By Jill Amstutz, founder and president of Transpire Consulting, LLC.
Recently, The E Myth author Michael E. Gerber wrote an article for Inc. asserting that the test of a true entrepreneur is the ability to step away from their businesses and into their lives.
I support the reasoning behind his premise. I even agree with the basic outline he provides based on a franchise model in which systems, processes and delivery mechanisms are formalized and systematized. This is the way healthy organizations operate – with clearly articulated, communicated and supported goals, roles and processes that ensure work is efficient, effective and aligned company-wide.
What I challenge is the idea that it’s that simple. Create a franchise model and produce an operations manual. Walk away. Enjoy your life. Bing, bang, boom.
In my three-plus years working with an elite population of more than 8,000 of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs at the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), I heard a lot about “working IN, not ON, the business.” I always wondered what that meant, not in theory, but in practice for each of the individual business owners and for their businesses’ futures.
What I often saw were people who wanted more from life than to run their businesses day-to-day but who had trouble letting go long enough to take a long weekend away, let alone step away in a long-term, sustainable way both for them and for their businesses.
Who’s Way or the Highway?
To me, there is an assumption inherent in Mr. Gerber’s article that the creation and control of the business’ operations manual should rest entirely on the broad-but-tired shoulders of the entrepreneur him/herself. The article asserts that the final manual can then be handed down from on high in such a fashion that the business “…can be run by people with the lowest skill level.”
While I get where he’s coming from, and I agree that a good operations manual is clear, straightforward and process-specific, the intention behind this approach gets my back up as a manager. If I was selected to take over the reins of a successful business and a manual was handed to me with that intention and without my input, I’m pretty sure my response would not be, “Golly GEE! THANKS!!! Now I see…!”
If it’s going to be your way or the highway … your best people might choose the highway.
Look, I understand that the business was created by you and done your way, according to your vision and that is why you have become successful enough to be able to step away. I get that. But no success happens in a vacuum. Other people were involved in shaping your successful businesses, were they not? Even if you answered no to that, guess what? Other people will have to be involved if you plan to step away for any length of time.
Check Yourself or Wreck Yourself
If you plan to step away from your business, the way you have been successful in the past and the way you do business now are only two things you need to consider. If you want your business not only to survive but to THRIVE in the future, you need to set it up for success by approaching it consciously and intentionally, and not just from an operations standpoint.
The “how” is an important piece, yes, but it’s not the place to start.
The place to start, as those of you who follow Simon Sinek know well, is the “why.”
- Why do you want to step away?
- What is your intention?
- Are you stepping away because you’ve heard you should work ON not IN the business?
- Because you read Mr. Gerber’s article and your ego is telling you that to prove you are a TRUE entrepreneur to this expert and the world, you need to step away?
Before you go crashing around creating an operations manual because you’re supposed to, check yourself with a few questions. Even better, find a mentor, coach or trusted fellow entrepreneur to help walk you through these, and not just verbally. WRITE YOUR ANSWERS DOWN. Read them. Think about them.
- WHY do you want to make the switch from “working ON, not IN, the business”?
- What is the end goal/desired outcome or vision you have? What would life look like if you were “working ON, not IN, the business”?
- For you
- For your business
- For those who will run and work in the business while you step away (ASK them, don’t assume you know. You might be surprised what you learn.)
- Who needs to be involved in creating a “step away” plan that supports your needs and sets your business up for further success? (Consider bringing in a facilitator or consultant skilled in organization development to help support you and make sure you are seeing the whole picture as you and your team craft your plan.)
If you agree with Mr. Gerber that, “…the primary purpose of your business is to serve your life,” you will have the most success (and won’t get sucked back in to your business) if you step away consciously and intentionally, not just operationally. That’s the true test of a conscious entrepreneur!
For more information, contact Jill at [email protected].