How to Walk Away From Your Business…and still collect a paycheck!


Most business owners invest a tremendous number of hours in their business. From the day to day activities to making high level strategic decisions, there is never a shortage of work to be done. So how can you possibly walk away and still collect a paycheck? The more responsibility your management team takes on, the less you have to do. Of course giving your leaders more responsibility requires that you have highly capable leaders with enough capacity to take on more. And while it’s true that those leaders can free you up, you also have to be willing to let go.

If this sounds enticing to you, read on!

Strengthening your management team

1.       Assess them!

Whether you do a formal assessment or a back of the napkin look at your team, you need to be honest with yourself about what you’ve got. You need to evaluate their competencies, skills, attitudes, and the key behaviors against what it takes to make your company profitable. Do they have it? If so, are you using it? It’s amazing to me how often I find a highly talented underutilized resource doing 1/10th what they are capable of! What roles and responsibilities can you give them that will maximize their effectiveness?

If your team doesn’t have enough of what you need, where are the gaps? You know what it takes to run your business – you’ve been doing it for years! You know the gaps that would show up if you took an extended vacation.  Can you develop your employees and close those gaps? Could they be capable one day?  

2.       Hire or Develop?

My experience is that in most business owners are loathe to let anyone go who has been a good loyal employee, even if they don’t have what it takes to contribute more to your business. And unfortunately, most owners don’t have a budget to add more employees to their payroll to round out the gaps. They need a manager who can take on more. These are tough calls and there is no right answer. If you think you’ve got employees who have the potential to grow into a key management role, the investment in developing them is well worth it! If not, your loyalty may stand in the way of your ability to step away from the day to day.

Let’s plan to work with what you’ve got.

3.       Build Bench Strength

When I talk to owners about building bench strength, I usually hear something about how they want to send their employees to training, but …  ‘they can’t free up the time, or it’s too expensive, or I can’t find the right training, etc..’   Training can be highly effective for development, but it’s not the only approach. Why not consider how much they will learn through immersing them in broadening experiences. For example, send your key employee to spend a day or two with a non-competitive similar agency. The exposure to other work processes, culture, and methodology can be incredibly enlightening and pay tremendous dividends.  Or give them a special project that forces them to engage with your business differently. Or support their participation on well-respected local or national non-profit board, or encourage them to apply for a seat in a Chamber of Commerce Leadership Program. All of these are powerful broadening experiences that will benefit your employee and your business. Of course, you must ensure they have a clear set of objectives and outcomes going in to these experiences, and you’ll want to debrief with them afterwards to make sure they get the learning you expected.

When you think about developing your people in this way, they will seize opportunities that you may not even know existed and reach potential you may never have recognized in them.

4.       Let go.

So you did it! You developed your employees and they are doing a great job! Now it’s time to let go. You need to give them enough space to do what they are capable of doing. It doesn’t mean you abdicate responsibility, but it doesn’t mean that you tighten your grip, either. Will they make mistakes? Absolutely! Should you set up boundaries so the mistakes are not a catastrophe for the business? Absolutely! So what will it take for you to release a little bit? Maybe it’s up front meetings to discuss strategies and plans? Maybe it’s agreeing upon a set of boundaries or criteria -- within which they can make a decision --  and outside of which they need to involve you. Just be aware of a natural tendency you may have to negatively judge any action or decision they recommend, just because it’s different than yours. Your job is to help them learn, and to learn from them! They just might have a better idea! 

5.       Enjoy Baja … or Tahiti… or your house at the beach.

You’ve done well. Your business remains profitable – or maybe has become even more profitable. Your management team is running the show. You can check in periodically, give them a pat on the back, and maybe eventually, they’ll become your new owner.