CEO’s are just as human as the people we employ. Even so, there are lessons we learn as an employee that should stick, but sometimes get lost along the path. Years ago, I managed a team of employees whose job it was to distribute collateral across a world-wide organization. I had grown the team from 3 to 7 employees in the space of a year. It had been a great year and my annual performance review reflected my growth. Within it however was one bump in the road that I needed to improve upon in the coming year. At the time, I was in charge of a marketing print & fulfillment budget of around $2M, and my Director had requested that I sharpen my cost-control and accountability skills to show an improved ROI this next year.
How was I going to sharpen my accounting skills and apply them within the 12 month window to show my progress? How was I going to run a growing team with growing responsibilities and needs, without losing momentum? Budgets were tightening and I needed to figure it out quickly.
Doing what few managers might dare, I felt inspired to share my personal shortfall with my team of 6 employees. During a team meeting, one by one, the first 5 members of my team suggested different ways I could change my processes, procedures, and skills to help mitigate the issue. Their input was (as it still is today) very appreciated. Finally, the quietest member of my team raised his voice after the first 5 had made their suggestions and quietly said, “how about I just manage that piece for you?”. “What?” I asked. He then reminded me that he had a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from a prestigious South American University! And so began a wonderfully symbiotic partnership. With my director’s approval, I taught him everything I knew, and in a very short time, he took over cost accounting for the team. That was the first time I can remember “outsourcing” myself, and the results were incredible that year!
Flash forward to just a few years ago. Pacific Northwest Print & Fulfillment had grown from my wife and I managing the business in a 1200 sq ft garage space to an 11,000 sq ft warehouse with 9 employees. Being the hands-on manager/employee I had always been, I felt an insatiable need to be involved in every day-to-day interaction and decisions being made. I rationalized that our business’s reputation and the word-of-mouth marketing we enjoyed depended on it.
At that moment however, I also recognized that my role had to change. The company was getting too large to run with such a small management team. We were beginning to “silo” into separate departments, which is a natural progression for a company producing multiple service products. It was time for me to remove myself from the day-to-day and focus instead on what I knew best – business strategy, marketing, and innovation. (some of you may think this is still too much for one person to handle, but I get bored easily…)
I started that year by “outsourcing” my print center management role. I knew a graphic artist perfect for the job, with customer service skills similar to my own, but who brought a new level of legitimacy to the handling of our print projects. Shortly thereafter, Emerald Dumas joined our team and I was “freed up” to do other things. Or so I thought…
A couple months later, another opportunity to diversify our fulfillment services presented itself in the form of a cross-dock partnership with a business located in Boston, MA who required local support. Being free of my print responsibilities, I quickly took over the planning, implementation, and building of a new process and employee team. Several months into this project it occurred to me – I had accidentally put myself back into the day-to-day operation and was in essence accidentally “hiding” from the larger role to which I needed to devote my time and talents. So again, I “outsourced” myself and found an employee named Frank Milligan, who brought a similar set of skills as mine to the table, but with 21 years of Lowes warehouse management experience under his belt.
To bring this story to a close, I have to be honest – it was difficult pulling myself out of the jobs, tasks, and projects I enjoyed. Occasionally I still involve myself in the day-to-day, to remind myself of how lucky we are to have such great employees, to improve processes, etc. The difference is now I have the freedom to focus on growing instead of working the business!
What changes can you make today that will bring growth opportunities tomorrow? (Leave a comment.)
1. This quote is most likely due to writer and philosopher George Santayana and was found here: