Napoleon Bonaparte used to wait three weeks to read his mail. By the time he opened his correspondence, most of it had “disposed of itself or no longer required an answer,” according to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘Napoleon, or The Man of the World.’ My point? If you’re hyper-available to your employees, they’ll never make decisions for themselves, and your company won’t grow. How do you back off without your team feeling like you’ve abandoned ship? Let’s explore.
I learned about Napoleon’s letter reading habits five years ago. I struggled with how to implement until discovering that each time I returned from vacation, the “whirlwind” was there waiting for me. Our sales manager, Neal Lappe, defines the “whirlwind” as the day-to-day hustle that often prevents us from staying on task and accomplishing our goals. Rather than experience Groundhog Day during each post-vacation re-entry, I decided to intentionally dial back a little more each time.
Here are some examples of activities I once did myself, but then decided to delegate before or after a vacation and just never re-assumed the task:
● Calculating sales commission reports
● Programming remote controls
● Programming control systems
● Selling a majority of our projects
● Project management
● Vendor management
● Managing installers
● Accounts receivable
I would’ve never had the presence of mind to give up any of these in the middle of a work week, so vacations seemed like a good moment to give up daily tasks slowly but surely. I break activities down into $5 or $500 per hour tasks. As I gave up each $5 task, it gave me more time for $500 tasks like:
● Strategic planning
● Focusing on refining our mission, vision, and values
● Spending more time walking around and taking the pulse of our company
● Learning how industry peers are improving
Here’s the rub. When you don’t complete a $5 task, there’s an immediate feedback loop. Let’s say I didn’t calculate sales commissions one pay period. What do I immediately get? An angry mob of sales people. It’s easy to measure success and failure on the $5 stuff. The $500 stuff? Not so much. What if I forget to spend some time next week engaged in strategic planning? Odds are, nothing bad will happen and life goes on as usual. If I don’t pay attention to strategic planning for a prolonged period, the market shifts and we struggle as a business.
The other rub is optics. The $5 stuff looks good to employees, vendors, and clients and signals that you’re working hard. If you spend too much time on $5 tasks, your rock star employees will leave you for companies where leaders spend more time on $500 work.
There’s plenty of guilt to go around. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been focused on $500 work and feel like I should be out shoveling a ditch to show how hard working I am. Where does that come from? Search me. It’s annoying, and most other entrepreneurs I know echo similar sentiments. A few years into my efforts to stress test my company while on vacation, I stopped caring as much. Do you experience that kind of guilt?
I also found out I’m not alone in my efforts to let go of the reins to grow. One of my good friends travels abroad for three months each year to see how his company handles his absence. If we’re planning to exit our businesses at some point, doesn’t that sound like a solid goal to work toward? I’m in. Are you?
Stay frosty and see you in the field.