As a company owner, you doubtless feel deep pride in how you treat your customers. Of course you want to be involved in every step of the process. You value your customers and you want to serve them as best you can.
You strive to deliver that “high-touch, owner-serving-you” experience to all your customers. While that’s wonderful in and of itself, too much of a good thing will keep you in the “owner’s trap.” The owner’s trap is the place you find yourself where too much of the growth depends on you, the owner, and how your working time is deployed. The more you are convinced you are the only one who can provide stellar customer service and attend to every customer need, the more you are limiting yourself, and your company.
You may be out on all the sales calls and in the trenches with your team, having a hand in all departments and leading the charge, but how much of the work is still being done by you? And how much are you allowing your employees to learn and grow?
Staying in the owner’s trap can also potentially derail your leadership development. Owners generally lead by example, but when you are carrying a lot—or all—of the weight of the business yourself, what example are you setting? Sure, entrepreneurs learn by doing as opposed to reading textbooks, and you are comfortable “winging it,” but at some point this needs to be reframed as processes and procedures that allow the company to run without you.
The owner who does not communicate, or communicate well, may be stuck in this problem longer than necessary. It’s a challenge to teach and train something as dynamic and personal as sales and customer service—there is no doubt about this. But you’re a business owner! And business owners eat challenge for breakfast.
The Ripple Effect
If you insist on wearing all the hats and tending to every need of each customer interaction, you are at risk of burning out. You will continue working late or on weekends, missing family dinners and struggling to relax while on vacation. This kind of chronic stress, even if it feels as though it’s running in the background, takes its toll on your health and your mindset over time.
Your most valuable resource, your time, is not being spent focusing on new opportunities or ways to scale the business. This has a direct impact on growth that can ripple out into other areas. You also are not giving employees a chance to step up to the plate and broaden their capacity. They don’t get a chance to build relationships with customers or share their own talents when it comes to customer service and sales growth.
Unless you get out of the trap, your company’s growth will plateau. Whether or not you have exit on the radar, this problem, if left unchecked, could profoundly impact your exit. This kind of leadership, wherein you lead from the owner’s trap, has been proven to contribute to building the least-valuable companies.
It might be time to honestly ask yourself: Am I staying in my comfort zone instead of building systems within my company to empower others and to amplify my knowledge and effort?
Case Study: Escaping The Trap
My father was the kind of company owner who cared about relationships. He knew every customer by name, and enjoyed close relationships with many of them. When he died suddenly, it seemed like a natural progression for many customers to feel as much affinity for me as they had for my father; here I was, his son. My last name was the same, and I had even stepped up to—try to—fill his shoes.
This, along with so many ad hoc processes and no real systems in place, meant it was easy for me to fall into this dynamic. As such, this particular dynamic became steadfast. Over-involvement restricted my time to make improvements, and it was easier to not rock the boat any more than it had already been rocked.
There were no problems that I wasn’t wrapped up in. I had a hand in it all: customer solutions, checking schedules, developing bills of material, checking parts, counting parts, loading and scheduling, etc.
I felt dissatisfaction as I watched us miss strategic goals or postpone ideas. But it was ultimately the feeling of frustration with stagnant growth that provided the catalyst for action.
It was like I was in quicksand—but what could I grab to escape it?
I knew enough to remove myself from ensuring each customer received the best quality by the constant overseeing of completed products. Along with the employees, we created a system and process for building, inspecting and qualifying welding and assembly fixtures prior to starting any production. It’s difficult to make a bad part with a good, error-proofed fixture.
Once we had systems in place, I was able to relax. I could see how much energy I had been expending, worrying that extra work or re-work was being created unbeknownst to me or anyone else. As more systems and processes were created and we adopted these practices and learnings, I felt more space to breathe. As other employees became important stakeholders in what was happening to reinvent the company, I was finally free to move onto the next challenge.
It took me escaping the owner’s trap to truly create momentum. Once I got out, I was on my way to building escape velocity.
If you find yourself having a hand in every department, from sales to quality assurance, you can assume you’ve fallen into the owner’s trap. Once you recognize that, you are taking the first step on the road to improvement. By acknowledging your shortcomings here and seeking to offload customer service onto your team, you are on the path to unlocking new growth.