these tasks has expanded exponentially. To get your life back, you have only two choices: shrink your business to reduce your workload or delegate these responsibilities to your managers. Depending on your goals and your situation, shrinking your business may be a viable option.

We know a contractor who was employing four crews. The workload was overwhelming. Four crews were too many for him to manage alone. He calculated that with two crews he could make all of the money he needed to support his family and have the lifestyle to which he aspired. He shrank his business.

Alternatively, you could get your life back by delegating many of the tasks you currently do to your managers. However, this option is not without risk. The only thing worse than not delegating when you need to, is delegating before you have the proper infrastructure. The proper infrastructure consists of three things:

  • The right managers – It’s axiomatic that if you’re going to delegate successfully you’ll need to have the right managers in place. This means you will have to develop good managers internally or hire them from the outside. It’s a make or buy decision. Be brutally honest with yourself about the management ability of your people. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that the best widget maker will also be the best production manager. These are two fundamentally different skill sets.

  • Documented processes – Yes, you have to write down the necessary steps to execute every significant process in you company. It’s not sexy and no one is going to pay you an extra nickel because your processes are well documented. However, once your business has grown to the point that you can’t personally supervise all of the work, documenting your processes is the only way that you can ensure things are done consistently across your company and over time. This is a big job, so take it in small chunks. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Get started!

  • Metrics – Good metrics will let you know what’s going on in the bowels of your business when you are not there to observe everything. They are what allow midsize business owners who have delegated responsibility to managers to sleep at night. Your metrics will include your financial statements, but they are not sufficient by themselves. You’ll need detailed information about how your operation is performing delivered in a timely manner. The best metrics will differ depending on your business, but regardless of your industry, you will need to measure quality, timeliness and cost effectiveness.

Assuming you are going to continue to run your business, shrinking it or delegating some of your responsibilities to others are the only two ways you can get your life back. If you decide to delegate, make sure that you have the infrastructure that you need to do so successfully. It may sound simple, but this transition is one of the most difficult you’ll face. If you haven’t done this before, it’s advisable to reach out for help from someone who has. Good luck!

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