Recognise the Need to Employ
During March of 2016, I had reached an unprecedented level of frustration with my working situation. I was a team of one. A consultant, who on one hand was excited about a vision I had for my business, yet on the other hand, frustrated because I was no closer to achieving it. The consultancy work I was doing was spread across a number of sectors, providing a good income and was both professionally challenging and satisfying. However I had a much bigger picture of what I wanted to achieve and was making little to no progress toward it. This was creating significant tension in my life.
Around 2012, I developed a leadership model called The 15 Disciplines. I truly believed this was something that would help people succeed in leadership, as it had done for me for decades. To formalise this into something that would appeal to others, was proving to be very difficult. I simply could not prioritise it into my to-do list without it negatively impacting on my operational productivity and quality of work. I wanted to transition The 15 Disciplines into a leadership movement with a supporting program and a book. Similarly, I had written a concept paper on a program called Principals’ Roundtable. Once again, I was unable to prioritise the effort necessary to commence this program. Whilst there was no shortage of energy and enthusiasm for my future focused projects, I did not have the capacity to complete them.
My current operational commitments were typically ad hoc bookings, invoiced upon completion of the work and paid up to 30 days in arrears. This made cashflow a challenge and budgeting an everyday priority. It also made it difficult to raise the cash necessary to get ahead of the curve and invest in future focused projects. I knew The 15 Disciplines, the accompanying programs, the book and the roundtable concept would make my business far more sustainable. They would introduce structured work routines that would be booked and paid for in advance, thus improving the cash position of my business. I also knew I was trapped in a high-risk consultancy model where month to month revenue kept cycling from high to low.
Operationally, my productivity was good. I was delivering on my promises and my clients were satisfied to either refer me to others or to re-engage me for further work. My particular challenge was that I wanted to transition my business to something quite different that offered greater security, sustainability and hopefully greater personal and professional satisfaction. I couldn’t see a way forward. I had briefly contemplated typing seek.com.au into my web browser. I also engaged a couple of different people to coach me, however I felt after a few short sessions, that they were trying to lead me down a path they were familiar with, not necessarily beneficial to me. I knew I needed something to change, I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was precisely.
The next issue was the most difficult of all. I was grappling with fear; the fear of failure. What if my vision doesn’t work? Acknowledgement of fear and recognising the control it has on our thinking, is a major learning outcome in my own leadership programs. Anyone who has read my book The 15 Disciplines, would understand the hypocrisy in this situation. To add to this quandary, I knew employing someone was an ultimate reality for moving both myself and my business forward. I was apprehensive about that idea because I had previously employed people that didn’t’ work out. The separation wasn’t pleasant, and I was now gun shy. Clearly doing the same thing whilst expecting a different result was insane, so I needed to go about it differently. But how? Recognising the effect fear was having on my decision to employ someone, especially in a high-risk consultancy model, was an important conclusion to reach.
I didn’t reach this conclusion easily. To gain any sort of clarity in my thinking I always need to separate myself from the world around me. So, I selected a good weather day in March 2016 to ride my jet ski around South Stradbroke Island at the Gold Coast. I do this often to disconnect from the chaos of daily life and to reconnect with an extraordinary perspective on life. I like to consider this; it is truly extraordinary to be sitting on a jet ski on the side of a spinning ball, of which two-thirds is covered in water, and its tides are controlled by a moon. While this is happening, the spinning ball I am sitting on is rotating around another ball, every 365 days, which is a furious ball of fire. When I come to terms with that concept, more often than not on my jet ski, I tend to believe anything is possible. So, on that day in March 2016, I sat five kilometres offshore and consciously processed my situation. I recognised and acknowledged the symptoms in my life and reached the conclusion that expanding to a team of two will enable me to treat the cause of each of them.
I knew this would involve introducing greater risk to my current business model. However, after weighing up the pros and cons, I concluded the risk of employing someone was far outweighed by the risk of not employing someone. To set this person up to succeed, I first needed to paint a picture of what success in my business would look, act and feel like.
Paint Your Picture
A long time before this all eventuated, I was introduced to the concept of a painted picture by Cameron Herold, founder of 1800 GOT JUNK. He spoke at an entrepreneur’s dinner and shared his personal painted picture along with a blank template to guide me to complete my own.
The point of the painted picture exercise is to pick a date sometime into the future, typically about three to five years away, write down how it looks, acts and feels to you. When others read it, they have a clear idea of how your future and the business they are in should look, act and feel. The template gives a range of aspects of success for the leader to describe including personal feelings, culture and spirit, brand and image, leadership, communication, customer service, programs, deliverables etc. I later saw Naomi Simson, founder of Red Balloon gift vouchers and panellist on The Shark Tank television show, use this concept successfully. So, I thought, why not try it for myself.
In 2012 I completed my first painted picture of how my business would look, act and feel in 31 December 2017. I discovered, that sharing these thoughts after years of containing them between my ears, was quite a liberating experience for me. It was a continued source of inspiration for me however by time March 2016 had come around, I wasn’t feeling any closer to my vision. It had nothing to do with the painted picture template, or the content I had created within it. Rather it was my limited capacity that stood in the way. I still felt strongly enough about my painted picture that I decided to use it to engage my new employee so he or she had a clear idea of what they were getting them self into.
The interesting factor about the painted picture is that it describes outcomes, not activity. This was an important approach for me because whilst I knew I was currently responsible for all activity in my business, there was no guarantee it was productive. I had developed habits around my limited capacity that might not survive in a team of two. I therefore needed to be open to change in this new relationship.
