Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Vacations and Delegation (Tradecraft)

80% of success is not showing up.  At least when it comes to learning to delegate to your staff.

I used to come in Mondays, after a weekend off, and spend a couple hours organizing shelves and cleaning messes. This is because I failed to communicate what I wanted from staff and failed to train them to operate without me. What happens in these situations is you think it would just be easier to do it yourself. Even worse, you think this is a virtue instead of a weakness. It's the sign of a good worker but a bad manager, and what's funny is I can see it not only in my staff, but in other businesses. "Ah, you must be the manager." I say to the proud person whose running a screwed up business because they clearly can't delegate to their subordinates. It's not a compliment.

Growing a business doesn't have to mean disengagement from that business, but it does mean leveraging the work of others to effectively do more than you could do yourself. Where small business owners have problems is when they insist that nobody else can do as good a job as them. They're probably right, but they fail to have the vision to realize how much more could be done spread across a staff of workers. They fail to acknowledge the leash the store has around their neck, as they run their business in a very narrow comfort zone.

We have a big industry trade show coming up in March, and there will be stores that simply close their doors during this week, which I find astounding. The owners have no trustworthy go-to for such eventualities. Nobody can do as good a job as them. Looking at the big picture, it also mean that business doesn't hold value without that owner present. Their "buy a job" will result in a liquidation sale when they decide to move on, and like the screwed up business in my example, they will proudly declare there was no other way.

Longer vacations take the weekend test of delegation a step further. Most small businesses don't get vacations, but even a week away, as with the GAMA Trade Show, can be a valuable test of policies and procedures. Assuming staff, even that one person, is trained, treat the store like a customer when you get back from your trip.

Before going inside, view the outside of your business with fresh eyes. Is there trash in the parking lot? Are there expired or tattered posters in the window? What do you see when you look in the windows? Are there "no" signs telling people what they can't do? We have an unfortunate clearance section in the front corner of the store rather than the back, meaning our garbage product is on display (I notice this more than anybody else). When you go inside and you're in that first ten feet of "decompression zone," do staff acknowledge your presence? What do you immediately see to your right? Is it family friendly games or are you greeted by war and murder hobos? Would it scare off your grandmother? Use your break to view your store with new eyes.

Before you start organizing shelves and filling in the policy and procedural holes left with your absence, grab a notepad and document everything wrong with the store, the misshelved items, the scattered invoices, the mail and packages in three different locations. Don't fix any of this yourself. Document and train staff to do all these things and then make them do it.

I was proud it took me three hours to catch up from a 30 day trip, but then discovered throughout the subsequent weeks that invoices were missing, and suppliers unpaid. Distributors use half a dozen methods to include invoices with shipments: In the box, on the box with the invoice showing, on the box with the invoice hidden, in the mail with packing slips in the box, or email invoices to the buyer that staff will never see. This required better staff training, but it also left me irritated with suppliers.

The next test is to take another trip, and maybe this will cost you money to be gone another week, but it's money well spent. After I felt comfortable taking a week off, I pushed even further to taking a month off. This was scary and felt grossly irresponsible, but it was an important test. This took policies and procedures a step further. Most of my distributor invoices are 30 day terms, so I could just about take a month off without having to worry about them.

However, the electricity bill, the credit card bills and other such bills are less than 30 days and unpredictable. We had to create a system so I could pay bills on the road without coming to the store. There were mixed results, as I improperly paid the electric bill and almost had the power turned off. I paid two credit cards on their due date as I was distracted with my vacation. My manager used Google Sheets to share a payment spreadsheet with me while I was on the road. My 14 year old business bank account didn't even have electronic banking, so I would mail checks as I went. It was crude but effective, provided I followed the procedures. It turned out the bottleneck in my 30 day policies and procedures was me.

Taking this another step further, my upcoming trip is 50 days away from the store and I'm being forced to delegate one of my core tasks as buyer. My manager will be trained as Buyer while I'm gone, meaning I just need to pay bills and decide if I want to delegate pre orders. I'm finally getting electronic banking, forced to as I'll be traveling throughout Central America and won't be able to mail payments as needed. Electronic banking is really obvious, but I'm still trying to get it set up with my backwards bank.

Delegating the buyer role is a big step for me, but with questionable broadband on a day to day basis, this trip requires a reliable buyer during our busy summer season. It would be easy to teach this task to my manager, but we're making sure to create a policy and procedure as well, so that knowledge doesn't leave with staff changes. The trip is forcing me to improve my business. Delegating more and more tasks leaves me with more free time to grow the business further, assuming I can leverage that time effectively (sometimes I do, sometimes I don't). Being able to delegate tasks is adding value to the business, as it makes the business less dependent on me. The last thing I want is to have someone say "Ah, you must be the manager."

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