Don’t Bottleneck Your Business: The Top 5 Tips to Get Out of Your Own Way

The majority of CEOs and business owners focus myopically on growing profits, increasing margin and expanding sales. Likely even more CEOs believe that they are personally responsible to make those things happen. What do you think would happen if you removed the CEO from the business? Disruptive as it may sound, one of the most dynamic goals you can is to do just that – setting up your business so that it can thrive and grow without you.

After all, isn’t that the point? A business not dependent on its owner is the ultimate asset to own. Like the perfect self-driving car, it works without you and is a vehicle to get you where you want to go (and the freedom to choose the project you want to get involved in, when you want to get involved).

An owner-dependent company can end up strangling its own potential, as it can be challenging for top dogs to get out of the way and let others drive the sled. In order to create a business that can succeed without you, these five recommendations are key:

  1. Share the success and the shoes

“The opportunity to think like the business owner, to face the decisions the owner faces, and to have a stake in the outcome, is what creates top-notch senior employees who can lead the company in the owner’s stead,” said Glenn Perkins, executive coaching and forums leader for Renaissance Executive Forums in San Jose and Silicon Valley. “The CEO or owner needs to let others walk in their shoes.”

Jack Stack, the author of The Great Game of Business and A Stake In the Outcome wrote the book on creating an ownership culture inside your company: being transparent about financial results and allowing employees to participate in the company’s financial success. Employees who have a piece of the action are more invested in the outcome, and the results are consistently superior to companies who are less inclusive.

“Pilots have their names painted just beneath the canopy of their aircraft,” observes world-reknown leadership pundit Simon Sinek. “This gives the pilot a sense of ownership for his or her jet. What's more, like cars, each aircraft has its own personality, so it's important for a pilot to get to know and love his aircraft.” Truck drivers do the same, and they don’t own the truck the same way the pilot doesn’t own his or her jet. Ownership thinking is the key.

If you’re not quite comfortable opening up the books to staff, consider a simple management tactic instead. Try responding to every question your employees bring you with the same answer: “If you owned the company, what would you do?” Encourage your employees to walk in your shoes, get them thinking as you would and build the habit of starting to think like an owner. Pretty soon, employees are solving problems with a broader perspective and with less direct involvement from the owner. If there’s nobody but the owner who can address a particular issue, instead of getting in line for an appointment, progressive leaders start to ask: who can be trained to handle this in the future so that we don’t have to bother or involve the owner? Then, with the owner’s support, they get those people trained.

  1. No more CEO micro-managing

Stepping back and allowing others to lead the company takes trust, and trust often takes time. An easy phase to stop owner micro-managing is this brief exercise: identify the products and services which require the owner’s personal involvement in either making, delivering or selling them and stop selling those. It might seem revolutionary, but to get out from under the day-to-day responsibility of carrying the company, you have to do it. Score everything thing the company sells on a scale of 0 to 10 on how easy each is to teach an employee to handle (NOT the CEO or owner). Assign a 10 to offerings that are easy to teach or hand off to employees and give a lower score to anything that requires the owner’s personal attention. Stop selling the lowest scoring product or service on the list. Repeat this exercise every quarter.

“A true leader steps back, trusts his or her people, and allows them to succeed,” as it’s in the DNA of most leaders and owners to never step back. This counter-intuitive owner behavior, to step away, is “the only way to give others an opportunity to make decisions and gain confidence in their abilities. If you don’t do that, you can’t be sure whether your talent strategy is working. You can’t be sure if your succession plans are solid. You can’t be sure that the decisions you made a week ago or a month ago or a year ago were the right ones or not.”

  1. Scrub your sales and set up a system

If you’re the owner, are you also the company’s best salesperson? If so, you’ll need to fire yourself as your company’s rainmaker in order to get it to run without you. One way to do this is to create a recurring revenue business model where customers buy from you automatically. Consider creating a service contract with your customers that offers to fulfill one of their ongoing needs on a regular basis.

Next, look at your systems and procedures. If you had a system or a set of rules in place, could issues run smoothly without the owner involved? At least give employees a set of rules to follow in the future, as many are nervous about out-pacing the top officer of the company (think “exceeding the speed limit” set by the owner).

