As an entrepreneur, you probably feel as though you’re responsible for a million different aspects of your business. It’s your vision after all: You created it. Who else could possibly be better suited than you to make sure different areas are running smoothly?
Well, it turns out the answer is a lot of people — but that doesn’t mean you should forego all involvement.
As Pathgather’s chief revenue officer Nick Gidwani, recently noted in the Harvard Business Review, leaders have to find a balance between moving their business forward and giving employees support. That support can take many different forms, but as you divert your energy toward working on the business, as opposed to in it, you need to devote equal time to the various departments that make up your operations.
Maybe you neglect a department because you really trust the person in charge, or because you’re heavily involved in another department, and your time is compromised. For me, it’s usually because I know less about some particularhat area. And, yes, I’ll admit it: Of all the entrepreneurial hats I have to wear, I naturally spend less time in those that aren’t as comfortable for me.
When the cap doesn’t fit . . .
At Lemonlight, I am the process person, neurotic about efficiency and making sure that clients move through our funnel seamlessly. I also spent a decade honing my skills in sales and marketing. So, I could easily spend hours figuring out new revenue streams or building better processes for the marketing team.
However, because I started a video production company, having zero production experience, I lacked patience for dealing with the creative side of the business.
A lot of our structures, in fact, were put into place two years ago when the company consisted of 10 people producing 40 videos a month. Three years in, we were producing 150 videos each month, using the same processes; and our projects were growing more complex, especially in the postproduction department — where I had the least familiarity.
Editors are required to complete a certain number of units per week to meet their key performance indicators. Because I was pretty disconnected from this department, they all had the same amount of time to complete the tougher jobs, which was very uncomfortable for them. As time went on, morale dropped, and arguments ensued. I was forced to get my hands dirty when an editor reached out to me directly after a particularly demanding project.
Once I took the time to understand these employees’ challenges, I was ashamed and embarrassed that I hadn’t gotten involved sooner. After personally spending a week with the department, I was able to quickly add more structure and reboot the team’s morale.
Trying on all the hats
The importance of budgeting time and energy across all departments can be a hard lesson to learn. It often takes an experience similar to my own to grasp the consequences of neglecting a certain area of your business.
To avoid learning the hard way, incorporate these methods into your own leadership style.
1. Bucket your days. One of the best ways to ensure you’re properly distributing your focus is by compartmentalizing your days. I start out the week putting out fires, playing catch-up and checking in with staff. Partnerships and business development are on Tuesday, while Wednesday is reserved for our own marketing. Production and client management are on Thursday, and I close out the workweek on Friday by looking at finances and doing administrative tasks.
My schedule won’t suit everyone, and it’s important to note that I start every day by briefly checking in with each department and answering any urgent questions people may have.
If you’re skeptical of bucketing, I should add that Jack Dorsey — CEO of Twitter and Square — does the same thing, and this multi-department check-in enables him to run two large, successful companies simultaneously.
Still, one person can’t do everything. That’s why I have 30-minute, one-on-one meetings with department heads every week. Scheduling these on the days where I’m most involved with that particular department helps me get into the right mindset to understand their challenges and work on solutions.
Having every employee in the company log key performance indicators (KPIs) on a weekly basis makes it easy to spot what’s going well and what’s problematic. Even if everything is going smoothly, you can use this time to challenge department leaders to always be considering ways to improve.
2. Use different workspaces for specific tasks. Instead of using multiple computers for various departments, I now use multiple desktops on my Mac, broken down by department: Financials/Accounting, Product/Client, Marketing/Sales and my own emails and calendar.
When I’m working in each department, I try to minimize distractions from other areas, so having separate desktops on a single computer is an effective strategy. On my admin desktop, I keep questions from the accounting team, financial reports, Quickbooks, Stripe and other apps. On my main desktop I keep emails and my calendar open, along with monthly sales documents and other things requiring attention that day.
I use Evernote religiously; it’s a tool where you can keep notes separated by department and level of priority. Stephen Covey’s time-management matrix then helps me prioritize my task within each department. Using the four different quadrants of the system, you can quickly determine whether or not you should address tasks immediately or postpone them in favor of higher priorities.
3. When all else fails, dive in. While the above processes help me stay better connected, that doesn’t mean things can’t be overlooked. If a big problem arises, my knee-jerk reaction used to be to see whether it would sort itself out — until I realized that it rarely does. Now, I immediately try to determine the source of the problem.
If the issue is a big one, I’ll block off a week or two to get an in-depth understanding of the problem and rework the solution — which can save you so much time and headache in the long run. When, for example, one of our project managers took over a new role and was quickly overwhelmed, we trusted that she would figure it out based on her skill set and experience.
But that didn’t happen. And, when the situation still hadn’t resolved itself a month in, I decided to spend every day with her — literally sitting beside her helping her write emails — to gain a better understanding of her workload. In the end, we were able to create a better structure and relieve most of her stress.
If you’ve been mistakenly putting a certain department on the back burner (or, worse — you’re willfully neglecting an area of your business you just don’t love), let this be a wake-up call: It’s always better to be informed of problems sooner rather than later.
So, do this: Try on all the different hats any entrepreneur in your space may have to sport someday, and take a broader view. When the time comes, a high-level understanding of what’s going on in each department will make it easier for you to narrow your focus, address specific aspects of your business, correct weaknesses and capitalize on strengths.