Make yourself dispensable

Langdon Stevenson
12/16/08 12:57:53AM
The majority of small businesses fail within five years.It is sad to think that all of the hard work, effort, dreams and hopes of so many of us turn to dust in such a short time. My understanding of this phenomenon is that in many cases, the people driving a small business simply run out of steam around the five year mark. Too much hard work, too many late nights, not enough life balance, time for family and self.Which leads me to the subject line of this discussion: "Make yourself dispensable".Jim Colins' book "Good to Great" came to the conclusion that the best leaders made them selves dispensable in their organisations. What does that mean?It means that you arrange things so that you (and by extension anyone else in the company) aren't the only person capable of keeping the wheels turning.Easy to say, but hard to do when you are a small startup/business. As Annette said in the comments on this group about me, I am indispensable to my business.Right now that is true and frankly it is a worry to me, no one else can do my job and that is a bad thing for the business. However I am trying to change that and I think it is something that we should all be aiming for even if we can't achieve it today.Why bother? There are many good reasons. Some are:- You can go away on holiday and take a well deserved break WILL continue without you- Anyone else in the company can take a holiday and things continue smoothly- You will find that your business runs more smoothly as more people know how to and can do the things that need doingSo how to do it?1. Standardise and document processes2. Train staff3. Be prepared to let goStandardise and document processes: this is probably the single most important thing to do. If key tasks (like how to clear a container load of cocoa through customs, or invoice a client) is properly documented, then anyone in the organisation should be able to make it happen even if they have never done it before.Train staff: many people in small business come from a technical background (myself included). We are used to doing the job ourselves and probably believe that no-one can do it better than us. This may well be the case, but it doesn't mean that we don't have a responsibility to the business, our investors (if we have them) and to our staff to hand on those vital skills. If you get sick, injured, or just plain worn out, then there is someone able to step into your role and the business keeps ticking along. Perhaps not quite as well as if you were there, but probably well enough. It will certainly be better than having no-one there at all.Be prepared to let go: this can be the hardest thing to some people to do. But if you want your business to survive (let alone grow) you need to be able to put your ego aside, step back and let your people get on with the job.You may think that your business is too small to benefit from this process, but if you have more than one person (Tava has only two currently) then it can be a big help and possibly even more important. Here are some of the things that we have documented, or are planning to:- Banking: how to access the online bank account and which accounts to pay money from for wages, bills etc- Online shop administration: how to check an order taken by the shop and determine if it has been paid and is ready to ship, how to complete the order and notify the customer- Cocoa roasting process (times, temperatures etc)- Packing process for orders- Operation and maintenance instructions for each piece of machinery in our factoryThis covers the most important task that need to be dealt with in our business that would have a significant impact on operations if one or other of us where to be off sick, or away on holiday.So, if you:- Describe the key tasks in your business- Put the time and effort into training staff to perform them- Are willing to let go just a little bitYou will be in a good position to survive that five year hurdle.