Managing Roles in a Growing Business
Leadership Pain Points:
You have limited or no funds. You have few resources. You have to do it all, and you expect that same drive and commitment from each of your employees.
Does that sound like your startup?
It might be time to re-think how you manage your people before you lose the best of them.
In the startup world people love to drop how much they work into conversation. It’s part of the aura, part of every business storyline, but as a culture it’s simply not sustainable. More importantly, it’s not healthy for your business.
As a startup moves from the idea phase to the point of actually having customers, the full scope of running a business brings tasks that the founders rarely anticipate. As a result, leaders and their employees are asked to step far outside their original roles and areas of expertise.
Oh, you started a restaurant because you love farm-to-table food? Say hello to Quickbooks, human resources, payroll taxes, and the ever-congenial health inspector!
Transactional Work vs. Strategy Work:
The best young business owners learn to draw boundaries between transactional work and strategy work. What is transactional work? That’s the grinding, the execution, the grunt work. Whatever you call it in your business, it’s the important but often tedious work that comes after ideas are hatched.
If you’re asking your “ideas” people to do this work, you’re doing your company a huge disservice. They’re going to start falling short on the execution, miss deadlines, and the big ideas are going to stop flowing.
Your strategy people need time to think, they need that breathing space for their minds. Asking them to create the idea and go straight into executing it is a tall order. It’s very hard to do both in one week, let alone one day, or even with one person.
If you have enough scale and enough people, you can do it relative to roles to take it out of the equation as much as you can. Here at Orbit, we’re both supporting websites and building websites at the same time. If I have 10 people each doing both of those rolls, it makes a lot of sense to split those and have five people handling just support and five handling just building.
But that’s the ideal way. If we were a smaller company, with only four or five people in those positions, I may not have the luxury of creating clearly defined roles.
What’s the Remedy?
If you don’t have scale it becomes a matter of individual and organizational discipline. If you’re asking the same person to do strategy and transactional work, structure their days by building firewalls, sticking to them yourself, and making your employees stick to them.
1. Define days.
If you must ask your strategist to handle both roles, don’t ask them to do it in the same day. Set aside Monday and Tuesday for thinking, before the tasks pile up in the back of their mind. Set Wednesday – Friday as the execution days (and make sure the team understands these boundaries!). The days don’t matter, it depends on your company’s workflow, but you need to split them.
In certain businesses, it may even make sense to define weeks. Set aside the first and third week of the month for strategy, the second and fourth for that employee to handle transactional work. For example, to get transaction-focused developers to work on a new product or core codebase, set aside a day or two every month to working only on that project. Structure those days around specific strategic work and do them on a regular basis to create a clean space for that thinking.
2. Don’t cross the line.
As the boss, it’s easy to think that people should drop what they’re doing every time you need something, but if you manage like this, you’re going to destroy productivity and create stress for your team.
Once you’ve defined those days, adhere to them and resist the temptation to cross those lines with your employees wearing multiple hats. In fact, the boss needs to be a coach and motivator to prevent the team from slipping back into old habits. The boss may even need to cover some transactional work for the team.
3. Hold the line with clients.
It will be hard for you to adhere to this, but it’s even more important that you define the boundaries to your clients in your process. The big ideas people can’t be continuously interrupted by “urgent” client requests. They’ll lose time buried in minutia and worse – email.
This is where the idea that the client is always right and we must jump for the client becomes defeatist in a way. We have to figure out ways to manage them. Are some of those client requests really urgent? Some are, but some aren’t.
If you have a problematic client constantly needing a response, have a one-on-one conversation with them. Or respond to them immediately by being honest – “I have your request, and you can expect a response from me by end of day Thursday.” Try this, you’ll be amazed at how rarely the client actually needs the task done right away, and how much they appreciate the response.
On an organizational level you have to create solid service-level agreements. Ask the client to self-categorize requests so they think about the level of urgency as well.
4. Go on staycation and think!
Your best people need to carve out time during the day and the month that they aren’t responding to their inbox and phone calls. You know they’re getting a lot of requests from clients, but even worse than your clients are your own employees. The biggest time-stealers are the in-house emails, the drop-bys, the urgent IMs. But are they really important?
Ask your team, “If you were on vacation, what would happen?”
They can find out by “going on vacation.” Encourage them to set up an out of office reply – even if they’re not out of the office. Buy them a half day or a full day of thinking time, or writing time, or grinding time.
I’m in a client meeting all day, if this is urgent, please text me.
I’m writing this morning. I’ll be responding to email after 1 pm. If there’s an emergency, please call…
I tell people here at Orbit to go work at a coffee shop for a half day or a full day every week or every month. Don’t turn on your wifi or put your phone in your pocket, don’t surf the net, don’t take calls. Just think and work. People say, “I can’t be away from my desk for a day.” That’s BS. If you were on an airplane, at a seminar, or on a vacation, you’d be OK.
We all – managers, strategists, executioners – have to do something to create a barrier that makes our clients and coworkers think about whether something is really that important to them.
If we don’t do this, we’ll never focus on the important instead of the urgent. What are some strategies that you use? We’d love to hear them in the comments below.