How to Disappear from Business
When I was chosen for the 2009 EO/British Airways contest, I decided to visit a long-time client in Sydney, Australia. It was my first time on that continent and my first time being away from my business for so long— two weeks straight! Though having some face time with a far-away client was rewarding, the greatest value I received from the trip wasn't the client visit itself, but seeing how well my company could operate without me.
Since I was in a much different time zone, I was forced to communicate minimally with my employees in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. This wouldn’t have been possible without the organizational changes that I had made earlier in the year. I knew that for my business to operate well without me, I would need to have a reliable “second in command.” We had many capable managers and executives, but unfortunately no one with the time, knowledge and inclination to make the full range of decisions I make as the company’s founder and president. So, I came up with another solution— develop a strong leadership team.
I started to promote or hire leaders within the company to take on various responsibilities that I held. This included a CFO accountable for our financial management and some HR functions; a sales director accountable for our sales and business development; an operations director accountable for our project management, IT and analytical staff performance; and a marketing director accountable for our marketing and new product development initiatives. These were all responsibilities that I had previously held to some degree. With the new leadership team in place, though, I would barely need to handle any of them.
In my 15-person company, I went from having nine direct reports to only these four. These new positions freed up vast amounts of my time, allowing me to truly start working “on my business” instead of “in my business.” It has also allowed me the luxury of stress-free time away from work. With our leadership team in place, just about any important business decision can be made without me. In the rare event one of the leaders doesn’t feel comfortable making a decision on his own and I’m not available for a quick answer, he’ll simply consult with his colleagues. Truthfully, as a group, they often make better decisions than I would have anyway.
Of course, there are checks in balances in place to assure that every member of the leadership team does his job well. Everyone has metrics that they’re accountable for, as well as real-time reports I can access to check their progress. For our CFO, it’s our financial statements; for our sales director, it’s a sales dashboard in our CRM system; for our operations director, it’s our client satisfaction survey results; for our marketing director, it’s our marketing performance dashboard. I trust that my leaders won’t drop the ball, but if they do, I would see it very quickly.
As a result of the new structure that I put in place before my trip, and its success in my absence, I now feel emboldened to travel more often without worrying about how the business is doing without me. It's a great testament to the quality of our leadership team and the value of delegating decision-making authority throughout an organization.