Are You the Maestro or the Band?

Do you lead or do you do more jobs than you should because you think you need to?  Delegation of authority is sometimes a hard thing to do and it is not appropriate in every situation.  However, when a lack of delegation is the rule rather than an exception, it can severely hinder a business from scaling to capture an opportunity or grow.

Many owners I work with have a major frustration with people when I first begin working with them.  Things like, “I designed it so I am the only one that can do it,” “no one can do it like me,” “it is just easier to do it myself” or “no one but me can make a decision around here,” are frequent complaints.  Have you ever stated anything similar?

However, on further conversation and observation, it usually became clear that is how the owner built and trained their staff.  In general they removed accountability from the organization’s culture, or may not have built it in to begin with.

Many of these types of problems are based on the beginnings of the business and can remain many years later.  Sometimes an owner is unable to hand off strategies, execution of tasks or have the time to think about and create new strategies.  When this happens the business can’t exploit opportunities or fix problems very well.

The result is it will never scale and grow beyond the owner’s own ability to play all the instruments at once.  In effect, the owner is keeping the business right where they want it.  Their frustration is they don’t know how to or won’t delegate or hire the talent they need to succeed.  Or worse, they don’t recognize the time they are focusing on tasks that others could and should be doing is a big reason the business can’t grow.  They become its largest bottleneck and company growth is now stunted by design.

This is one of the most prevalent and fixable competitive disadvantages I come across on a very regular basis.  It doesn’t just occur at the top levels of a business.  It can happen anywhere there are handoffs, sharing of duties, teams and manager/subordinate relationships.  The trick is to recognize it is happening and question the status quo.

I have seen where the CEO of  a business with a large number of employees was also the HR director, resume screener and employee benefits consultant even though it wasn’t their core competency or that they weren’t familiar with the labor laws and regulations for that size business.  They just enjoyed it.  They also wouldn’t use a  controller, relying instead on their bookkeeper who by definition doesn’t have the skillset to analyze business results or develop key metrics, strategies, plans or budgets.

The owner complained constantly how they never seemed to be able to visit their customers, get good financial information to focus their key management team or have time to work on the key strategies to grow their business.  Although they didn’t need to fill these positions full time, they refused to consider using expert advisors or external resources to fill these ‘back office’ positions.

Another example is an owner who wasn’t good at the art of delegating decision-making.  Each time I sat in their office I watched a steady stream of subordinates drop folders on their desk, peek in to see if they could ask a question, text and call them.  The owner stopped our conversation each time this happened.  If we stepped out for a meeting or other reason, when we returned a pile of folders two to six inches deep would be on their chair.  They were the major bottleneck in the business; were close to complete exhaustion and beside them self that they were the only one in the business that could make a decision.

The owner’s phone and text answering habit also affected their relationships with customers, as they constantly looked to see who a message or call was from no matter that they were face to face with a customer at the time.  They also did this to employees.

In both these examples we were able to fix the problems by getting the owners to realize they needed to change, not the organization.  That they needed to channel more of their focus on the ‘big picture’ and to delegate more of the tasks they were doing that were more administrative and clerical.  We started by getting each owner to set clear and achievable goals for business growth, with a near-term goal of delegating and trusting subordinates and rebuilding customer relationships.

In the first example the owner hired  external advisors to handle the HR duties and to design a financial system with a focus on business results and measurement.  This allowed them to focus on their customers and on directing the overall business strategy.  The owner and their team also got expert input on HR issues and effective financial metrics for  decision making.

In the later case we taught the owner to stop doing subordinates’ jobs and taught their subordinates to do theirs.   The owner started asking them for a recommended solution for most questions and then accepted those recommendations for action and follow-through.  They also turned off their phone before meeting with a customer or starting a meeting with their team.

In both cases the owners became very effective CEOs.  They found that by delegating more frequently they energized their workforce, removed non-contributors and were able to hire and retain higher-caliber employees.  Both instilled a culture of strategy and accountability throughout their organizations which helped drive higher growth in sales and profitability.  They themselves were reenergized, felt less stress and most importantly were able to become significantly better leaders.

So I ask you, are you a maestro or the band?  At Owner’s Edge we work hard to transform our owners into maestros.  After all, your business strategy needs to be an orchestra, not a band.  A business can’t grow if its owner is trying to play every instrument at once.  We understand you may know, or want to know, how to play each and every one, but you don’t have to be the one playing when the orchestra is on the stage.  You need to be the maestro directing.  Not playing.


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