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Why "firing yourself" could be great for your business

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

Stick figure pointing at self in mirror
Giving yourself the sack could be just the thing your business needs.

As a business owner, wouldn’t it be great if you could fire yourself?

Wait…before you dismiss us as crackpots, we’re not being literal (though some business owners probably wish they could fire themselves).

We’re suggesting that mentally terminating your services as the owner of your business and coming back tomorrow as the new boss with a fresh mindset can be quite a turning point. It’s especially true when you find yourself with a team of employees you’re finding it difficult to manage.

We’ve put this mental challenge to business owners, and the feedback has been more than interesting. Usually, our suggestion is to sever your ties with your business on a Friday afternoon, giving you the weekend to reset.

Here’s how things typically pan out…

The first thing you’ll notice is your mindset reflects the fact you‘ve given yourself a totally clean sheet. The question is, what do you do with that? How would you get started turning things around from an employee engagement point of view? Bear in mind you probably can't realistically sack everyone, so you have to work with what you've got...

Being objective about it, you’ll probably recognise one or more of the following in the team:

  • there’s a lack of connectedness with "management" (i.e. you…and other senior employees with people management responsibilities if you have them);

  • your employees tell you they feel they have few or no opportunities for personal and professional growth;

  • they also tell you they’re uncertain about how their role fits into the bigger picture and longer-term objectives the business is shooting for;

  • you don’t see too much collaboration between team members;

  • you’ve given your employees very little autonomy or decision-making freedom (or at least that’s how they feel);

  • communication in the business isn’t great.

Is this how some of your employees feel?

That’s a big list of shortcomings…and there are others, but let’s leave it at this for the time being. Hopefully, you’ve not ticked every box. But even if one or two of these conditions exist in your business, it can badly dent engagement across the employee group.

Step one as the "new" boss

Armed with your new mindset, you arrive at work revved up and with a team that you’re now prepared to accept is maybe only 50% “present”.

The first step in turning the ship around is understanding why your business exists over and above making money...what’s the non-financial business purpose? If you need a quick “Purpose 101” review, check out this Insight.

If you want your business purpose to make a difference in employee engagement, there’s next to no value in leaving employees out of the loop as your purpose statement evolves. In fact, it’s imperative there’s as much employee participation in the process as possible.

Since you’re now "new" in the top job, you have no hesitation in pulling the team together to workshop your business purpose. You’ll also be transparent with your employees that this exercise is all about building engagement across the team and, ultimately, laying the foundations for growth that’s sustainable over time.

Your employees know more than you do about some aspects of your business.

You might intuitively feel a bit uncertain about a team-based exercise given past experience, but that mindset will make you your own worst enemy. And anyway, you’re (theoretically) new to the business, so how do you know what the response will be?

As it turns you, you’re surprised because your employees (well, most of them) involve themselves more enthusiastically than you’d anticipated. Discussions are open, positive and constructive, and the result is better than you expected. Everyone appears to be on board and dialled into the business purpose.

You can’t stop the process there.

That’s because your purpose must be the driver of everything that happens in the business. It’s the validation for every decision, no matter how large or small.

Armed with clarity of purpose, what now?

You might find yourself at a bit of a loss. You’ve been through a great process with the team and want to maintain the momentum.

Given that your purpose is quite the “big statement", you realise there’s quite a bit of work to ensure your actions are genuinely purpose-driven. If you don’t do this, it’ll be entirely counter-productive as far as your employees are concerned. They’ll figure they’ve just been through an exercise in futility that will crash engagement levels.

As they say, it doesn't matter which road you take if you don’t know where you’re going.

But you know the destination – your purpose – so the right choice of road is important. And, of course, you need to know your starting point.

Don't hesitate to put your business under the microscope.

Since you’re new in the top job – figuratively at least – you decide to put the business under the microscope and undertake a broad and deep analysis of where the business stands in terms of sustainability of growth.

By running a “sustainable growth audit” that covers every key element of your business, including employee and client engagement, strategy, business plans and processes, you'll gain clear insights into how to achieve your business goals and fulfil your purpose.

Don’t be tempted to rest on what you think you know about your business. Involve your employees (or a good selection of them) by asking them to contribute their knowledge and observations about the current health of the business. It could be confronting, but the reality is they know more about much of your business than you do.

