By Robyn Goldenberg
Dilemma: The good news is that our company is growing, but it’s scary for us as owners, too. We worry a lot about losing control, or at least no longer being intimately keyed into how each department is handling their share of responsibility. How do we keep in touch and know if things are being done properly if we’re not as directly involved as we’re accustomed?
Thoughts of the Day:Maintaining control as you grow the company is a significant challenge for most small business owners. Build systems, procedures, checklists, so you can teach everyone how you want things done. Insist on reports and auditing as control tools. Building up checks and balances as well as cross-company incentives helps to get everyone on the same page. Pay attention when you hear comments.
One of the reasons that so many companies remain small is that business owners tend to be hands on, and that limits the size to which their companies are able to grow. Bigger companies have more to do, more employees to manage, and more customers to see. That means, as an owner, you’ll have to get comfortable with delegating. Owners are often reluctant to give up some of their duties in fear that it won’t be done as well, but trusting key employees is crucial for long-term success.
Consistency makes money in any company. Help to ensure that things are done the way you want by writing down procedures as you do them, or how you prefer to have them done. Ask the next person in line to improve those procedures. Use checklists to learn more about when and why things go right and go wrong—and adapt accordingly.
As the company grows, one overhead investment you’ll want to make is in strong, organized people who ensure that things go right. In the early stages of the business, it’s the owner; later on, that needs to become someone else (or several someones) as the owner has other important roles to fill, such as developing and managing the company’s long-term growth strategies. These strategically selected individuals can be managers, team leaders, or people in a separate reporting line who know what needs to be checked and duly reported on.
Far too many business owners overlook that crucial checking function—until they find out there were errors with reporting, managers were fudging numbers, money was going out the door for the wrong things, and in some cases, outright theft was rampant. Why wouldn’t an owner delegate the right people to oversee these matters? Because it costs money and owners tend to be eternal optimists who think bad things will never happen to them.
Unfortunately, those incidents and accidents can and do happen—constantly. Prevention through auditing can be hard to justify because if it’s done right, the problems never show up and are avoided entirely. Savvy business owners know this, treat error checking and reporting as a cost of doing business, and build that into their overall profit structure to ensure the company stays safe as it grows. That way, you can trust your team, but verify that everything is on the right track.
Speaking of necessary costs of doing business, there is generally no faster way to get everyone on the same team than with bonus programs. Reward everyone based on the company’s overall profitability. Get all employees involved in keeping a close eye on operations, fixing problems, and looking for ways to implement best practices.
Teach employees that bonuses ultimately depend on monitoring and improving what’s going on. Give employees reports to use and the education they need to know what to do with those reports. Emphasize the importance of cutting out waste, dealing with unprofitable accounts, boosting growth with profitable customers, and handling tough employee situations both legally and fairly.
Stay in touch by walking around and talking with people—they’ll trust you and are likely to be more honest if they see you earnestly engage with everyone. And when you get that valuable feedback, pay attention. Celebrate the good stuff; carefully investigate complaints, even if they’re about someone you consider part of your insider team—you have to deal with problems promptly. Don’t avoid them.
There’s a saying: Respect what you inspect. If something is important enough to do well, make sure you can confirm that it is, indeed, done well. This is no time to hope the system works, only to be disappointed later. Ask everyone around you to pay attention to details and report in with both good and bad examples so that everyone can work to improve how things are done. [CD1219]
Robyn Goldenberg is Director of Operations and Marketing for Strategy Leaders. She can be reached at email@example.com.