Bob is the CEO of a small IT consulting firm. Bob built the business from scratch by himself in the spare room of his 1700 square foot townhouse in East Toronto. Over the past 5 years, Bob’s company has grown to a six-figure business and employs about 50 people. Bob’s business model is unique and has attracted customers from around the world. He now has clients in Hong Kong, Sydney, Texas, LA, New York, Vancouver, Montreal and, of course, Toronto.
About a year ago, Bob realised that his company was getting too big to keep track of everything. Sometimes he didn’t even know they had secured a client and done work for them until he got his monthly budget from his CFO showing they had received money. Further, he didn’t like some of the smaller projects his team had worked on. They didn’t fit with his vision of the company’s direction. They should be working on larger projects, not smaller ones. He felt like he was being pushed out of the company’s operation, and his entire company was going rogue.
One morning, he called an all-staff meeting and told everyone that moving forward, any action related to a client needed his final sign off. That meant people had to discuss when they wanted to court a new client, send him proposals in advance so he could vet them, send him project plans so he knew what everyone was working on and show him invoices before they were sent to clients. He felt this way he would know exactly what was going on, and he would be able to move the company in the direction he wanted.
As the months went on, Bob’s days got longer. His senior team members weren’t pulling their weight. His calendar was jam packed from 7am to 8pm every day, and he was frequently on calls over the weekend. His team was constantly asking him questions and waiting for him to give them direction. He was no better off than he was before and, to add to things, revenue was lower than it was before. Still, he felt he had made the right decision because his team needed his help.
Then, about 6 months after he implemented this “final sign off” rule, his VP of Sales resigned. He was one of Bob’s first hires and Bob was extremely upset that the VP was leaving him. During his exit interview, the VP shared with Bob that he felt his responsibilities were being taken away and he wanted more responsibility, not less. Over the following six months, another 2 senior team members resigned, citing similar reasons.
Let’s look at this case study in detail. As Bob’s company grew, he was not able to be involved in every project and client interaction. He wanted his business to grow, but he didn’t want to lose control. The fact that his team was signing on projects that didn’t align with his vision was problematic. And the fact that he didn’t know all his clients was also problematic.
Unfortunately, Bob’s solution to the problem, the “final sign off” rule resulted in half of his senior team leaving within a year. That was certainly not part of Bob’s plan, nor did it benefit his business.
So, what could Bob have done differently to ensure that he still had his finger on the pulse of his business, without being completely buried in the details.
Clearly Define the Vision and Plan
Bob clearly had a vision of where he wanted the company to go. However, like most small business owners, he never set it down on paper. Writing out a vision means thinking it through and putting a plan in place to achieve that vision. A vision without a plan is not real. The only way to realize a vision is to put a plan in place for it. Bob can consult with their senior team, or a mentor or coach, or just do it themselves, but a vision and plan need to be defined.
Communicate the Vision and Plan
Once the vision and plan are defined, Bob needs to communicate this vision to his team. He should call an all-staff meeting and tell everyone what he sees for the company and the plan he has put in place. He should ask employees to ask questions about his plan. After all, they’re the ones who are going to execute it. Bob should tell them exactly what types of projects he wants them to work on, what types of clients he wants them to work with.
Request Regular Updates Without Getting Involved
It’s completely reasonable for Bob to want to know what’s going on. However, he can do this without having “final sign off” on all items. Once he has communicated his vision and execution plan, he needs to leave it up to his team to execute on the plan. He can monitor their activities without needing to approve everything. He will know exactly what is going on, and offer advice and coaching, but does not need to take over the responsibility of making the decisions.
Course Correct and Communicate Again
When Bob receives regular updates, he can decide whether his employees are moving along in the right direction. If he still feels they’re taking on projects or clients that don’t fit with the vision, Bob should go back out to his employees and tell them again about his vision and what he wants. There’s no such thing as too much communication, and when that communication comes from the CEO, and the message is consistent, it does work. There’s an old marketing adage that says a prospect needs to hear from you seven times before they act. The same can be said for your employees. Don’t be afraid of reiterating the same message if you feel things aren’t moving in the direction you want them to.
Appreciate Good Work and Provide Feedback
I can’t say this enough, leaders need to appreciate and commend their high performing employees. CEOs should also go out of their way to praise employees who are trying to do better. All employees need to be appreciated. They need to know that they are on the right track and that their jobs are valued at the company. They also need to know when they’re not performing.
Following these steps will allow Bob to focus on finding new business opportunities and ways to expand his business. Over the next few months, we’ll expand on the topics that I’ve touched on here: rust, delegation, empowerment, appreciation. Stay tuned!