A person’s career goals naturally change over time. When you graduate from college you want a job that will give you the experience and foundation on which you can build a career. Later you seek opportunity to grow and take on more responsibility, whether with your current company or elsewhere. Still later you might want a key executive role, maybe a “C suite” position or even as CEO. Or maybe you want to take your skills and experience, lay them down on yourself, and start your own business.

I’ve been through all this and am now working toward a new goal, one I wouldn’t have guessed back in college: Now I want to become irrelevant.

Not tomorrow, mind you, or even in the next few years. But as a businessperson with a talented team, I never planned for the company to end when I retire. I want to leave it in the hands of the people who helped build it, maybe come in for coffee from time to time, share a little wisdom, then get back to fishing.

A lot of entrepreneurs want the same thing and know that they have to plan for it, but the press of daily business makes it a challenge. And it’s true that a lot of small business owners are the best at doing anything in their companies but it’s also true that you can’t be the best at doing everything in your company. No matter how talented you are, there’s only so much you to go around, and you won’t live forever.

Here are a few key steps a business owner can take to make sure their company doesn’t literally live or die with them:

  1. Invest in people. I’ve often joked that one way to avoid turnover is to get people no one else will hire; you can achieve the same effect by hiring good people and letting them stagnate. Hire talented people and give them the tools, experience, and leeway they need to grow in their jobs. Yes, they might take it elsewhere but the alternative is people that stay with you but don’t produce their best, or maybe not much at all.
  2. Let people succeed – and fail. We all like to dwell on our successes but we’ve all had failures. I’ve had some doozies but they helped make me what I am. One of my favorite sayings is that good judgment comes from experience – which comes from bad judgment. Let people develop good judgment even if that means some failures, within reason.
  3. Pull back, even if it’s an inch at a time. Move more and more responsibility and authority to talented people and let them exercise it. I’m not saying you should stand by and watch what your experience tells you is an obvious train wreck but do make sure there actually is a train coming and not just the rumbles of your ego.
  4. Let others become the face of the company. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be involved or know what’s going on, but let others form key relationships with customers, vendors, and others. This has its risks but so does keeping it all to yourself.

Do these things, pull back a bit at a time, and one day there will be no place to go but fishing. Yes, work out an ownership transition plan, get all your legal ducks in a row, blah, blah, blah. Those things are important but if you haven’t developed your people it will be for nothing. Many entrepreneurs plan to sell their companies or leave them in the family, but all businesses are ultimately about people. Make sure yours are ready.

About the Author
Brent Morrison is the founding principal at Morrison. To get in touch with Brent, please find contact information for Morrison here.


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