I write this as a direct result of a call I received recently from one of my clients. It was a tale of woe involving a broken limb, as a result of a domestic accident that could happen to any of us: a simple trip, resulting in a lot of pain (obviously), but more to the point, incapacity for several weeks, while said limb mends.
As usual with these things, first response was, “OMG, who’s going to mind the shop? Who’s going to do this? Who’s going to do that?” All the usual short-term issues that you’d expect.
In this case, the ability to do site visits, prepare estimates on the strength of them, follow up with sales calls, meet suppliers and sub-contractors, etc etc.
Now put yourself in a similar position: confined to quarters for a couple of months (maybe longer). What are the things that you just have to do that you simply won’t be able to? Generally, this will revolve round an inability to drive a car (or walk) anywhere.
So sit back and draw up a list of all those things that you (and only you) can do, that you won’t be able to for a while and which will have an immediate and negative impact on the business.
And for the purposes of this exercise, I’m limiting it to physical injury, whereby after a period of initial discomfort (those doctors know how to under-state, don’t they?) you can at least use a telephone and a computer, perhaps even simultaneously.
If you were hospitalised with a more serious medical condition, even this relative ‘luxury’ would be denied. And while key-man insurance might pay for someone else to come in and do your job, there’s a better-than-even chance that that someone wouldn’t be psychic and fully au fait with all your little ways, and “the way we do things round here.”
After my first knee-jerk reaction (as Vivian on ‘The Young Ones’ would put it, what a complete bastard), my more considered riposte was that it might in the long term turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
There is a tendency among most business owner/managers to be doing it, doing it, doing it – and most of the time, the benefits of delegating key tasks, while fully understood in principle, are largely ignored in practice.
Once you’re laid up and just can’t do it, the imperative is to find alternative methodologies for getting things done by people other than your good self.
That means you’ll probably have to write down some clear instructions – aka systems and processes – for that giant “To Do’ list, and then go recruit suitable candidates (whether already on the pay-roll or complete strangers) to carry out the necessary.
It’s called an Operations Manual, and you should have one anyway, if you fully intend your business to operate efficiently, without you in it – the only way to build a business with any significant value and ongoing growth potential.
And all those technical jobs you’ve been doing, which should have been delegated long since, but now have to be, will need to be clearly defined under job titles, job descriptions, roles & responsibilities and core business objectives for every employee (or sub-contractor, if that’s your bag) in whom you place your trust. Furthermore, you’re going to have to do all this in a hell of a hurry, if you don’t want the business to start flat-lining.
But here’s the thing: once you’ve got all this sorted, you should never need to go back to doing it ever again. You’ll be able to concentrate more (most) of your time to high-value activities that help the business grow, rather than just plugging away at day-to-day technical work.
“OK,” I can hear a few siren voices say, “but I haven’t broken a leg or been hospitalised.” No, but why wait till you are to put in place structures that you know will make the business stronger, more efficient and better placed for short- and long-term growth?
Go on: no more excuses – get started now. And that includes all you lawyers and accountants who think most of this commercial rigmarole doesn’t apply to the professional classes. Oh yes it does!
David Croydon: 01844 238692 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org