You’ve spent years building a great business from scratch. But after decades of hard graft you’re ready to enjoy more time with your family and maybe sip a cocktail or two on the beach. So how on earth do you step back from a business that relies on you everyday to keep plates spinning and wheels turning? What you need is a people operating system that addresses the cultural challenges in your business.
Before I explain why a people operating system could help you retire (and what it is!), let me first share my view on the top three cultural challenges facing founders who want to retire. If they resonate with you that’s great – we can fix them!
The company story is second nature to founders. You know: why you founded the business; what you were setting out to achieve; where your business is now and where it’s heading; the values and behaviours that make the culture what it is; and what continued success looks like and why it matters. This story often isn’t second nature to the rest of your leadership team – they have varying perspectives and they don’t feel the same sense of ownership over the company story as you do. When it comes to being able to engage and inspire people in the business this is a challenge…
Many founders continue to play a role in recruitment until they leave the business – inspiring candidates and new joiners with their story. Who will do this and ensure other aspects of the employee experience continue to reflect the company’s culture when you’re gone?
It’s not just during recruitment and onboarding that founders shape the company culture by sharing their story. Day to day founders tend to be a vital conduit when it comes to information flowing around the business. You often know the answers to people’s questions and if you don’t, you definitely know who does. You can spend a lot of your time making sure the right people are speaking to each other to get stuff done. You provide an informal but crucial networking function in the business, without which there’s a real risk the right people won’t be engaged in the right things at the right time.
No one knows how a business works better than its founder. You know: what metrics indicate a healthy business; what goals are appropriate for the current market conditions; and how to resolve issues and take tough decisions when necessary. Because of this, many founders find themselves still at the coalface of their business as they’re wanting to take a step back.
Founders might: own significant client relationships (they’re your friends as much as your clients nowadays); step in whenever there’s a problem with the supply chain (you’ve been there before so know exactly what to do); or review the numbers at the end of each month (you’ll know quicker than anyone else if there’s an issue that needs addressing). Playing all these roles is enormously valuable while you’re still around but it leaves you critically tied to the business. The business can find other people to undertake these tasks but the bigger challenge is to find a way of replacing the overall delivery wheel turning function that you’ve been playing.
Founders tend to be entrepreneurial spirits. You created a business because you spotted an opportunity in the market and grabbed it, and it’s likely that this spirit of innovation has continued to contribute to your business’ success. There’s a danger when you leave that this finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the industry goes with you.
If a business is not systematically looking out for new opportunities, encouraging people to experiment and test new ideas, and sharing the learning of what’s worked across the business, then it’s going to struggle to keep innovating.
Of course for some the chance to explore new business opportunities and innovate actually becomes more likely when a founder leaves! Perhaps the founder has become stale, resistant to new ideas or convinced how they’ve always done things is the route to success. If this is the case in your business then this third challenge probably won’t resonate with you.
Every business has a people operating system whether it’s deliberately engineered or not. In founder run businesses, the founder often fulfils many, if not all, of the functions in this system. You are the peopleOS.
If you want to retire, you need to start thinking about deliberately engineering your people operating system.
If you’d like a helping hand getting set up for success, ask us about our Purposeful Design product. We help you discover:
If you’d like to chat about whether this could help you, grab some time with our Co-Founder, Bee, here.