No, You Should Actually Be Working IN Your Business, Not Just “ON” It

There’s a popular idea sold hard by business-growth gurus that states you should never be working IN your business, only ON it. There’s also a number of people who shame CEOs for “micromanaging” their team. “You hired a great person – now let them do their job!” Well, maybe

Truth is, that is not how real businesses are built and run, and how highly successful entrepreneurs actually produce excellence. If you ask me, far too many small businesses aren’t working IN their business enough – they’re giving WAY too much leeway and trust to employees, vendors and contractors, not closely monitoring what they do, blindly allowing them to do the work without any inspection.

Steve Jobs was known for his iron-fisted control over every design detail of his products. My good friend Dr. Nido Qubein routinely walks around High Point University looking for “un-wow.” Walt Disney often disguised himself as a “normal patron” and played customer to his own parks. Ray Kroc routinely did surprise inspections of his restaurants. Elon Musk frequents the production lines in his factory. Sara Blakely personally tests all her products to ensure they are products her customers will love. This is a VERY common thread among all successful entrepreneurs…they are INVOLVED.

As a CEO myself, I completely understand the desire to divorce yourself from the minutiae and day-to-day details, and you DO have to trust employees to do the right thing, but there’s always a risk in doing so. The key is learning to delegate, NOT abdicate responsibility and routinely conduct your own assessments, digging into the details, talking to customers, secret shopping your own company, listening to calls, inspecting customer service e-mails and making SURE things are done right.

Years ago, while I was working at CGI systems as a sales rep, a sales assistant hired to help me and the other reps generate, organize and follow up on inbound leads suddenly quit without notice to sell Herbal Life. Her desk was across from mine so I volunteered to go through her desk to pick up the pieces and see what leads weren’t processed. What I found was appalling: she had TWO desk drawers so stuffed with leads that they couldn’t be opened (back then, leads were mailed in from direct mail campaigns, entered on paper slips from events and/or faxed in). There had to be over 100 leads that were not entered in the CRM, not followed up on…thousands of dollars of lost opportunity, not to mention the money burned on the marketing implemented to generate them.

As President Reagan famously said, “Trust but verify.” My staff will quickly tell you how I’m a heat-seeking missile for dysfunction. If there’s a flaw, I’ll find it. Fast. I’m not easily fooled and have a “spidey sense” that tingles when something is off. I poke around. A lot. Candidly, what I find often scares the crap out of me because I can’t listen to EVERY phone call, review EVERY e-mail, stand over everyone’s shoulder to make sure they are doing what they should – but I don’t have my back turned completely either. Nor should you.

So I DO work IN my business – tinkering, fixing, checking and managing. Sometimes I just roll up my damned sleeves and DO the work because 1) it has to be done, and 2) I don’t have anyone I can trust in that instant to do it right. There are certain things I never give up 100% control over, such as the content creation and delivery, the bank account, marketing, the sales team and strategic contracts, to name a few.

Sure, there’s a danger in being consumed by the little things, so you have to constantly reassess where your time and attention must go, hop around a lot from department to department, quickly check for dysfunction, fix problems fast, get better systems in place (and sometimes better people in charge) so you know it’s being done right consistently, WITHOUT getting stuck on doing it yourself. Example: Spot-check one or two inbound calls every couple of weeks; if BOTH are handled poorly, you need to get involved. If both are okay, maybe a quick reminder to the staff about reviewing the phone-handling policies, but then move on. There’s no cut-and-dry “only do this and never do that” list because it’s forever in flux. Bottom line is simply this: the next time you’re working IN your business, feel no guilt. It IS a necessary component to growing a business.