We owners often try absentee management to work ourselves out of a job. We dream the shop running itself. Then we can do what we choose, not what we need to do. Some spend years developing systems while others just turn everything over to another person. Well, it doesn’t work in the long run. You can own a car, but someone must drive it. And unless you have enough money to hire a chauffeur, that person is you. Here are my thoughts.
We can never “work ourselves out of a job.” We must “work ourselves into our next job.”
There are three basic functions all businesses must perform whether you have one person or a hundred. We must get jobs out, we must get jobs in, and we must get paid.
If we’re small, then the owner wears different “hats.” I advocate setting assigned times for tasks such as production, production management, outside sales, and financial functions. And, in so doing, we must make time for sales. We can’t leave it until we find time to do it, for we never will.
As we grow, we then bring people behind us who can fill in the function whether it be a CSR to talk to customers or a bookkeeper to do the detailed work. We don’t abdicate when we do, rather we hire someone to do what we know how to do and will maintain our oversight.
If we’re large, then we must maintain oversight and discipline. Discipline is doing what’s most important, not what’s most fun. Oversight is making sure others reporting to us do what’s most important as well.
The principle isn’t “go do that,” rather the principle is “follow me.”
Retiring in Place isn’t Absentee Management
Most commonly owners retire in place. That’s where we come in when we want and do what we want. We don’t delegate, rather abdicate. That’s not absentee management.
There are several variations on this theme. There’s the owner who visits with employees. There’s the owner who goes to the beach to work on the marketing plan. And then there’s the owner who measures everything like error rates, wastage, and more. This is “basketball” management; when someone commits a foul, the owner blows the whistle and points at them. Not a way to develop a team.
Those relying on systems often think if only we show them how much they’re wasting, they’ll stop. If only we show them how much time they waste, they’ll stop. We try to manage people. We can’t.
We can manage our bank account, we can manage to buy equipment, and we can manage to get out of bed in the morning; but we must lead people, not manage them.
We must tell people what we want, not just show them. That’s because people change when they feel the heat; they don’t change when they see the light.
The most common organizational alternative is to rely on another “person.” Often these are talented younger (than us) folks who volunteer to take away our burdens. We dump onto them everything we don’t want to do organizing around people, not functions.
The one time that I saw absentee management successful was when the owner paid his “person” handsomely; something like $190,000 in today’s dollars. This person spent all that he made, so he didn’t have enough money to start his own business and the owner had no reason to sell it to him as he wanted.
Surely the business had to be very successful and it was. But it was because the owner was smart enough to open it in a rapidly growing locale during a time when small press printing was in great demand. It was a matter of luck.
You run the shop until you don’t. Abdication is not a transition plan. Absentee management isn’t either.
What is a transition plan is to organize around functions. What are the functions? We need to get jobs out, get jobs in and get paid. Every day. And yes, one can evolve into a job that allows one to do this without having to do a lot of the daily tasks. But it’s not done just by dumping everything on someone else. That’s where you look up one day and the essential other person has taken your business away from you.
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