By: Patrick Ungashick
If you are like many business owners, you love what you do. The steady stream of challenges and rewards that come with successfully leading and growing your company are one of the best reasons to be an owner. Additionally, you probably are good at what you do. If you were away from the company for any significant length of time, the business might suffer without you. For these reasons, few owners schedule extended time away from the business. Why spend time away from the company, when it is something you enjoy and being away could undermine its growth?
Of the few owners who take significant time away from their business, even fewer ever fully unplug while away. “Unplug” means avoiding all communications (phone, email, text, etc.) with employees, customers, suppliers, or other persons associated with the business. Modern technology ironically has made unplugging more difficult. Before the internet and smartphones, staying connected with the company while away required extra effort and work. Now, disconnecting from the company while away requires extra effort and work.
Put this together, and it’s easy to see why most owners rarely schedule two weeks or longer away from the company, and fully unplug during that time. Unfortunately, continuous connectedness and communication undermine exit success. To exit successfully, the company must be able to operate profitability and efficiently without the owner’s non-stop involvement. For example, if you intend to sell your company to an outside buyer, your buyer is unlikely to pay a premium price with a high portion of cash at closing if the company’s value is tied up in you. Likewise, if you intend for key employees or adult children to take over your company one day, they must demonstrate a track record of leading and growing the company without your involvement.
Listed below are nine advantages created when you periodically schedule at least two weeks fully unplugged and away from the company:
- Strengthen the Team
By stepping aside for at least two weeks, you force other leaders in the company to step up and handle other, higher responsibilities. This develops their skills and adds to their experience.
- Stress-Test the Organization
When you are away and not available to the company, its people and systems must operate without you. This tests how well these people and systems independently perform. Then, upon your return, you can address any weaknesses or limitations that may have been exposed.
- Uncover Unknown Strengths
Your absence may expose weaknesses, and it will also uncover hidden strengths. While you are unavailable, some people or systems may perform better than expected. These pleasant surprises present new strengths and opportunities within the company that you might not have discovered had you never unplugged.
- Wean Important Relationships Off You
Your future exit will be difficult or impossible if important relationships such as top customers, lenders, or suppliers expect you always to be available. Periodically unplugging creates manageable opportunities for these relationships to interact with the company without you, potentially boosting confidence in the broader company beyond you.
- Strengthen Morale
By giving other leaders in the company a chance to step up and perform, you are demonstrating a tangible amount of trust in them. If they perform well, overall team morale and confidence rises. (If they don’t perform well, you now have an immediate and specific opportunity to coach and develop them—see #2 above.)
- Sell for a Higher Price
If you intend to sell the company at exit, then a business that can operate and grow without you is a more valuable business to most buyers.
- Get More Cash at Closing
Buyers are willing to pay a larger portion of the purchase price in cash when they see less risk. A company that has a track record of operating without your constant involvement is a less risky acquisition.
- Smoother Transition at Your Exit
If your company has learned how to operate without your ongoing presence, likely there will be less stress, drama, and anxiety associated with the transition to new owners and/or leaders when you eventually exit.
- Prepare You for Life After Exit
One of the biggest challenges owners face in life after exit is finding activities and interests that provide meaningful involvement once your role in the company is reduced or ended. Periodically unplugging from the company creates time to investigate and test-drive your ideas for activities and interests after exit.
Now that you are (hopefully) convinced of the need to unplug from the company periodically, consider these tips and best practices:
- Do not surprise your team, especially if doing this for the first time. Tell them several months in advance what you intend to do and why. You do not have to discuss your exit plans if you are unready to discuss that topic. Focus on the individual and team development opportunities created by your temporary absence.
- Unplug for at least two weeks. Anything less is too short to gain any real insights or benefits. (Thirty days is even better than two weeks.)
- Designate decision-making authority and responsibilities in your absence. This includes appropriately managing your email inbox. You cannot come back to find dozens or hundreds of unread and unanswered email messages.
- Define what would qualify as a severe crisis that would require the team to reach out and contact you. Set the bar high—a crisis must be a serious emergency.
- Schedule meetings with your leaders immediately upon your return, to discuss and debrief.
- Consider doing this several times per year to build upon and accelerate the benefits.
- Develop a plan for how you will spend this time. You should note that this article has not used the word “vacation” at any point until now. There is nothing wrong with taking a two-week vacation. But many owners do not want that much downtime. An alternative would be to design a schedule of productive activities while remaining unplugged. Examples include: reading several business books, attending an industry conference, or researching new markets or products.
To further help you reduce your company’s dependency on you, download our free tool, the NAVIX Owner Independency Audit. Then, consider meeting with a NAVIX Consultant for an in-depth assessment of your overall exit readiness.