I recently asked a question in our Facebook Group, Sustainable: The Fable around why our members might be interested in becoming operationally irrelevant, and the answers came back as being around getting personal freedom and not building business value. (BTW, if you want to join our Facebook Group, it’s free, and you’ll get some good stuff if you join. Click here to get your own invitation.)
Having more personal freedom as a reason for being operationally irrelevant has been staring me in the face for years, and I’ve kept walking past it. It might just be time for me to pay attention and think about business sustainability as not a financial activity, but a personal one as well.
So, what really is business sustainability?
When I think about creating a sustainable business, the question I like to ask is, “What would you be doing differently if your business was here 100 years from now?”
In the past, I would only focus on what the business needed and forget about the second part of creating a sustainable business which is the personal part. Remember, when I think about a sustainable business, I like to talk about creating an economically and a personally sustainable business.
My mistake has been focusing on the economically part and not paying nearly enough attention to the personal part. So, let’s dive into some of the issues I’ve seen in creating a personally sustainable business.
After 20 or 30 years of running your business, do you get bored?
I think this might just be at the core of personally sustainable. You’ve been running your business for a long time. It could be twenty years or more. You’ve been doing pretty much the same thing, and you’re bored with what your business life looks like.
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. I think this is happening for two reasons:
First, is the personality of many business owners. If you’re like many people I hang out with you’re a lover of bright, shiny objects. You may have been labeled as having ADD because you like to work on new things and get easily bored with what you’re doing.
Second, if you’ve been in business for a long-time and have less than fifty people in your company, there’s a good chance a major part of your job is some tactical and technical aspect of the business. This means that you’ve been doing repetitive work and for me, after twenty years or more, that would drive me crazy. What about you?
So, we need to help you think about those two issues.
Let’s talk about your personality
Starting a new business is hard work. It’s also really exciting. Everything you touch is brand new. You get to move from thing to thing fast because it’s likely your’e the lone person in the business.
As your business has grown, you might find that your employees hate it when you go to meetings. They may think that your main goal in life is to make their life difficult. At least, that’s what my employees thought about me. In fact, I used to be the guy who would go to the pay phones (remember pay phones?), call my company and start making changes over the phone.
I had to stop that. In fact, I had to stop making lots of changes. It was just too upsetting for the company, and I figured out making lots of changes ended up costing me lots of money.
Understanding my effect on others was the upside. The downside was I got bored and felt like running my company wasn’t nearly as fun as it was in early years.
The problem I had was I was too involved in the business. Eventually, I learned how to become operationally irrelevant, and that left me free to dream and come up with new ideas. And, the best part, I didn’t make life miserable for everyone else because I got to focus on my experiments while not getting in the way of the daily operation of the business.
The tactical conundrum.
Or, I might call this the tactical trap. This is where you get stuck on the day-to-day in your business and convince yourself that no one can do these activities better than you. Even worse, if you stop doing these things, your business is going to suffer.
If either of these things sounds like you, I have two words for you…..stop it. (You might even enjoy this Bob Newhart bit on destructive behavior.)
The truth is if you want to become operationally irrelevant you will need to stop being tactical in your business. If you don’t, you’ll just be pulled back into issues that others in your company are likely far better at handling than you. Instead of thinking about how you are indispensable in your business, you need to start thinking about all of the areas you’re not necessary. This may be difficult, and it’s necessary if you ever want to become operationally irrelevant in your business.
Here are some things I want you to think about.
Here are activities that I want you to do that will help you move towards being operationally irrelevant:
- Write down a list of at least ten and hopefully twenty or more areas of your business that you will stop being tactically involved.
- Choose one activity and immediately delegate it to someone in your company. Remember delegation means you need to check in from time to time. If you don’t, it’s not delegation, it’s abdication.
- Put a plan together to delegate five things over the next two months.
- Watch how you react when the person you delegated to makes a mistake.
- Understand that when a mistake is made, and it will be made that the person making a mistake did not do it on purpose.
- Ask the person who made a mistake what they learned.
- Make sure the person you’re speaking with gives you a real answer.
- When you find out why the mistake was made, change the system and don’t blame the person.
- Use the Head and Shoulders systems….wash, rinse and repeat until you’ve delegated all of your tactical activities. This will take between one and three years depending on how tactically involved you are in the business.
What’s your thought? What do you need to do to create a business where you’re no longer involved in operations? If you can’t answer this question, you’ll never have a business that is truly sustainable.
Why don’t you leave a comment below and let me know what you think about becoming operationally irrelevant in your business?