The outcome you can expect from your sustainable growth analysis.

By deeply analysing your business from the perspective of sustainable growth, you'll identify:

  • what’s going well in the business that you should continue to do or do more of;

  • what you could do differently for a better result;

  • what’s not working, so probably shouldn’t be done in future; and

  • things you're not doing but ought to be.

It’ll probably be a long list, so you’ll need to prioritise the action items according to what’s important and what’s urgent. The graphic below provides a simple but valuable tool with which to do that. The action items that are both important and urgent should be at the top of the to-do list.

Set your action plan priorities with a simple tool like this from GrowthCatalyst.

And that piece of work will lead you neatly into your business and action plan (which should be no longer than two pages) for the immediate future.

How does this improve employee engagement?

It doesn’t unless you involve your employees (or, again, a selection of them). Remember, they know more about some important aspects of your business than you do. They’ll have valuable input into what’s going well and not so well. Being involved in prioritising the work and aligning it to your business purpose gives your employees a much greater sense of how their day-to-day work fits into the bigger picture.

The result?

Employee engagement improves because you’ve involved them in big-ticket decision-making.

Next: assess skills, manage performance and hold each other accountable.

Because you’re thinking differently about your business (remember, you’re new to the job), you may notice some skills gaps among employees. If that’s the case, you might either recruit (for specific skills) or look to develop those skills in people already in the business.

Our preference will be the latter because that means you’re enriching people's lives personally and professionally, again building a sense of engagement. But if you absolutely must recruit, you can do it with far more clarity about what you need reducing the temptation to put up with "near enough".

Encourage your employees to keep each other on target.

Something your "predecessor" didn’t do (and should have) was create an environment where everyone in the business is happily accountable to one another in delivering to the business purpose in their day-to-day activity.

You therefore decide to institute a performance management process that enables measurement of our progress on an individual and team level. What’s more, you won't exclude yourself from that process. Just as you expect all team members to discuss progress regularly, you’ll also report to the team on your performance and the performance of the business as a whole.

By creating that shared accountability, you lift engagement another notch.

Here's why firing yourself can be a game-changer

What will be the key outcomes from this exercise which, if asked, you’ll say you found very challenging (you’ll also say it’s been remarkably energising – not just for you but everyone in the business)?

You’ll have created clarity of business purpose for you and your employees.

The sustainable growth analysis will provide you and your employees with a clear starting point as a focus for business and action planning.

By involving the team in the process, you’ve improved connectedness. Working together on a shared goal will build more appreciation for the various personalities in the business and the motivators that each of us values. You’ll still have your differences, but hopefully will better understand where people are coming from.

You’ll all be clear on performance and outcome expectations because everyone’s KPIs and objectives will be linked to your purpose-driven business and action plan.

With focused effort, you can change the mood among your employees for the better.

You'll have identified opportunities for personal and professional growth and will continue to do so because everyone’s committed to reviewing progress regularly.

Individual employees will benefit from more autonomy and greater ability to make decisions on behalf of the business because your purpose provides validation for everything that happens in the business.

Let’s not overlook or downplay the importance of other factors influencing employee engagement, such as fair and reasonable pay and other tangible items. There’s a raft of “non-negotiables” when creating a baseline level of engagement.

But on their own, they won’t deliver a group of employees who’ll go the extra mile on their own initiative and become true advocates for your business. It’s a strong sense of purpose and knowing how they contribute to the bigger picture that’ll do that.

One more thing….

It’s well documented that high levels of employee engagement directly drive client satisfaction and engagement, leading to stronger financial performance. You can (and really should) read more about that in this Insight.

What about your business?

How's your employee engagement really looking?

Could you benefit from "firing yourself"?

If this Insight has left you thinking about your business, GrowthCatalyst can help.

We invite you to contact us to arrange a conversation, face-to-face or virtual.

Alternatively, you can book a time for an initial discussion here.

And how sustainable is your business growth?

If you're keen for immediate feedback on how sustainable your business growth might be over the longer term, please follow the link to our "Sustainable Business Growth Health Check".

It'll take you no longer than three minutes to complete, and you'll get your results instantly.

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