Why Small Business Teams Should Be Self-Directed Part II

By Maria Forbes
November 4, 2021

Owners complain that they cannot find enough people to fill open positions. Candidates are more demanding.  Do you really have a pipeline problem? How well are you engaging the strengths of your existing teams?

Be sure your existing team is not a flight risk.  Looking at your team strategically.  Who would be the most difficult to replace?  Think about your most key person, the one who steps up and runs the show when you are ill, away on vacation or on a long business trip; the one empowered to take over if you were not available.  Is he or she frustrated and/or short-handed?

As you focus on hiring, think first about the people you already have on board.  A poll taken earlier this year by Harris for Fast Company magazine found that 52% of workers are contemplating a job change and as many as 44% have actual plans to leave their current employer.  Of those thinking about moving on, the most likely to do so are those with household income between $50,000 and $75,000 annually, the middle-income bracket.  Almost 60% of those job holders said they have thought about leaving.

Don’t let current people pressures cloud long-term strategic thinking.  Many of your fellow owners are likely to make that mistake.  Step back and work with your human capital consultant to create hiring, onboarding, career development, and retention strategies.  You want your strategic planning to include increased employee and key person engagement and greater overall employee satisfaction, as a basis for planning team expansion.

Take a different look at the current talent shortage. Does your team have the freedom to make decisions?  Do they have the opportunity to achieve goals as a team and without your oversight?    Are you making the most of your existing capabilities?  Think of hiring as part of the strategic plan, arranging individual talent and expanding collective decision-making to strengthen your ability to meet short- and long-term growth goals.

Today you are part of the team.  Think in terms of your age and time frames, what you need to take home to your family to support their needs and aspirations. Often, owners begin to hit their stride in their late 40s and early 50s, often increasingly costly years for the education of children, cars for new teenage drivers, perhaps weddings to fund as grown children marry and launch their own careers. When things get tight, as they did with the COVID interruptions, or as they will in future recessionary slumps, owners are the first to cut their pay.  With the threats of higher inflation, how do big-picture economic factors play into your long-term goals for financial independence and retirement freedom?  What does this mean for your team? How will you structure their roles to meet your business value target?

One major value metric in the eyes of a buyer is the depth and breadth of your teams when you move on. Frame your ultimate succession and financial independence relative to self-directed and self-managed teams.  People and process values have a significant impact on the monetization of business value you have created over a lifetime of work.  How does a self-directed workforce play into your long-run objective to grow your business, and how do they affect your ultimate retirement?

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that consideration is way off in the future, because you are thinking, “I’m not going anywhere for some time!”  Have you prepared for death, disability, divorce, or disagreement impacting you, other owners or partners?  A surprisingly large number of owners do not have their bases covered in that regard. They don’t have up-to-date operating agreements and well-thought-out business continuity and succession plans.

Fast-forward to the day when you’ve decided to move on, pass the baton, cash out, retire.  Your business ownership may pass to a strategic buyer, internal management, or a family member as designated successor.  What abilities will be in place to ensure success beyond your personal involvement?  What should your employees lead, what specializations are needed to ensure your company will remain strong as new leadership takes the helm?

That’s a discussion you should have in your own head, and with co-owners, your significant other, and key advisors who will help you to formulate and meet your value acceleration strategies.

Self-directed teams as an approach to small business growth & continuity is more relevant now than ever before.  You will need to flatten a top-down, owner-driven hierarchy and build a talent-optimized and team-driven business of the future.  You will then know how to manage a talent pipeline challenge. Small business teams that are self-directed provide peace of mind to their owners, a way for you to work less in your business and focus your time in your personal sweet spot.  Do you remember what “lights your fire?”  Your business needs you to do more of that!

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