How do founders that juggle a million things stay in touch with what's happening in every facet of their company?
In my case, this is a question I ask myself often because I don't just have "a company." While my main business right now is a private real estate lender called LendingOne, I'm also involved in a number of other businesses. In a given day, week, and month, I have to maintain awareness of a handful of different teams, projects, opportunities, problems to solve, and solutions to deploy.
For as long as I've been an entrepreneur (and it's been several decades at this point), this has been a challenge--not just for me, but for every one of my peers as well.
If this is something you're struggling with as an entrepreneur, even if you are only working on one business (one is often more than enough anyway), this is a strategy I've recently deployed within LendingOne. It's a 3-step form of communication that helps me quickly understand my own priorities as a leader, and ensure that what absolutely needs to be addressed is handled in a timely fashion. After all, the hardest part of time management is knowing what to do, when--and this has helped me better manage those expectations.
Here's how it works:
Given the number of reports, updates, memos, and questions that come across my desk on a given day, I wanted a way to know (at a glance) which "pile" was the most urgent. So, I've asked my directs that when sending an email to me directly, to preface the subject line with the following: 411, 611, or 911, each signifying a different level of importance.
411: For Your Information
There are dozens of things that happen within a business that aren't necessarily urgent, or even need tending to. But as the founder, you still want to know they're going on--and you want to be able to return to them on your own time, when things settle down and you have a moment to think.
Emails that begin with 411 tell me, "You don't need to do anything about this--just putting this on your radar." While this might seem like a small thing, I can now allocate 30 to 45 minutes late afternoon one day just to get myself up to speed on all my 411 emails. And, I can keep from spending my most valuable time (say, first thing in the morning) accidentally going down a rabbit hole of "just for your information" emails. That time is far better spent thinking deeply about how to solve bigger problems.
611: Need Your Help (Input or Advice)
These are all the items that aren't necessarily urgent, but are worth my time to address.
One of the key components of leadership is actually taking the time to train and mentor the members of your team--especially your key directives. These are the people you've hired with the hopes of them freeing up more of your time. In order for them to do that, they need to feel empowered and knowledgeable enough to make their own decisions.
Emails that begin with 611 tell me, "I don't necessarily need you to respond to this right away, but when you can, I'd like to run something by you--help me, help you." In a way, these are the best kinds of emails, because they should be addressing a problem before it becomes a problem. These are proactive requests from your team, and should show you (the leader) who is thinking about what, and how you can be most helpful.
Now, clearly my business LendingOne isn't delivering blood plasma to patients, but in the world of entrepreneurship, there are often things that need to be handled with a high sense of urgency.
In an ideal world, emails that begin with 911 should be few and far between. If you've built a rock-solid organization with the right people in the right roles, then there should be multiple layers of management in place to navigate and solve for 911-level problems. That said, as an entrepreneur you never want to be too distant from these types of challenges. If for no other reason than morale, you want your presence felt and for your key directives to know you're there to help if needed.
With all this being said, there is no substitute for your felt presence as a leader. If someone needs something, they should feel comfortable calling you, texting you, asking for a meeting, etc. But I've found this more defined form of email communication to be another helpful way of me knowing my own priorities, and how I can add the highest amount of value.
After all, great management and team communication builds cohesiveness within an organization, and is really the only way a company can truly call themselves a team.