Throughout my career, I’ve worked for a number of start-up organizations. It’s obviously not a coincidence – it’s what I love to do and what I’m good at. The ability to perform at a high level without a net – well, there’s nothing quite like it.
Newly formed companies - by nature - often have limited processes or procedures. Looking back, there was countless times where someone would say, “What if Sally or Bob got hit by a bus – we’d really have a problem.” We’d sit around and say that we should really get their knowledge or process or job documented and then promptly forget or put it off until the next time we brought it up. Every once in a while a manager would actually say to Sally or Bob, “We need to train Mike and Mary on how to do your job – in case you get hit by a bus!”
Thinking about it now, I have to shake my head.
First of all, if Sally or Bob actually did find themselves pancaked by the 73 Uptown Express, I’m hoping there are more pressing matters than if they filed that Purchase Order or left a message for that customer. Additionally, I would expect we could use the ingenuity that got us here to accommodate the gaps and support our team and their families. For most of us, while our companies and work is important – we are not saving lives on a regular basis. And if you are – well, having the back-ups and redundancies in your systems probably should be moved to the top of your list.
The real truth is that it is often the founders or key leaders of the company who should be looking in the mirror and asking this question of themselves to achieve the most beneficial results for their company.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a successful CEO named “Tom.” Tom is the owner of a technical services and manufacturing company that needs highly skilled talent – both in thinking and execution. He had built a great team. But he knew, as the founder and the visionary behind the company, he had put his company – including his customers and his employees – at risk. He had finally added enough people to where things were going well but knowing that there was no one to replace him had started to nag at him.
Knowing he needed to up his game, one day he called a staff meeting. Arriving 15 minutes late to the meeting, he could sense his team’s irritation as he looked around the room. Then he said, “I was just hit by a bus. Figure it out.”
With that statement he walked out of the room and went home.
“I didn’t sleep at all that night,” he told me. “I didn’t know if everyone would quit or what would be waiting for me but I knew that I had to find out.”
Thankfully, his gamble was rewarded.
His team took their task to heart and stayed late that night to “figure it out.” This exercise was an eye opener for everyone on his team and exposed the gaps that needed to be closed. Because they started with Tom, it created an environment where everyone could ask “the bus” question. It also started paving the way to bring in additional resources to the company that will, in the end, make the company stronger and more valuable, should Tom ever decide to retire or sell his company. (For more on what makes a company valuable, check out the Value Builder System™ here.)
Not everyone has a large enough or seasoned enough team to do what Tom did. But any leader can start working on this problem – by focusing on their tasks and duties. Simply make a list of everything you do. Then take each item and ask the following questions:
- Am I the only person who can do this?
- Is there someone else within the company who can do this?
- Is there someone else outside the company who can do this (contract or purchased?)
After you have your list, you can prioritize how it impacts Cash, Products/Services, Customers or Infrastructure. With this list you now have a matrix that defines your opportunities and risks. Typically, I have found that even the most aware CEOs are surprised at the results.
At the end of the day, the best leaders I know are not afraid to ask the hard questions – especially, when it comes to their own roles in their companies. Not asking the hard questions, doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist – it just stays ignored until it no longer can be.
Or until you cross paths with that mythical bus.