Personal Scaling: Shed Or Drown

When a company is first started, the founder does everything — they’re often CEO, marketeer, maker, administrative assistant and janitor. As the company scales, roles specialize. Specialists are hired to do specific functions better than the founder can do on a part-time basis. The founder sheds roles over time.

In theory that means that the founder (or a manager) should be less busy as the team grows. But that’s not the way if often works (at least initially). New hires need coaching and support to acclimate to the new company and role and that takes time. Facilitating communication between the various specialists takes time. And with scale comes overhead tools and systems that need to be setup and supported. That also takes time.

Ironically, a founder can be busier after they delegate all of their work then they were when they were a one-person operation. While as specialists ramp-up, communication becomes streamlined and systems get entrenched, workloads can decline, there are lots of small activities that can accumulate and encumber a founder. If left unchecked, these small administrative and processes that are owned by the founder can overload them. It’s death by a thousand cuts.

The remedy is simple. Delegate more.

While that seems obvious it isn’t always. Many of these small tasks that can accumulate on top of a founder over time are white space tasks — things that don’t discretely fall into the role of any other specialist on the team. Depositing checks for example probably doesn’t fit under the marketing team, sales team, product folks or so on.

To scale, founders need to recognize that these tasks are material in aggregate and find a home for them. Often the solution is hiring an operations person or dividing these tasks up amongst specialists on the team (even if they’re outside of their job description).

But it’s worth noting that this isn’t a one-time fix. Simply hiring an operations person and delegating won’t solve this problem forever. Tasks continue to accumulate and founders will inevitably find themselves drowning again. The key to personal scaling is to identify these moments and break out of routines.

I recommend founders start by creating a list of everything that they do that someone else can own. Then put names next to each task and delegate. I call this aggressive delegation — it’s the process of shedding the passive accumulation of tasks so that you can continue to scale, build and grow.

The hardest part is acknowledging that you’re too busy and then focusing on rethinking how you work. It’s unnatural, but it’s critical for re-balancing the workload in your team so you can succeed.