I call it ‘relevance deprivation syndrome (RDS)’. It’s a malaise that I encounter regularly while I’m restructuring medium and large hospitality businesses as part of installing proper company systems so the business can continue to grow, or so the owners can enjoy a better lifestyle. RDS is an odd affliction that applies to the owners themselves.
It goes like this . . . I receive a call from a business owner who is unraveling due to long working hours, unrelenting stress and staffing crises. After an assessment of the business and discussions on how to proceed, we do a deal to do a complete overhaul on the business. This usually involves restructuring the management and supervision, replacing staff as necessary and installing proper management systems for HR, sales, wage control, staff turnover, etc. — all of which are necessary to create what we call a self controlling workforce.
A key part of the process is extracting the owner from day-to-day supervision of the business and teaching them to manage the business in the true sense of the word. Another way of explaining this is that we have to teach them to work ‘on’ their business, rather than ‘in’ it — and leave the day-to-day supervision to others, who we have carefully selected and trained.
The process can take some time and money — but it’s well worth it
We can’t do this suddenly without risk to the business, so we go through a tried and tested process which can take up to a couple of years to complete. A key part of this process is getting the owner to let go of their ‘baby’. You’d think this would be easy — after all they have called us in the first place to get them out of the relentless grind — but it’s not so easy in practice. The belief that nobody can do it as well as them drives them to cling on and continue to try to involve themselves in every decision and issue rather than leaving it up to those who are being paid to run their departments or sections.
I have come to understand that this is why most hospitality businesses will always remain small businesses. It’s not that the business concept does not have legs to grow or move to multiple locations, but more often it’s the owner’s reluctance to let go and leave it to others that locks them into the prison of small business for years on end. If you want to grow a business you have to learn to let go and move on.
What happens when the owner(s) withdraw?
So we get to the point where the owner starts to back off and spend a little time out of the business, smelling the roses, so to speak. As a casual observer you might think we’re doing well at this point, but I know what is coming next and I steel myself for the onslaught, which is as predictable as clockwork.
As soon as they have spent a little time out of their business and they return, they see it with fresh eyes, warts and all, for the first time in years. They see all the little things that are wrong, most of which have been present for quite some time while they have been in charge, and then descend on us claiming that the new systems are not working and that this and that are wrong, and that we are ruining their business. Then they start to tell us how to manage the business, when it’s their management style that created the problem they are trying to resolve. The first time I experienced this it really rattled me, now I have come to expect it.
The penalty for micromanagement
This is where I have to be really strong and force them to let go and stop trying to micromanage everything. We usually engage in some full and frank discussions at this point, and sometimes I have to get them to talk to other business owners who have been through the same process, in order to convince them to back off, while the new key staff find their feet.
It’s then that RDS kicks in. Despite my repeated insistence that they have to learn to manage and let others supervise, they let go of their old job but do not grasp their new role. I often get the question: ‘What am I supposed to be doing now?’, despite the fact that we may have explained several times that they are now responsible for the development of their business and their emphasis needs to be on the future: maintaining the new systems, succession planning, proper marketing, etc.
Some of them do not cope well with the dawning realisation that they are no longer needed for everything and are not involved in every little issue in their business. One owner moped around his business at this point and, when asked how they were by a staff member, retorted ‘Don’t talk to me, I’m only the maintenance man!’ I tell them: ‘If you don’t have anything specific to do; go play golf or play with your kids; don’t hang around haunting everybody if you don’t have a specific reason to be here. This is what you engaged us for. You’ve got a life, go and enjoy it.’
They find it so hard, despite that fact that sales may be increasing, costs reducing and customer feedback is getting better and better, to let their baby go or face the fact that others can do it as well or better than them. I used to think that they’d jump for joy at their new found freedom, but it takes a while to adjust to.
It’d be useful to ask yourself: ‘How many of my staff will go on to be successful in their own businesses?’ before you jump to the conclusion that they can’t do it as well as you.