It is important to note that the painted picture, like a leader’s vision, is a living document. It needs constant referencing and importantly, constant refreshing. In 2017 I learned of an idea from Peter Docker, who works with Simon Sinek, the author of Start With Why. He facilitated a workshop after Sinek’s keynote for The Growth Faculty in Melbourne and showed the audience members how to create ‘why’ statements for themselves. He used the following formula:
Activity (What you do Monday to Friday) + Impact (The effect you have on other’s lives) = Your Why
After completing the workshop with Docker, my ‘why’ statement began to simplify. I already knew it in general terms, however to simplify it meant that others would understand it easily. I was clear to me that I needed to be an example of the leadership model I champion to others. To do otherwise would be hypocritical. Being a role model of The 15 Disciplines was what I must be every day in every way in order to inspire others to aspire to living the same example for others. Inspiring through my example was my Monday to Friday agenda, every week of every year. The impact I wanted to have on other people’s lives was just as pure in my mind. I wanted them to aspire to be the same, so they could have an extraordinary impact on the lives of the people they influence.
My ‘why’ statement became ‘Inspire ordinary people to be extraordinary leaders’. I have always understood this about myself and the work I do. However, I have learned over time that I should never assume that others understand the same. I, like all leaders, must always be explicit when clarifying meaning and purpose for others. My ‘why’ statement and the reasoning behind it i.e. my painted picture, was therefore essential for hiring someone to assist me. Whoever I hired, needed to go on this journey with me. He or she needed to understand it, embrace it, be it and create activity within our business that ensures my ‘why’ statement and my painted picture eventuates. I now needed to get clarity on how I would measure our success.
Know How to Measure Your Success
Many years ago, I heard author and speaker Brian Tracy make a statement about the role and purpose of executives that has remained with me. He said something similar to this, ‘An executive is someone who has the authority to put plans and or actions into effect.’ This really resonated with me because whilst I needed assistance, I required more than the support of a traditional assistant. I needed someone to make decisions, plan and self-initiate activity in a way that enabled me to focus on my ‘why’ and painted picture.
I had no desire to have someone make my coffee or pick up my dry cleaning, and I still don’t. I wanted someone to work in partnership with me to multiply my productivity in a way that would enable me to make my own coffee and pick up my own dry cleaning. This was an important distinction for me to make.
The further I delved into this thought process, the more I came to terms with the distinction between the titles of administrative, personal and executive assistants. I certainly needed administrative support and clerical assistance to help manage my workload, but I really needed someone to put plans and actions into effect. It seemed on the surface that this new position was shaping up to be more of an executive assistant role. However, I wasn’t comfortable with the term assistant. I didn’t believe it was a fair title to the role it would become.
I learned during my military service about the significance of the relationship between the Commanding Officer (CO) and the Executive Officer (XO) in an air force squadron. Whilst the CO and XO would fly missions, they would never fly together in combat. What is interesting about the CO/XO relationship, is that the XO was the ‘alternate CO’ and on a day to day basis, would assist the CO to lead the squadron to fulfil it’s purpose. In the event the CO’s aircraft was shot down, the XO could immediately assume command of the squadron. It was this understanding that I used as my main reference for employing someone. I was going to treat the person who I would employ in a manner that would empower him or her to run my business.
Achieving my ‘why’ and painted picture was certainly a key measure of our success. I felt that I needed to be little more explicit about the role and the monetary return on the investment in it. For example if I was to allocate this position an initial annual salary of $50,000, I needed to achieve a multiple of that to make this venture worthwhile. There was no point in achieving only a $50,000 increase in revenue. Without any rigorous analysis, I just decided that we needed to achieve a multiple of three to make this venture worthwhile. That is, the position must earn 3 times more than what it cost. It was already a mandate of this initiative to have a multiplying effect on my productivity. This was now extended to revenue generation. However, I wanted to overlay a caveat onto all of this. We must get better at what we do and how we do it. This demanded that I be ruthless with my delegation. When I let it go, I really need to let it go. I’m not suggesting complete abdication of responsibility for activity and outcomes. I’ll always be responsible for that. I’m referring to giving permission to whoever would work with me, to re-design activity especially when that has the potential to be more productive and add greater value to our clients. I couldn’t afford to get hung up on my old ways.
I learned about a study years ago in relation to traffic memory. I became aware of the effect of a car braking one kilometre ahead of you. The next car in line brakes one second later and so on until it reaches you, thus causing a significant delay. Depending on the number of cars, this delay could be up to one minute. Of course, that car one kilometre ahead that initially braked will accelerate again and the next car will do the same one second later. That effect will continue until you finally have the opportunity to accelerate again, an additional minute later. This is an important understanding in a leadership context because any lack of productivity inside your office has a cascading negative effect on productivity outside your office. Whilst satisfaction levels with my clients were reasonably safe, I could not assume that these would continue if my value offering remained stagnant. As a team of one, I did not have the capacity to increase my value offering. I needed to make this a productivity mandate for our team of two. The client experience must be continually improving with no exceptions.
I began to learn that our success was directly related to internal and external productivity. I therefore needed to treat this person as an executive who was capable of leading The 15 Disciplines. This required a strong and close relationship with no secrets. To gain complete trust it was essential for me to be an open book with my knowledge and experience and open minded when it came to alternate methodologies. It would also mean the person would need to travel with me to experience and observe my work so that he or she could determine how the internal processes (activity) were impacting the external client experience (outcomes).
This new position would require a significant investment from me personally before I was to gain any quantifiable productivity gain. The selection of the right person was becoming increasingly critical every day. I needed to know precisely what I was looking for.