Those rules can even include controlling spending, another sure-fire bottleneck for owners. Even if employees know what to do to move forward or help customers, they may not have the means of paying for the fix they know the owner would want. Empower employees to do what’s right (within boundaries), and get out of the way. For example, you could put a customer service rule in place that gives your frontline staff the authority to make a customer happy in any way they see fit provided it could be done for under $100. You might allow an employee to spend a specific amount with a specific supplier each month without coming to you first. Or you might give an employee an annual budget, an amount they can spend without seeking your approval.

If you develop systems and training that allow employees to act on their own, you’ll find the investment is well worth it: your company will increase in value as it becomes less dependent on you personally.

  1. Write an instruction manual for your business

Make sure your company comes with instructions included. Write an employee manual or what MBA-types call Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). These are a set of rules employees can follow for daily operational tasks in the company. This will ensure employees have a rulebook they can follow when you’re not around, and, when an employee leaves, it’s easier to onboard new talent to handle the duties the company needs.

Business experts agree that having “an actual written training and orientation plan so your employees know what is required of them” is crucial. “Use an incentive-based rewards system, and maintain a no-problem attitude about issues that crop up” and you’ll be able to step back and let the company run itself.

  1. Take a LONG vacation

A recent survey by The Value Builder Score found companies that would perform well without their owner for a period of three months are 50 percent more likely to get an offer to be acquired when compared to more owner-dependent businesses.

There is no better justification for taking a blissful, uninterrupted holiday than to see how your company performs in your absence. The better your company runs on autopilot, the more valuable it will be when you’re ready to sell.

Start by taking an off-grid vacation. Leave your computer at home and switch off your mobile. Upon your return, you’ll probably discover that your employees got resourceful and found answers to a lot of the questions they would have asked you if you had been just down the hall. That’s a good thing and a sign you should start planning an even longer respite from the office.

It's a proven method for a managerial boost. “The only people who can really determine how things work in the near-term are the managers closest to clients and daily operations. If that’s not you, stop worrying and start trusting. If you’ve done your job right, you’ve hired the right senior leaders and given them the direction and resources to do that work well. If you didn’t do that by the time you got on the plane for your vacation, a few emails from the beach or the links won’t do the trick.” Yes, it might seem risky, but it’s a sure-fire way to find out if you are a crutch for your top team. “If your business can’t survive your vacation, you’ve got a bigger problem.”

You’ll also likely come back to an inbox full of issues that need your personal attention. Instead of busily finding answers to each problem in a frenzied attempt to clean up your inbox, slow down and look at each issue through the lens of a possible problem with your people, systems or authorizations.

A company that is not bottlenecked by an owner’s involvement is much more attractive than the alternative. Try getting out of your own way, simple steps at a time, and you might find a higher ROI than you expected. You also might find that you’re more suited to stepping back than you might think. Let your team surprise you, and even pass you on the right.

Renaissance Executive Forums draws Silicon Valley’s diverse business leadership community together, allowing business leaders to readily learn from each other and sharpen their CEO skill sets. As an active business advisor and multi-faceted business executive with deep-rooted experience across numerous industries, Glenn Perkins is the leader of Renaissance Executive Forums Silicon Valley, and a conscientious resource for the business leaders and owners in the area. He is continuously spear-heading the formation of new executive peer groups, innovative workshops and business education opportunities as the local, national and international markets continue to evolve. If you are interested in participating or learning more about becoming a forum member, please contact Glenn at gperkins@executiveforums.com or call 408-213-9513. For more information visit www.execforumssv.com

4 Business Leadership Strategies to Grow Your SMB

For small and medium sized businesses (SMBs), 2018 has been a roller coaster of a year so far. Political upheaval is rampant, unemployment lingers at record lows and many other economic indicators looking promising, while tax reform, trade wars, and healthcare costs are breeding fear in certain sectors. Through it all, there is a steady path to follow for SMB leaders who are looking to grow amidst the larger turmoil, concentrating on key elements that can lower hurdles to growth. While there are many forces outside the control or management of individual business leaders, these four strategies can help you gain a leg up on the competition (and help you navigate potential roadblocks).

