By Aaron Selkrig, founder and CEO of Selkrig Performance Unit

I've faced several challenges and temptations as the CEO of a service-based startup. As my company has grown from just me and a couple of clients to 20 staff members and 228 clients, one of the biggest challenges has been management and automation.

On the one hand, automation helps with managing both staff and clients. But for service-based businesses, the answer isn't that simple. The big question is how to reap the benefits of automation while retaining the real, human contact that is the heart of any truly individualized service.

I've found that the answer lies in the right kind of micromanagement.

There is a dual challenge in terms of employees and clients.

In a service-based business, you are fighting a war on two fronts. As client numbers rise into the dozens and hundreds, it becomes impossible to take care of them alone. Similarly, as staff numbers grow, it will be hard to keep track of their tasks and performance.

Some of the problems I faced early on were simple, but still not easy to solve. For example, as we recruited more and more staff, I couldn't spend valuable one-on-one time with each one of them anymore. This started to affect the team culture, as our service was still taking form, and I couldn't educate and mentor each staff member as I wanted.

I also noticed that at around 100 ongoing clients, it became difficult to remember everyone's name. This might sound like a small thing, but when you are talking about an individualized service, you'll look pretty incompetent if you can't even remember your clients' names.

The easy answers are tempting.

Problems like these mounted, and I started looking for answers. I wanted to get things done as quickly as possible, so I was driven to look for the easy answers. To save my time for more important tasks, I started automating both staff and client systems.

The biggest challenge when it came to the staff was learning the service inside out. The quick fix for this was more and more online courses that related to the product. This proved to be very inefficient, and I was ultimately flooded with hundreds of weekly questions from my staff. 

With clients, we set up an ambitious plan to teach all the staff members a new project- management software to manage our client journey. A significant portion of their work moved away from established platforms, and confusion ensued. Again, a wish for quick automation turned into a time sink.

This was the wrong kind of micromanagement, caused by using automation poorly. Both your staff and clients need real attention, not just bots, data, or annoying micromanagement.

Easy doesn't cut it if you want quality.

What I've now found to be the answer is systematizing the human element of the business. This is what I call the right kind of micromanagement. Here's how I've done it.

With my staff, I cut back radically on their individual learning tasks and focused on face-to-face team education. Now we're running two two-hour sessions every week to make sure all our staff members are getting a deeper understanding of our service.

Everyone shows up and receives the attention they need to develop in their careers. The micromanagement is confined to these sessions, and outside of them, a free team culture can develop.

Here are three practical ways to use these meetings wisely:

  • First, make sure you know your staff's weak spots so you can address those. This is done through data and conversations, not by guesswork.
  • Second, prepare well, and know how to speak in front of people. That's the best way to communicate, and it opens the door for on-the-spot discussions.
  • Third, make it fun. Serious and preachy lectures don't work; they just disengage your staff and hurt the culture.

With the new freedom gained from the sessions, staff members can take better care of their clients as they see fit. Almost everything my team of managers and I do is to make sure that the staff executes on the important tasks between them and their clients.

This requires some micromanagement, because with individualized service, the staff also needs individualized, sometimes intricate answers. But this kind of micromanagement lets the human element of your service-based business flourish.

Aaron Selkrig is founder and CEO of Selkrig Performance Unit.