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Marketing & Biz

5 Steps to Creating a Self-Managing Company


Many entrepreneurs set out on their own to find freedom, yet they end up spending every waking moment working in their business. It’s as if they’ve left the nine to five world in favor of the 24/7 world!

I’ll admit that I, too, fell into that same trap–and I’d be lying if I said I was completely out of it. But I’ve made a lot of progress over the years and I’ve learned a few things along the way. Between working on my own business and consulting for others, I’ve come up with five steps that can help any entrepreneur either create a self-managing company or turn their current company into one.

1. Establish your core values

Establishing core values is one of the first steps any entrepreneur should take when building their company. Core values go beyond culture as they can be used to guide nearly every decision made at your company. I particularly like Darius Mirshahzadeh’s description in his book, The Core Value Equation, where he describes core values as “having an invisible manager sitting next to each employee all the time.”

Establishing core values from the beginning means your team can feel confident making decisions based on those values instead of coming to you for every little thing. And the more decisions you can remove yourself from, the closer you’ll be to a self-managing company.

2. Implement a goal-setting framework

I find that entrepreneurs are often so busy working in their businesses that they don’t have time to think about long-term planning and goal-setting. Instead of setting goals and creating a plan to achieve them, they just have some vague aspirations and hope everything will work out. But hope is not a planning strategy.

Establishing a clear goal-setting framework (I’d recommend OKRs, Gino Wickman’s EOS, or Verne Harnish’s ScalingUp) gives you and your team a clear path to follow. It ensures that everyone is aligned and knows what they should be working on for maximum impact, regardless of whether you’re there or not. Most importantly, it all but guarantees your business will move forward because your team will always be working on projects that are directly correlated to your long-term goals.

3. Optimize for retrieval of information

Asana recently surveyed 13,000 workers and found that 60% of their time was spent on work coordination rather than the skilled jobs they’ve been hired to do. This is something I see in almost every business I work with–I like to call it “the scavenger hunt.”

Most knowledge workers spend more time searching for information than they do on work that matters, and it’s because they optimize for the speed of transfer of information. They want to transfer information as quickly as possible to get it off their plate, but the unintended consequence is that information gets lost. It ends up taking far longer to find that information in the future, completely negating the upfront time-savings.

Instead, companies should be optimizing for the speed of retrieval of information. That means thinking critically about where each piece of information should live so that it can be easily retrieved at a later date.

I’ve even gone so far as to develop an entire framework around this called the CPR Business Efficiency Framework.  But regardless of how you go about it, the lesson is simple; optimize for retrieval of information and your team will be able to spend the majority of their time on work that matters.

4. Create dashboards

Even if you manage to completely remove yourself from the day-to-day operations of your business, you still need a way to check in on your team’s progress. After all, what’s the point of having a self-managing company if it doesn’t perform well?

Creating metrics dashboards will allow you to monitor the overall progress of your team without getting involved in the daily minutiae. The metrics will be different for every company, but I’d suggest starting with simple ones like revenue, gross profit margin, and net profit. From there, you can move on to more complex ones like LTV (lifetime value of a customer) and CAC (cost to acquire a customer).

Better yet, take it a step further and tie your goals from step two to these metrics. This will make it extremely clear whether or not your team is making progress.

5. Document everything

Documentation opens up the potential for massive time-savings, de-risks your company, and makes your team’s lives easier. Simply put, it’s the best way to turn your company into a well-oiled machine.

But I get it–documenting everything in your business is a daunting task. You can start by separating it into two categories: processes and knowledge. Recurring processes should be documented in a process management tool (I like Process Street) while knowledge should be stored in an internal wiki tool (I like Notion). The idea is that your process management tool explains how to do things while the wiki covers who, what, when, where, and why.

With enough documentation, you can essentially run your business on autopilot as everything your team needs to do will be clearly documented for them. All they need to do is follow the steps!

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.


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