1 Use Different Lenses

Many business owners, presidents, and CEOs consider themselves experts. After all, they’re at the top of their organization’s food chain. Theirs is the vision that the whole organization depends on, and that responsibility is a weighty one. Just as massive trucks have multiple mirrors to see small obstructions in their view, business owners, presidents, and CEOs should consider having other perspectives to rely on when they’re trying to figure out how to adjust the trajectory of the business. Management teams and board members can’t be involved in every decision, and some of the more sensitive issues about the organization’s future shouldn’t be biased by opinions that are too agenda-driven. Forbes describes the conundrum and how business leaders need to consider other perspectives beyond their own: “The sheer magnitude of all the information out there, much of it conflicting, makes it overwhelming to understand what you can trust and what you can’t, and who you can trust to see through the data clearly. Anyone who has gotten multiple opinions on a medical condition knows that the opinions of world-class experts can vary wildly. Judging expert judgment has become a key leadership skill today, guaranteed to only grow in importance over the future.”

A growing number of business owners, presidents and CEOs are seeking out advisory boards or executive peer groups to gain access to knowledge and experience beyond their own. “Working with the right executive peer group can be invaluable,” said Glenn Perkins, executive coaching and forums leader for Renaissance Executive Forums Silicon Valley. “With distance and neutrality, the feedback provided around challenges and how to solve them can open up new perspectives and opportunities, learning from others who have ‘been there done that’.” Relying solely on your own perspective, or even that of your management team can be extremely limiting. Like the infamous “10th man principle”, outlying opinions can open up new trains of thought, new potential solutions. Seeing the world through different lenses can broaden your perspective and help the business, relying on a more extensive set of information. No strategy is foolproof but, as Forbes points out, “with several sources of intelligence and data, we can better triangulate on our risks, and better avoid them.” “Don’t underestimate the value of internal opposition,” added Perkins. “Looking through different lenses or agitating the discussion to dig deeper can be confrontational, but it often leads to new ideas being shared and potentially developed.”

2 Care About Culture

The one environment that’s manageable for a business leader is the environment inside his or her own business. Any people-centered enterprise these days relies on certain cultural elements to keep superstar employees on board and build motivation behind the vision of the organization. “Organizational culture is the foundation of employee engagement, empowerment and motivation. These elements can translate to improved citizen satisfaction” according to the PA Times. With employee churn being one of the most disruptive and costly expenses for SMBs, culture matters, regardless of the specific demographic of your employees. Creating memorable moments of community and bonding is what keeps employees engaged beyond a paycheck. In his book, Start With Why, renowned author Simon Sinek talks about the importance of culture on employee morale: “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it. Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause or belief - WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care? People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” The same goes for the environment inside a company, as it has the power to motivate and inspire employees who believe in the same WHY that the business owner, president or CEO does. Does your company have a culture that supports a clearly articulated WHY? If not, look to that as a top priority.

3 Focus Enough (but not too much)

In the classic Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll wrote “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” However, if you focus too strongly on a single path, small twists and turns may take you by surprise and cause problems. Have your plan, pursue your vision, but be flexible in order to grab unexpected opportunities or avoid pitfalls. Focus with a sprinkling of flexibility is even more important for SMBs, who are expected to be more nimble than larger corporate entities. Middle market business development experts caution that “the business world is changing faster than ever; if you develop the perfect strategy in December, it may be obsolete in six months. Defining a strategy will always be an important, necessary process, but flexibility has never been more important. If your strategy doesn't allow for adaptation when assumptions are no longer valid, then it's bad, no matter how perfect it was initially.”

