AH had done amazing things while working for MM, a competitor of ours. And he did just as well when he came to work for us. He built his part of our company from less than $50 million to more than $100 million in less than two years.
I asked him why he had been willing to jump ship. In my experience, superstars like AH are hard to recruit because they are well rewarded where they’re at. And, indeed, he had been well paid. (More than he initially made with us.) But he was frustrated by MM’s tendency to micromanage him, even after it was clear he didn’t need help.
As it turned out, AH wasn’t the only good employee we got from this man. Soon after AH came to us, MM’s business took a dip. The stress of that intensified his micromanaging. And that drove away more good people – people he needed to turn the business around. His business could have survived the dip and started growing again. Instead, it kept shrinking and eventually went bankrupt.
The tendency to micromanage is usually related to a CEO’s unwillingness to give his superstars the space, the responsibility, and the authority they need to do their jobs. If you ask micromanagers why they keep looking over their employees’ shoulders, they’ll give you the same answer: “I have to make sure the work is done right.”
Sometimes that’s a valid reason. But only for a brief period of time when a key employee is learning a critically important skill. More often, it’s because of the CEO’s own insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. (Which is more common than you might think.)
Micromanagement is a problem that seriously limits a CEO’s ability to grow his company. And it’s not always because he is psychologically unwilling to let go. It could be because he can’t.
This is very common in the fashion industry. It is very common in the health industry. And it is very common in the information publishing industry. It happens when the CEO is so talented at one part of the business that the product or service becomes associated with him. He becomes the brand. And the business cannot grow beyond him.
If you have this problem, or see it start to develop, there is only one way to solve it. You have to spend the time and energy to hire really hardworking, ambitious and talented people. And you must trust them to grow parts of your business independently of you, your ideals, and your expectations.
If you are a marketing genius, hire a marketing person who is as good as or better than you at some aspect of marketing. Then let him develop that part of your business without getting you involved.
Likewise, if you are the product expert – even the name on the product – hire someone who is as good as or better than you at product development. Then let him develop products that have nothing to do with your name or brand.
Or you can have your cake and eat it too… by doing what James Patterson does.
James Patterson is the most prolific author of all time. His books have sold over 300 million copies. He was the first to sell over a million e-books. He topped Forbes’s list of the highest-paid authors for the third consecutive year with an income of $95 million. His total income for the decade was estimated at $700 million.
He puts out two, three, and sometimes four bestsellers a year.
He began as a talented writer. Now he is basically the CEO of the multimillion-dollar James Patterson publishing business.
How does he do it?
By working smarter. Not harder.
He knows what plots and characters his readers want. So he comes up with plot outlines and characters, in quantity. Then turns them over to competent writers – James Patterson clones – to make them into books.
Over the years, Patterson has developed a system for doing this. He finds a writer – one who hasn’t achieved bestselling status and is willing to be trained in Patterson’s style. In other words, to work as an apprentice of sorts.
The apprentice writes the first draft, following Patterson’s outline. Patterson edits the draft for pace and tension. The apprentice makes Patterson’s corrections, and the book is sent to the publisher.
What Patterson gets may not be a book that is exactly as he would have done it. But it is a book whose plot and characters are close enough to satisfy ardent readers. And that is good enough for him.
The book is published with both his and the apprentice’s name on the cover. If the book becomes a bestseller, the apprentice achieves a certain status too. That makes their next co-venture even more likely to score.
One of my ex clients was a very talented doctor. We built his business from zero to more than $20 million in less than 8 years. The business was built entirely on his name and reputation. But I always felt it could have grown much larger if he had been willing to develop other doctors into separate brands.
Of course, there is no obligation to grow your business as large as it could possibly be. There is nothing wrong with being happy with one brand. There’s nothing wrong with limiting the size of your business because you want to control the quality of your product or service.
But if you want to grow your business without creating an entirely new brand, consider going the James Patterson route. Find potential superstars that could produce alternative versions of your original brand… and let the business grow that way.