This last couple of weeks I’ve been working with the founders and senior team of a digital startup that’s experiencing a surge in growth and is working hard to keep up with demand. It’s reminded me of the most important lesson that I’ve ever learned as a founder: how to delegate.
What this team are struggling with is that after significant expansion over the last 12 month, working flat out delivering to customers and generating new business, there hasn’t been time to address the structure of the business and particularly the communications that happen (and don’t happen) until very recently.
More heat than light
This leads to a really difficult situation where, on the one hand, everyone’s very excited, the business is growing fast and there are new people coming into the business each month. But on the other hand, individuals are struggling to fit their activities together and join up efforts across the business. In short, they are generating more heat than light.
It’s not the first time I’ve encountered this, and probably it’s something you’re familiar with too – when things are quiet and you have time to plan expansion, there’s no budget to do it – and when things get busy, well we’re too busy to think it through, we just have to get on with it.
So how do we break out of that circle? For the founder it’s about planning a tactical retreat from the things that a founder does in a ten-person company, to the things that the founder does in a 50 person company. Fewer things, but with just as big an impact as before. As I’ve worked with this group of founders on this challenge, we’re addressing it through four key areas of focus.
How to delegate
This is the one thing that any founder simply can’t get away from. When you stop doing routine sales pitches, the sales team don’t just need your deck, they need to be able to take the customer on the journey towards your vision – they need to sing your song. So you’ll need to invest time in sharing that vision, it’ll pay off a hundred fold.
In a young team that’s just forming, the vision alone isn’t enough. There are a lot of distractions, a lot of systems to work out and a lot of decisions to be made. As the founder you know instinctively which of those decisions are steering towards your vision, so keeping the team pointed in the right direction is vital to ensure it’s your vision which gets turned into reality.
(3) Meeting together
Sounds like a lot of face to face time, right? Well if you keep on meeting people individually then yes, you could spend your whole day on that, which is why meetings were invented. A well-run weekly check-in meeting and monthly business meeting will enable you to share your vision and do some steering, without directing unnecessary resources towards one individual or making them feel like you’re muscling in on their delegated area.
(4) The power of team
There’s one simple word change which turns your vision into our vision, your direction into the team’s decision. That word is of course “we”. If you lead your meeting in terms of “here’s the challenge we face”, “what ideas do we have to address this” and “OK so here’s what we are saying” you’ll be able to share your vision and your guiding hand on the steering wheel whilst building the strength of your team. This will mean the amount of intervention that you have to do will rapidly decrease.
When it comes down to it, founders are always overloaded because they have the best visibility of everything that needs to be done. The other folks in your team know that there’s lots to be done too, but it’s not ready for them to work on, or it’s not “available” to them, so it’s not sitting on their to do list, it’s sitting on yours.
Getting things off of your own list and onto other people’s is the biggest challenge that a founder faces. Having taken a look at how to address this on a team level this time, I’d like to come back to how this works on a one to one basis in my next post – advanced delegation.