Letting Go to Level up in Business

In business, some decisions are harder than others. One of the first difficult ones I had to make was in 1994.

The 11 employees I’d hired at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? didn’t seem to understand my vision. They could haul junk and drive trucks, but they didn’t understand the importance of customer service to our brand. My long-term goal was to become the FedEx of junk removal and for that, I needed rock stars.

It was clear that I had to clean house, but first I had to acknowledge my own mistake: I had hired people to fill jobs, not because of each candidate’s merit or culture fit. It didn’t set anyone up for success. After I’d taken stock of my part in the situation, I decided to focus on what the future could look like with the right people supporting my vision.

To get a fresh start, I fired everyone in one fell swoop, even though it meant running the business alone for a while. Recruiting a new team was stressful and there were even times when I questioned if I’d done the right thing. But looking back I realize that if I hadn’t made that tough choice, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? wouldn’t be where it is now.

The lesson I take from that experience is that I could have gotten bogged down by my mistakes, but I chose to let go and look ahead. Today we have hundreds of employees and are approaching a quarter of a billion dollars in revenue. None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t made tough choices early on.

Let Go So Others Can Shine

Letting go of mistakes is hard. It can be equally hard to let go of your responsibilities, especially when your business is your baby – you founded it, nurtured it, and grew it. But the reality is that sometimes you have to delegate to let others shine.

However, delegation isn’t easy. London business school professor John Hunt says only one in three managers is considered a good delegator by his or her team. This means only about one manager in ten really understands how to empower their people.

I remember when I insisted on being involved in every aspect of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. For example, I used to go through the budget myself with a fine-toothed comb. It took a lot of time, and as someone with ADHD, that kind of detail-oriented work really isn’t my forte. When I finally gave it over to our president and COO, who excels at that kind of thing, the process was faster and more accurate. I was able to go back to things a CEO should focus on – like innovating and envisioning long-term goals.

The lesson here is to focus on your unique abilities and let the rest go. Given a chance and the right tasks, your people – and company – will thrive.

Keep the Good Stuff

Although some things can and should be let go, other values are essential to keep. According to Coca-Cola, values describe the company’s desired culture and serve as a behavioral compass. Crafting a mission statement to supplement your values will help your business focus on long-term objectives. And these aren’t just buzzwords – companies that throw out their values and mission too easily often pay for it later.

When the recession hit, Goldman Sachs effectively abandoned its mission to help clients, focusing instead on maximizing their own returns. It hurt their brand (and contributed to a marketplace meltdown). In stark contrast to core value of innovation, Blackberry kept its keyboard while the rest of the world went touchscreen, causing a tailspin it’s never recovered from.

At O2E Brands, our core values – passion, integrity, professionalism, and empathy – are the backbone to our workplace culture and are non-negotiable. I remember when we were growing quickly and needed a new executive to manage and drive that growth. It meant welcoming new ideas – but nixing our 7-minute daily huddle because it was ‘corny’? Nope! Private offices for the L-team? Never going to happen – a transparent, open office is part of our culture.

Hoarders Beware…

The lesson to let go comes at a time when hoarding has never been more visible – I should know, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? helps muck out hoarded homes on A&E all the time! But as bad as hanging on to “stuff” is, it’s even worse for business leaders to dwell on past mistakes, enforce bad habits, and jealously guard responsibilities better suited to others.

Business owners have to learn from each experience and move on, give others a chance to shine, and ultimately, let go to level up.

Brian Scudamore is the founder and CEO of O2E (Ordinary to Exceptional) Brands, which includes companies like 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, WOW 1 DAY PAINTING,You Move Me and Shack Shine. Brian is passionate about helping others grow small to medium businesses and corporate culture.

Tweet Brian at @brianscudamore

    • Jonathan Rosen

      Brian, valuable article with important insight – Thanks for sharing. Do you ever work directly with other business leaders to help them through the same process?

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