"I started this company; and I am very proud of it. But at the end of the day, it is just a job. It exists to let me do the things outside of work that I want to do: to be a good husband, father, son or friend. It does not control me nor define me, and it should not control or define you."
I give this speech to every new employee even if I did not interview or hire them myself. In essence, I want my employees' experience at Blackdog to be balanced.
I have not always had this perspective. I used to brag about how hard I worked, holding out my 70–80 hour weeks like a badge of honor — and going seven years with no vacation other than long weekends. This industry has an insidious way of taking as much time as you will give it, especially when the business owner wears all the "hats." During Blackdog's early years I had to be the strongest, fastest, hardest working carpenter all day, then meet with clients, write estimates, pay bills and balance the checkbook long into the evening. After a couple of years, this insane schedule became expected and normal!
Sometime in my early 30s I became concerned about how my life was unfolding. Was I going to be the dad who never made it to the soccer game or missed all the school plays because my clients wanted to meet at night? I needed to take control of this beast that had taken control of me. With great effort I learned the secrets to freedom, and I am happy to share the four keys with you:
- Empower your employees to make decisions.
- Accept that your empowered employees will occasionally make mistakes.
- Devise systems with your employees to eliminate recurring mistakes.
- Try to make one small improvement each week.
When you begin to add staff and "take off hats" you will find that the business is no less hungry for your time. A common sentiment of new and inexperienced bosses is, "It's faster/better/easier to do it myself." Each new improvement will shed light on at least three other problems that need your attention. However, strive for just 1 percent improvement each week — just one small change weekly will add up to a 50 percent better company in a year (and 50 percent more free time for you).
Take that time you will have and give it back to your personal life. Your significant other will be pleased, your family overjoyed. Your employees will be more productive and happier by working for a leader they respect while not feeling guilty about working a reasonable schedule. You will attract top talent who will stay with your company and contribute at a high level because they know they are valued. That is the message you send when you seek to balance personal and work lives within your company.
Wondering how this will feel? Try a test drive and plan a vacation — not a long weekend. Take two weeks. Get your people on board. Plan in advance. Tell your people to make the decisions. Agree on a reasonable communication schedule so that you can check in every few days. Your staff will probably be thrilled for you to take time off. You will be amazed to find your company intact when you return, and you will be on a one-way trip to a better life and a better company.