Here at Results we work with many different companies that have a variety of different goals.  Some want top line growth, more profitability, and others may look to create a healthier culture or higher customer service levels.

But for some, particularly those smaller firms that are still run by their founders, it’s more about freedom.  These owner/founders are looking for a way to have their business run without them.  They want to switch their company to autopilot.

How did this happen?

Most firms started at the intersection of an idea or opportunity, and a founder willing to take a risk.  This person, the owner/founder, was employee #1 at the birth of the company.  Then over time, as activity and reputation grew, the founder was forced to add more resources.  The company moved from one employee to five, then to 15, and so on.

When a company is small it is relatively easy and even appropriate for all key decisions and actions to go through one person; the founder.  The founder knows every customer personally, deals with every complaint, makes every hiring decision, signs every cheque, and so on.  In fact, it’s often the personality, commitment and passion of the founder that causes the growth and attraction of new customers and opportunity.

But at some point on the growth curve, the very thing that made the company successful in the past, becomes the bottleneck going forward. It varies by industry and company, but somewhere between 20 and 50 employees, the company growth becomes throttled because too many key decisions and strategic actions are going through one person.

Switching to autopilot

It’s hard to break old habits, especially when those very habits have driven success in the past, but the first step a founder needs to make to remove the growth bottleneck is to be willing to delegate.  Delegation is not abdication, and there are specific principles to follow.

The next step is to replace the founder with a system for business execution, like the Results Execution System.  The system makes explicit the personality, intent, priorities and processes that were previously housed in the mind of the founder – The system takes the same actions and makes the same decisions the founder would have.

A system for business execution starts big by defining key elements of vision and culture, and then moves towards specific elements like quarterly priorities and projects, steps for hiring the best employees or the right key performance indicators to track.  By implementing the system, the founder shifts the model to working “on” the business instead of “in” the business, and work gets done through others.

Ready for take off

Taking a company from infancy to maturity isn’t easy.  As companies grow and mature, so too do their founders in their role as leaders. Founders who have done the hard work of starting their companies deserve to reap the benefits of maturity.  These benefits include:

  • Work-Life balance:  Spending time with your family, having time for other interests,
    lower stress, better health, and the ability to take a vacation without worrying about the business.
  • Attracting talent: The best employees want workplaces where there is room for development, growth, and some level of independence. The ability to trust your leadership team allows you to build organizational capacity/capability to do more when you develop the people in your organization.
  • Company Value: Companies that run without the owner/founder are worth more. A business is more desirable to potential buyers if the company is fully operational when the founder steps out.

Is your business ready for autopilot?  If not, and you want these benefits, are you ready to take action to get there?

Article by Tim O’Connor