The fun — and the necessity — of letting go
For effective "letting go," the owner will have modeled good character for a few years beforehand
July 31, 2019 by Robert Koci
When growth comes, letting go is often the hardest thing to do for the owner of a renovation company.
Most of a recent conversation with a group of renovation contractors was taken up with discussing the difficulty of allowing staff to simply take responsibility for what they were tasked to do. The group of six contractors Canadian Contractor was speaking with were at various stages of the “letting go” process, but the results were almost universal: When they let go, the staff rose to the challenge and found new energy in the willingness of the owners to get out of the way and let them to do their jobs.
About six months ago, one of the contractors we talked to was attending all the 7:00am production meetings with his site supervisors. He realized that as long as he was in the know on all the project’s progress, he was going to be drawn into every production issue that arose. His decision to let go came when he found himself, and almost everyone else in the company, being drawn into a man hunt for a customer’s house key. “It was just crazy and a waste of everyone’s time, including mine,” he said. “I immediately redesigned our processes into three steps, Sales and Design, Production, and Post Production.” He assigned each employee to one of the three steps, but more importantly, insisted they not engage in any activities in the other two steps, no matter what.
All of his duties are in the first step, Sales and Design, so any tasks, responsibilities or duties within the other two steps are out of bounds. If someone in production is looking for a materials order and asks him what to do, he answer is firm but clear, “I have no idea and it’s not my job. Talk to your site super.”
The change was not easy, and he still walks by the morning production meeting and wonders what is being done and said, but he forces himself to stay away. “The site supers love it,” he said.
A Toronto contractor in the group says he finally handed over more responsibility to his site supervisor and, though they still talk about production when things go wrong, the change is freeing up more time for him to work on his business, not in it. “And the site super almost cried when he realized I was serious about letting go,” he said.
We learned from the group that there are dangers in letting go, too. One contractor has a very capable, knowledgeable general manager for the production side of his company who recently fell ill. “I was building my own house at the same time. I suddenly had to jump back in to the business while the house was still only half built. I thought to myself, ‘what if he doesn’t come back from his illness?’ My company would be in very serious trouble.” Fortunately, his GM did come back and things are on a good footing again, but he immediately began succession plans for both himself and his GM.
For a company owner, letting go requires these things to be in place:
1. The policies, procedures and roles of everyone in the company have to be clear, written down and known across the entire organization. Employees (and the owner) know not only what they do, but what they DON’T do.
2. The owner will have modeled good character for a few years beforehand. Employees will react to increased responsibility in the context of the expressed good example of the owner and a virtuous company culture.
3. The employees understand they and the owner work for the company, not the owner. Related to this: The employees know that there is a distinction between the owner and the company.
4. Limited financial information will be shared among key employees. When growth happens at the $3 million-to $5 million level, a leadership team is in place where almost all financial information is shared and the team is made responsible for it.
5. The owner will have a “dashboard” delivered to his desk weekly, which is a one-page progress report supplying the key metrics for the company; income, cash flow, sales, production schedule deviations, etc. The dashboard replaces the owner’s day-to-day involvement as the supplier of information as to the health and well being of the company.
At every level of growth, there is “letting go” to do. Doing it well at $300,000 gross revenue is the best practice for letting go throughout your company’s growth.