When, why & how start-up founders need to learn to let go

May 25, 2022

The hardest part about founding a company? It’s knowing when to take a step back. But this doesn’t have to mean leaving the organisation.

When it comes to feeling a sense of purpose from your livelihood, founders have it made. It’s a powerful thing, turning your vision into a reality – and has led to many of the most impactful, impressive, and industry-defining businesses out there. The hardest part about founding a company? It’s knowing when to take a step back. 80% of small business entrepreneurs are forced to give up their CEO post by investors, and one study saw that only 25% led their company after four years.  But stepping back doesn’t have to mean leaving the organisation, or even giving up your leadership role. There are other ways – and we’ll explore that in this article.  

Learn how to adapt to business growth

business plan for founders involves organisational fitness

It’s time to step back when…

  • You’re feeling disconnected from your team
If your startup is growing, then so is your team. And that comes with a whole host of culture risks. As founder, you would’ve hand-selected your first set of employees. They were people instrumental to making your business a reality, and you worked with them closely. Now your business has grown, you might not be the one making hiring decisions. You almost certainly won’t have time to line-manage each team member, or have a 360-view of their output. If you’re feeling a little out of touch, that’s just a symptom of that.
  • You’re becoming the bottleneck in decision-making
As a company founder, the success and failures of your organisation have all come down to you (and with founders believing in an 81% chance of success, that’s no small pressure!). Every decision, every sign-off, every turning point has been in your remit.  But as business booms, and there’s more and more work to do, you may find yourself stalling progress. Requiring sign-off on every social media post or customer service response is well-meaning – after all, you want to protect your brand – but it’s simply not practical.

It’s time to step back because…

  • You don’t have time to oversee everything
Your time is precious. Even if you don’t hold evenings and weekends sacred, one person can’t do it all. From your sales and marketing functions, to customer service and tech support, to finance and HR, there’s a lot that goes into making an organisation keep going.  Burnout isn’t just for junior employees. As your organisation’s leader, your wellbeing matters too – and by setting a good example, you can encourage a healthy work-life balance. A powerful gesture, given the reputation startups have for their ‘work hard, play hard’ culture. 
  • You don’t have all the skills needed for growth
It’s hard to be humble. But however brilliant, visionary, or insightful you are, there will be some gaps in your skillset. Maybe you’re perfectly equipped to lead on marketing decisions, but don’t have the tech know-how to translate that to your website. Or you deliver a applause-worthy pitch deck, but aren’t so hot on talking to customers. That’s ok. Admitting your weaknesses is the first step to sustainably growing your business. That’s because it lets you understand what gaps need to be filled. It doesn’t have to mean stepping down completely, just allowing others to fill some key roles.

You can start stepping back by…

  • Hiring a management team you really trust
The best advice for startup entrepreneurs we have? Think about the shape of your management team. What ‘Head ofs’ are necessary to propel you to the next level? What tasks are – to put it bluntly – not really worth your much-in-demand time?  By making tactical hiring choices, you can leave behind the pressure of line management, and delegate important sign-off moments to people you really trust. That frees you up to deliver the vision your organisation still needs, and communicate its purpose. And that’s the lifeblood of any startup.
  • Making a choice not to ‘sweat the small stuff’
When writing small business growth strategies, one mistake is getting too granular. Getting tied up in knots about your secondary brand colours, when you really need to focus on your product development, is only going to frustrate everybody and stall progress. So don’t insist on proofreading every email. Don’t demand a daily rundown of what everyone’s ‘getting up to’. Don’t hold fast to long-held opinions, even when the experts you’ve hired challenge them. Let go of the small things, and you can remain the visionary. And as your business grows, you’ll still have a place. 

Why Qlearsite can help: a real-world example:

When Anders Johnsen, CEO of Documaster, saw his organisation grow to multiple offices across Europe, he knew a different approach was needed to stay connected. With a people-first culture, that was key.  Working with Qleariste, he ran an Organisational Fitness survey. This offers a full scan of your workforce, and the things they care about – from leadership and communication, to tools and inclusion. You can see results by different teams, locations, and demographics too. 
Organisational Fitness from Qlearsite
From this survey, Anders gained a strong understanding of which groups of employees were facing issues. With advanced technology summarising their written comments, he could see common themes too – so it was easy to create new initiatives to improve things.  After making some changes, the Documaster team ran the survey again to understand the impact of their new initiatives. And in that way, they could continue sustainably growing their business – and Anders could stay connected with his people.

Try our Organisational Fitness survey… for free!

Change isn’t easy. We want to help everyone – from business founders to team leaders – understand how to navigate change, and guide their people through it. That’s why our Employee Feedback Platform is free to try.  Get started now, and send our Organisational Fitness survey – or one of the 20+ other question sets we offer.
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