It's crucial that the fate of your business does not rest in the hands of one person--not even yours.
No one holds my company hostage. Not even me. From day one, I have done my best to make sure that the company is able to function with or without any one person. I made this a priority because I know that in small companies, one of the fastest ways to lose traction is to lose people. As a business owner, it is crucial to ensure that the fate of your business does not rest in the hands of one person—not even yours. By keeping this in mind, I have fostered more autonomy for employees, better organization, and faster growth, as well as much needed peace of mind for myself. I did it through three simple steps.
Make sure that at least two people know how to perform every job at your company.
As a fast-growing company, we are always in need of more hands on deck. Having a back-up person for every role is not just useful, it's fundamental to the smooth operations of my company. For starters, cross training staff members so that they are able to easily fill in or help out when needed means that our customers' needs are always met. Two years ago, our order fulfillment team decided to go to lunch together, and all got food poisoning. Luckily, all our account executives get trained to pick orders as one of the first tasks they learn after joining our team. Our business would have been at a standstill if we had had to wait for the return of the fulfillment team. Instead, we were able to rotate our account executives to keep both the sales and fulfillment areas moving throughout the day—and all our customers' orders shipped as normal.
Create 'How To' documents for all essential tasks at your business.
Because we are a small company, each minute is precious, and let's face it—owners and managers do not always have the time to personally teach back-up people to do each task. For this reason, my company has a set of "how to" instructions for all the repetitive processes that are crucial to company operations. There is a document for everything from changing the mainframe voicemail to running payroll, from importing shipments to creating advertisements. And while this may sound time consuming, it's actually a great organization catalyst. The documents can be used as checklists for the completion of a particular task, as training documents when new people arrive, and as the go-to source when someone is absent. This year, I was traveling internationally and my business partner got pneumonia and was out of the office for 6 weeks. Our director of sales was able to easily back up all the company data daily, a duty usually performed by my partner or me—and she did so by using the "how to" sheet.
Foster transparency in every part of your business.
Our company is set up as an open space. I sit between five and twenty feet from all thirteen people I work with. When our buying team discusses delivery dates of items that have been out of stock, our account executives can listen and are thus, better able to keep customers in the loop regarding the arrival of items they need. In the same manner, when my company had a difficult cash flow moment last year, I did not hide it from my team. Every one was made aware of the situation—what specifically had caused the unbalance, the methods we intended to use to correct it, and how each person could help in implementing the fix. Our staff mobilized quickly, came up with additional ideas to help right our finances rapidly, and was never worried about the company regaining its equilibrium. Allowing every team member to fully understand our business helps them to find their place in it, and creates an environment that promotes trust in their colleagues' roles at the company as well as my decisions as an owner.
Great employees stay at companies where they are given the freedom to make a difference. Good business owners want their businesses to grow—not just fast, but sustainably. Enabling staff to participate in the various aspects of your business, creating an easily accessible database of company processes, and emphasizing the importance of information sharing can help your business weather most storms.
In 2004, VANESSA MERIT NORNBERG opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009. @vanessanornberg