Ken Jeong has one of the best movie quotes for business of all time. It has become a cultural phenomenon which has spun into viral internet memes and worked into life as part of our conversations. The only problem is most people don’t realize what it has to do with business.
“But did you die?” asks Jeong in his role as gangster, Leslie Chow, in the movie The Hangover III.
What many people, including myself, have found to be a very funny quote, has important business implications. Think about it. What if you were to die? I’m not trying to be morbid, but it is something all entrepreneurs need to think about.
How would your business survive if you stepped away for a day, a week, or forever?
We Have Already Put Ourselves in a Bad Position
As entrepreneurs, many of us try to take the reins of our business as we want to see it succeed. According to Paul C. Light in his book Driving Social Change, this can be a huge mistake.
“[I] do recognize that all of us carry untested notions about our definitions,” says Light. “For example, that social entrepreneurs must work 24/7 to succeed. Although these intensely committed individuals are certainly alluring, there is little evidence that sleep deprivation, emotional physical stress, and social isolation are essential ingredients of success. Quite the contrary; overworked entrepreneurs often make their greatest mistakes when they put their work ahead of personal health.”
In addition to putting our own health at risk, being in charge of the company 100 percent of the time can take away its ability to survive if you die, or if you decide to step away from the business for a few weeks of vacation.
“For a healthy business to grow, competent employees need to learn their jobs, move up the ladder, and make room for new employees,” writes Ira Kalb, Professor of Marketing at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.
By micromanaging the business and not allowing others to do their jobs, we create an environment that will turn to failure if we step away, sometimes for even a moment. So how do we counteract this?
You’re Running a Business, Not Working a Job
“A business that doesn’t run without you is a job, not a business,” says Dan Doran, exit planning advisor and founder of Quantive Valuations. “Work your way out of the business. Your team should have a well-worn routine that is executed in your absence.”
Green Pal CEO Bryan Clayton agrees. “Entrepreneurs need to hold themselves accountable to work on their business and not in their business,” he says.
Ever had someone ask you if the company would burn down if you weren’t there? The same principle applies. You need to make sure that you realize you are the boss, not the employee. You founded the enterprise and it is up to you to put the right people in place, not do the work of those people for them.
This actually clicked for me while I was still an employee and not an entrepreneur. I was offered a promotion for a position I had very little experience for. I told my boss that there was no way I could do the job. It was only afterwards that he told me he didn’t want someone with experience in the position but rather a leader to help others who already knew their positions.
The lesson: remember that you are not there to do the work. You are there to make sure others can do the work of your vision. Make sense?
Creating a Company Culture That Empowers Employees
“Establish strong ownership values within the company,” says Andrew Fischer, CEO and co-founder of Choozle. “Ensure ownership by making key employees a stockholder -- this truly creates an environment of ownership as the employees are empowered to execute and make decisions autonomously but also within the best interests of the entire organization.”
Creating a strong company culture breeds integrity in employees. This means that they will want to help your business succeed, even when you are not there.
Keeping in line with managing your company, not working for it, and assigning employees to various duties where they can make those decisions is important. Once they are comfortable making decisions normally left to the “boss,” they will start to make them on a regular basis so you won’t have to.
Empowerment also shows your kindness and creates confidence in your employees. These are some of the things that employees expect from their leader, according to psychologist Sherrie Campbell. In a recent article she penned for Entrepreneur, she writes about how employees make decisions based on how we feel about them.
“When our employees feel we are confident in them, they are naturally more confident in themselves,” says Campbell. “We must trust we have led them well enough for them to make mistakes, recover and do better next time. If we respond contentiously towards their mistakes or decisions, we slowly crush their own drives for self-improvement.”
Always Have a Disaster Plan
If you are one of those people who simply cannot let go, then having a disaster plan ready is your next option. Even if you can let go, having a disaster plan is something you should have in place in case others have questions while you are away.
“I would advise entrepreneurs to create a private folder with all critical passwords and information,” says Doug Messer, CEO and co-founder of University Beyond. “In the case of death, having a locked Dropbox of all passwords and documents is essential, as your number two and three would need access to bank info and legal info to keep the company afloat.”
According to Fortis founder Benjamin Surman, it is also good to have someone in the loop who can step in if needed.
“I think that anyone who owns a business needs to have someone in the loop and involved in the ownership of the business,” says Surman. “A good friend, a mentor, a family member or even a board. All of these are options and vary depending on where you are in your business success.”
Finally, having a what's called key man insurance policy should be part of your disaster plan. Key man insurance is essentially a life insurance policy on the most important people in the business, namely the owner. According to Entrepreneur, “the purpose of key man insurance is to help the company survive the blow of losing the person who makes the business work. The company can use the insurance proceeds for expenses until it can find a replacement person, or, if necessary, pay off debts.”
First, I hope that you are around for many years to come. No one likes to talk about death or even to think about what would happen, should you pass away. However, since we need to face reality, there are a few things that will help our business run without us, even if we are just stepping away for a few weeks of relaxation.
Don’t do all the work when planning for either possibility. You need to delegate to employees and lead them to the goal, not do it for them. Make sure to empower them to make decisions so they are comfortable when faced with making a decision that would normally be reserved for you. As a last resort, you can always have a disaster plan with passwords and other critical information that can be used in an emergency.
What has been your method of being able to slip away and leave your business in someone else’s hands? Are there any tips or tricks that you would add?