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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The choices of growth

About 15 years ago, in the earliest stages of my business, I wrote and edited most of the publications' content. This seemed the 'right' thing to do, as I'm skilled at these tasks -- in fact journalism is in my heart and soul -- and the cost of a staff editor seemed extravagant. But I listened to some wise advice after resuming control of the business after an early sell-out/sabbatical, and hired our first staff writer in 1996.
Suddenly, I felt the load had lifted, and I could focus on growing the business. And we did -- expanding it to Toronto and then Washington, D.C. and other U.S. markets. I had discovered the power and magic of delegation but didn't quite appreciate the elements of management control and effective systems needed to oversee a growing business.
So, as the business began its long and painful three year slide in 2003, the last person I wanted to fire was our remaining editor (at the peak we employed four writer/editors) -- the thought of actually doing all the work myself suggested despair, stress, and pain. But about 15 months ago, we reached the point that unless I made this final cut, our business would not survive.
My decision to dismiss the editor led to the resignation of our one remaining effective salesperson; and we reached 'bottom' this time last year.
This week, Ken Lancastle joins us as staff writer/editor -- reflecting the business resurgence. I feel both relief and excitement as we grow again.
I'm happy, however that I could roll up my sleeves and work as writer/editor over the past year. The work brought me much closer to our clients, helped to repair badly damaged business relationships, and (because I am quite good at journalism), significantly improved the product quality.
Ken, of course, is also excellent at journalism; we tested him with working assignments, and I have rarely heard such enthusiastic references from previous employers. He will have his hands full -- our revitalized sales team is generating piles of work, but of course I can help pinch in and in fact will be sure to write a few key stories every issue from here on.
I learned some important lessons from this crunch and business survival that may turn on the head some of the delegation principals that you may read about elsewhere.
Delegation is fine, but it is folly to get too far away from your core skills and talents. While some consultants like Michael Gerber recommend you focus on business rather than the trade/skills that led you to your business, I now think you should never get too far from the skills, talents and character that led you to business in the first place. In other words, if you are really good at your trade, don't leave it behind, completely, to business management.
Technology has made a lot of things easier and more productive. I found using the Internet, laptop, digital camera and other resources, that my productivity increased by at least 100 per cent -- I simply could research, write, and co-ordinate twice as much work in the same time as when I last edited the publications in the early 1990s. Again, working at the trade gave me a clearer understanding of workload and volumes and this helps me in planning responsibilities and delegating tasks.
Finally, my time as full-time editor allowed me to reconnect with my market, product, clients, and services -- and helped me to understand what we are doing, and why.
Of course, I am not wishing on any reader of this blog the stressful decline I had experienced and you may not be able to perform your original trade for health or other practical reasons. But there is a lot to be said for getting out of the ivory tower and maintaining/rediscovering your original skills. So, of course, follow Gerber's advice and build solid business systems and delegate effectively. Just ensure your systems include some element of your doing the work that allowed you to create the business in the first place.

1 comment:

Sonny Lykos said...

Good for you, Mark.

You said: “I agree with Lykos -- the problem of course is that sometimes (maybe most often always) sloppy ownership and management; dedicated to processes, systems, and efficiency, destroy employee passion.”

I agree, and might also add dishonesty and greed on the owner’s part.

One should not make computers out of people. And processes, systems, and efficiency will not be followed in earnest by employees unless they understand the “whys.” As adults, we have retained the same need to know and curiosity as when we were children, asking “Why is the sky blue?” or Why does rain come from the sky?” But unlike children, when asked “Why do you want me to do it that way?” the reply “Because I told you to do it that way!” no longer applies. Our staff are not our children, and in the grown up world, it denigrates the employee, and in my opinion is an example of arrogant mismanagement of a company’s most valuable resource.

Passion can only exist and flourish if people are treated as people - The Golden Rule comes to mind - and as owners, we explain the “whys” of our systems and processes.