You had an idea, you got it financed and now you own a business. Congratulations, you’ve succeeded. But how essential are you, personally, to the functioning of the business? If you are forced out of day-to-day operations by ill health, family problems or some other issue, can your business succeed without you?

A business dependent on its founder is a business which has serious limitations. Raising funds may be compromised if the investor(s) understand that you are not replaceable. No one wants to commit all his or her eggs to a fragile basket. And it is fragile: human beings may be kept out of the workplace for a whole host of reasons which you can, no doubt, imagine.  In fact, your worst dreams may revolve around what will happen if you are incapacitated. So what have you done about it?

Start by evaluating your workforce and how you can position employees to take on key responsibilities in your absence.  You may have obvious choices such as elevating each person one level. Or you may have gaping holes you cannot fill. Start immediately considering who could step in to fill gaps, understanding that you may have to go outside your employee pool.

If you are unable to cover all key functions with employees your only option is to look at outsiders. Board members? Accountants? Family members with experience? Former employees? If you still have no one to step into your role, consider a person with deep experience in your industry who may be available at a moment’s notice (retired?).

Next you must start training your people (and any outsiders who could be involved) to take on expanded responsibilities. You can just train them, making sure they each have some time on new duties and areas of responsibility, then send them back to their current jobs. That might work but I sincerely doubt it. Three years from now when you are in a car accident, what is the likelihood that all of those people will accurately recall what responsibilities they have, let alone how to discharge them? They won’t. Which brings us to:

You must begin to shift responsibility and decision making to employees.

This represents the major barrier for many owners. Shifting responsibility means, at least in the short term, more errors, more bad decisions, more problems. There will be a learning curve and you will have to live through it. You may have to let go of long held beliefs about how things should be done in favor of just getting them done. You may have serious push back from the employees who are stressed by the additional responsibility. You may also find that some employees are unable to meet the challenge of broader duties or unwilling to make decisions. Painful though that may be, it better to know that now than when the company is in crisis.

It may be difficult and uncomfortable for you, but continue until you are confident that your company will run in your absence.  Besides, with competent people in place, you could go on an extended vacation next year to test their capabilities.

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