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From Chief Employee to Business Architect

From Chief Employee to Business Architect

Running IntelligenceOriginally Published in Running Intelligence

My challenge for you today is to make the first thing you work on every day be about building your business, not just doing the endless work that comes with running a business. Recognize that you have reached the point where you must let go of doing the work yourself. Step away from the day-to-day work and begin designing a business system, staffed with great people, that exists apart from you and delivers value without you. In other words, it is time to redefine your role from being chief employee to being business architect.

Almost 20 years ago, I heard Bob Hildreth speak about the creation and leadership of his IT recruiting business in Minneapolis, MN called ESP Systems Professionals. His talk was excellent, and one thing in particular struck me about it. Bob never recruited a day in his life. He had never personally provided the services that his company offered. But he did have six (at the time) excellent recruiters all of whom generated from 10-20x the industry average in fees.

What dawned on me as I listened to him speak was that his recruiters were extraordinarily productive in large part because he was not a recruiter. He started his business knowing that if he did not immediately hire great recruiters, his business was a non-starter. Furthermore, if he couldn’t directly deliver recruiting services himself, he had to define the job he was going to do every day. What would or should he do?

Bob defined his role as creating and improving the organization and the systems that his people used to create results. He invested time in determining the strategy for his firm and in finding the best computer systems and other tools to support his recruiters. He defined his role first and foremost as business architect, because he understood that if he could figure out how the business was to look and where it was headed, he could hire other people to do everything else.

If you understand in principle the importance of being a business architect, how do you begin applying this to your business? Here are some ideas:

Train and develop people to serve customers. The customer experience is the lifeblood of any running specialty store – but increasingly your staff must be able to deliver that experience without you. Do you have a recruiting system in place to find and hire people who already are motivated to serve other people? Do you have a training program in place to teach people the fundamentals of fitting shoes? Are you providing your people with sales training that takes them from order taker to salesperson? Have you built product training into your weekly and monthly store calendar? These are some of the steps that a business architect will take to design the best retail experience for customers.

Build your marketing and customer acquisition systems. Who is the most important customer for your business? What are the different approaches you are using to introduce your store to your customer? What programs and events attract these people into your store? Ideally you will have several of your employees involved in executing your marketing strategy. But they need coaching from you on the right market or markets upon which to focus.

One very practical way to get your staff involved in marketing is to have them reach out to people in other, non-competitive running specialty stores across the country to learn about their marketing strategies. There is no purpose in designing a new marketing program from scratch. Have your staff get involved in learning what others across the country are doing. Then give those same people the assignment of bringing that system alive in your store and your market.

Develop systems and processes for buying product.

One of the big challenges that running specialty store owners have is allowing themselves to get stuck in the back room completing administrative tasks that other people could be doing. While buying is critical to a store’s success, many successful owners have delegated a good portion of the buying process to key employees. They figure out how to keep tabs on the numbers while trusting others to make the buying process work.

Proactively manage your vendor relationships.

Vendor management is another area where the best stores do the best job. There is more vendor money out there to assist you in your marketing efforts, but you have to be organized and intentional in communicating your plans and your “wish list” to vendors. Someone in your store should have the specific responsibility for creating a calendar of marketing events, getting it to your vendor reps, and proactively following up to develop programs and get funding.

Hire sales people, not order takers. Hire people who can sell vs. just take orders. At our firm, we use specialty-retail specific sales assessments to find out if a potential employee has the ability and drive to be a top salesperson. We recommend that specialty retailers find employees who have the intelligence and aptitude to understand your products and explain them to your customers. Look for people who can engage with customers, ask good questions, and make recommendations. Seek employees who are team-oriented but competitive, and who are energized by the idea of keeping score of their sales results. And, use sales assessments to weed out weak candidates and focus on people who can and will sell.

Closing Thoughts. Every business owner should strive to be financially successful enough to go to work because she wants to, not because she has to. “The day to start planning your exit from your business is the day that you start it.” That was the advice that Tom Raynor, CEO of Fleet Feet and Managing Principal of the Specialty Retail Development Corporation, gave to attendees at the IRRA Conference in Dallas this past November. In other words, if you want to be able to exit your business profitably one day, you have to build your business with that goal in mind from the very beginning. It’s not going to just magically happen. Toward that goal, stop seeing yourself as the chief employee of your business, and start acting like the architect of your business. If you do so now, you will reward yourself by designing and building a business that runs without you.

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