4 Be Open to Learning

Lifelong learning, even once you’ve reached the c-suite, can be a significant advantage as innovation and technology continues to change the global market landscape. But where or who to learn from when you’re the decision-maker at the top? Again, boards of directors and management team members are seldom the answer, as they are too close to the situation and may find it difficult to offer neutral counsel. As popular as MBA degrees are for business people who are starting their climb to the top, executive coaching has become a learning resource for many who have reached the pinnacle. Finding a trusted advisor who can strategically see situations from a distance can be immensely helpful. “Not all CEOs come to the table with the full set of skills they need to build their companies to last for the next decade,” reports Entrepreneur magazine. “These days, a strategic plan may only span three years as the markets are changing and shifting so quickly,” added Perkins. “Utilizing the strengths of an executive or business coach can empower the business owner, president or CEO with the resolve, insight and confidence to address project management, or organizational structure challenges, or whatever the need of the moment might dictate. It’s a tactical as well as a strategic move to look at executive coaches who challenge the leader to get more out of themselves and, in turn, get more out of their top team.” Executive coaches can be found in markets all over the country, so beyond the skillset needed for the particular business, the relationship fit is what most top business leaders look for. For example, the executive forums run by Glenn Perkins concentrate on bringing small groups of top executives from non-competing companies together to form peer advisory groups through which each member can gain fresh ideas and new insights. Business Owners, Presidents, and CEOs join the groups to gain advice, support and insight from members who have faced the similar business and personal challenges. The peer advisory board process also employs one-on-one Executive Coaching opportunities to focus not only on individual goals and objectives but also on leader personal growth and by exploring new ways to address challenges. To the four strategies outlined here, it doesn’t hurt to add two tactical recommendations to add to the mix. The first, have a healthy trust in your gut instincts to navigate the choppy waters of SMB leadership. Though fortune favors the prepared, sometimes circumstances align against even the best laid plans and failures happen. Keep your tolerances in mind and try to balance instinct with intelligence to lead you towards success. The second tactical recommendation is to embrace technology. SMBs are usually small and nimble enough that technology adoption or innovation isn’t overly daunting or costly, and the tech tools you have available can help catapult you past the competition if you’re willing to use them. Renaissance Executive Forums draws Silicon Valley’s diverse business leadership community together, allowing business leaders to readily learn from each other and sharpen their CEO skill sets. As an active business advisor and multi-faceted business executive with deep-rooted experience across numerous industries, Glenn Perkins is the leader of Renaissance Executive Forums Silicon Valley, and a conscientious resource for the business leaders and owners in the area. He is continuously spear-heading the formation of new executive peer groups, innovative workshops and business education opportunities as the local, national and international markets continue to evolve. If you are interested in participating or learning more about becoming a forum member, please contact Glenn at gperkins@executiveforums.com or call 408-213-9513. For more information visit http://www.execforumssv.com/

