As CEO of a company that grew 450% last year, I often think about creating resiliency at The Grommet. With a team that went from 12 to 50 people in the last 18 months, people are constantly being stretched. Promotions often prompt a star player to fundamentally redefine what success means in their next role. This can be really disconcerting, but relying on an old playbook within a known comfort zone can be very counterproductive.
It's a common CEO problem: how to get your best people to "promote themselves."
At The Grommet, we recently had a team member leave and quickly realized that she was one of only two people who knew how to perform a critical daily activity. She likely dealt with it quietly while she was employed with us. But at her departure we realized that this 'good soldier' behavior inadvertently put the company at a slight risk. As CEO, it is ultimately my responsibility to make sure our organization is resilient, so I am grateful that this alerted our team to look out for other single points of failure.
I have been thinking about how to be more resilient for many years working executive VP level jobs on a part-time basis. My boss in three of these assignments (Keds, Stride Rite, Hasbro) was the now-famous Meg Whitman and I was under constant pressure to deliver at a very high level, even though I only had 60% of the time my peers had in the office. I simply could not compete on the basis of "hours worked" so I had to find another way to be valuable to Meg and my employer.
These are two key ways I learned to promote myself and my employees.
Delegate as a rule of thumb.
My advice to anyone rising through the ranks is that you have to change your idea of what it means to be responsible to your company. When you are early in your career or starting a new role, you have to cover all the bases to show your competency. Once you've done that, delegate.
You need to let other people learn the same skills and activities you learned so they can advance, and you create a pipeline of talent. Your company needs you to bump yourself upstairs. There is a beautiful synchronicity between spreading out the knowledge base and getting yourself promoted. An insecure or inexperienced person might "hoard" knowledge, while a confident or experienced person will share it. This advice applies to CEOs too.
David Rosenblatt, CEO of 1stdibs.com says, "I only do the things that only I can do. So if it's someone else's job to do it, I try not to do it. If I find myself doing too many of those things that are actually someone else’s job, then… I probably don’t have the right person in that role."
This reminds me of the advice I heard from an elementary school principal: "When helping your child do their homework, if you find yourself holding the pencil, back off."
As a CEO my job is to establish goals, ie. the "what" we need to do, and allocate resources correctly. But I expect my direct reports to be experienced enough to figure out the "how" of deploying those resources to meet the goals. Same goes down the ranks.
Accept that your time is worth more.
Stop trading your time for your salary. A promotion means your hourly rate has gone up. Your company is paying you to move the ball forward and paying you for your brain, not just your time. Both business owners and employees need to 'think up' in this way--this will also be reflected in the way you approach clients and fees. Your growth as an individual and company will create better products and services for which you can charge more.
The end goal is to make sure your company is recognizing the competencies of your rising stars and rewarding them in turn which advances the company as a whole. And this, coincidentally, keeps you operating as the CEO, not someone you used to be.