All the credit for the ideas in this column must go to Michael Gerber, who wrote the book The E-Myth, which, by the way, I highly recommend. In it he admonishes, “Work on your business, not in your business.”
I have never gotten better business advice than that, and during all the years of my active business ownership, I never forgot that. But exactly what is he talking about?
When you own a business, especially a start-up business, you need to “wear a lot of hats.” You need to do almost all of the work because there is probably only you to do it. You haven’t yet gotten to the point where you need — or can afford — employees. So you do everything from soliciting new business, ordering materials, producing the product, doing the servicing, packing and shipping the final product, and, occasionally, unplugging the toilet. You are working in your business.
But as the business grows you begin to add an employee or two to help you do the work. Your first job is then to train those employees. The next job (and it can be more difficult than you might think) is to delegate that job to them and let them do the job. I guarantee that very few employees will ever do the job exactly the way you would do it, and the tendency is to want to micro-manage the way the job is done to exactly how you would.
Think about it. If you ask me to sharpen your pencil because it has a broken point, do you really care whether I use a manual pencil sharpener or electric one, or if I sharpen it with my pen knife? If you can write with it when I give it back to you, isn’t that what you really wanted?
I had just such a micro-manager for a boss once. He double-guessed everything I did until it finally got to the point where I just gave up trying to bring him any new ideas or suggestions. One day I told him, “Ralph, I will not be bringing you any new ideas any more.” He replied, “Is that a threat?” I said, “No. Just a prediction.” After that I never did, and the company lost the benefit of many improvements that I could have made. Ralph was the worst boss I ever had.
But if you become enslaved to having things done exactly the way you want, you will end up doing all those things yourself. And guess what? You’re back to being that one-man business again.
Worse yet, you continually will be kept from your real job of guiding and growing the business. You will not be spending your time thinking about the near and more distant future. You will not be spending your time doing the visualization and foresight that is needed for your company to grow and succeed. You are not working on your business, you are still working in it.
Don’t do that.