How Coaching Can Help Create Champions in the C-Suite

The NBA Championships, the Stanley Cup and the Super Bowl aren’t the only arenas where billions of dollars are invested in coaching. As individuals, we hire fitness coaches, golf coaches, nutritional coaches and life coaches, among others, to tend to our personal goals. If you’re a business executive, according to Entrepreneur magazine, corporate America spends more than $1 billion each year investing in executive coaching for leaders. But why? It’s understandable to hire visionary expertise and guidance to focus on the big picture or fill in knowledge and skills you don’t possess. But what could business owners, presidents and CEOs derive from the advice and counsel of someone who couldn’t possibly know their business as well as they do? The answer is a considerable amount, as those companies who work with a business advisor, mentor or leadership coach are proven to be more productive, delivering greater results, and adapting to organizational shifts with greater resiliency. How Coaching Can Help Create Champions in the C-Suite Having the right business advisor can even boost your market performance, according to the American Management Association. The average Return On Investment (ROI) for companies investing in coaching is over seven times the initial investment, according to a global survey of coaching clients conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Association Resource Center. For 25 percent of the companies that participated in the survey, the results were even greater, experiencing multiples of 10 to 49 times their investment. The more a company is reliant on people, the greater the marginal returns on an executive coaching investment. It stands to reason, as athletes, musicians and artists employ coaches to stay at the top of their professions. Their skills, including how to shoulder leadership, are developed over years, sometimes decades, of practice in their discipline. Business owners, presidents and CEOs often work their way through daily challenges and operational difficulties, scattered across multiple disciplines with too many distractions to focus on just one thing. “Not all CEOs come to the table with the full set of skills they need to build their companies to last for the next decade,” reports Entrepreneur magazine. “The best executive coaching relationships resemble the relationship between a conductor and their train. The conductor (coach) can help keep the train (the executive) on the tracks.” How Coaching Can Help Create Champions in the C-Suite “Business coaches are driven to get people and teams to think through a full spectrum of elements and make choices, so that they’re focusing their energies in strategic and necessary places,” said Glenn Perkins, executive coaching and forums leader for Renaissance Executive Forums Silicon Valley. “Often times top business leaders and their teams find they are too close to the day-to-day operations to see the bigger landscape, and the horizon they’re aiming for. Business coaches are critical guideposts to help many busy executives keep their long term aims in mind as they work to get there.”   Some of the most-recognized CEOs recommend finding a business mentor, including Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, who says the best advice he ever got was to get a coach. Microsoft chieftain Bill Gates agrees that everyone should have a coach. Regardless of what you think of Tom Brady and the whole New England Patriots team, they and you would likely agree that the right coach makes a difference. Many question the value of a business mentor for those who have already reached the top. What could a business coach teach them that they don’t already know? “There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what a business coach does,” added Perkins. “Coaches don’t duplicate the skillset of the CEO or company owner. We observe and interact, looking for new ways that the team can interact and find their own inspiration to choose the best solutions and strategies. It’s not about copying what others have done and trying for a similar success. There’s value in looking at situations with a different set of eyes, discussing other interpretations and analyzing problems with a trusted advisor who has a bit of distance.” How Coaching Can Help Create Champions in the C-Suite There are countless resources available to list the tips and advantages of working with an executive coach. Some of these resources preach about the process or longevity of a particular executive coaching program, but times are changing and many top level executives are looking for more personal, customized options. It’s not as easy as picking a coach off a menu, or at least it shouldn’t be. “With a multitude of resources available online and elsewhere, finding a business coach is rather easy. However, finding the right coach for you and your business is another matter” Trust is huge in a coaching relationship, and it doesn’t form instantly. CEOs are encouraged and cautioned to find an experienced coach with diversified skills, detail oriented and ethical, with a passion for each particular business or company they champion. Perkins points out: “Many top leaders I work with have sacrificed continuously for the sake of their companies and they’re rightfully proud of what they’ve built. Their companies are an extension of themselves, and their choice of a coach is a distinctly personal one. There’s nothing more satisfying than helping a CEO owner positively impact the lives of their employees and their families, adding horsepower and effort to what they’ve been doing for years. I truly love my job!” How Coaching Can Help Create Champions in the C-Suite Perkins continues to build programs for San Jose and Silicon Valley business owners, presidents and CEOs, bringing small groups of top executives from non-competing companies together to form peer advisory groups through which each member can gain fresh ideas and new insights. Business owners, presidents and CEOs join the groups to gain advice, support and insight from members who have faced the similar business and personal challenges. They also employ one-on-one executive coaching opportunities to focus on individual goals and objectives by exploring new ways to address challenges. “Accountability is a large part of the coaching relationship,” concludes Perkins. “Dealing with uncomfortable truths are often part of progress, and getting through those discussions professionally can lead to stronger, better decisions all the way around. It’s quite a journey, and you have to trust the person you’re taking that journey with.” It goes without saying that confidentiality is a must, as sensitive personal and company information is often revealed as part of the coaching process. Just like a top sports team, where the coach serves individuals on the team as well as the whole, business coaches serve both the CEO and the whole enterprise that he or she leads. After all, it’s the team and the coaching staff that is responsible for getting to the championships. And they, together, are heralded for the win. Renaissance Executive Forums draws Silicon Valley’s diverse business leadership community together, allowing business leaders to readily learn from each other and sharpen their CEO skill sets. As an active business advisor and multi-faceted business executive with deep-rooted experience across numerous industries, Glenn Perkins is the leader of Renaissance Executive Forums Silicon Valley, and a conscientious resource for the business leaders and owners in the area. He is continuously spear-heading the formation of new executive peer groups, innovative workshops and business education opportunities as the local, national and international markets continue to evolve. If you are interested in participating or learning more about becoming a forum member, please contact Glenn at gperkins@executiveforums.com or call 408-213-9513. For more information visit www.execforumssv.com