Chalk up another win for Vacation as Management Tool.
I'm not talking about the mental health benefits of vacation downtime, which are well documented. Rather I'm referring to a practice I started years ago whereby I deliberately absented myself from my job for two to three weeks in order to test how well I had done the following:
- Trained my staff
- Created processes and systems
- Delegated routine operational issues
As a corporate executive, I would use the vacation test to evaluate how well the managers working for me were doing. While the first criteria was departmental performance, in my book, one of the key jobs of a manager/supervisor is how well they train their people to work without them. Weak managers tended to be too involved in the day-to-day which deprived their people of development opportunities and left the organization vulnerable to a single point of failure (themselves). It also limited their advancement opportunities by making it difficult to move them to new positions. Also, I've found that if you let it, work will expand to fill all available hours; weak managers tended to be so busy with tasks that could and should have been delegated that they never had the time needed to think about new opportunities or how things could be improved.
Now lest my startup readers think that delegation does not apply to them (after all delegation assumes that there is someone to whom work can be delegated), I would counter with this question:
"How are you expecting to scale?"
Of course the answer is you hire or you contract out. Either way, you only scale by bringing in people...
- ...to do specialist tasks for which your team lacks the skills
- ...to do tasks that someone else can do more expertly and/or efficiently
- ...to unburden "bottleneck" specialists of tasks that can be done by others (usually cheaper)
Nevertheless if you plan to scale, training, process development, infrastructure development, and delegation are necessary.
I run into this issue with entrepreneurs all the time. Many startups begin with the entrepreneur and a couple of technical guys to do the development. Initially, when cash is lacking, the entrepreneur/CEO (Chief Everything Officer) is forced to handle everything else from fundraising to key partner negotiations to bookkeeping. But as money starts to trickle in, while some entrepreneurs can readily relinquish things they are not good at and are necessary but not generating value (e.g. bookkeeping), others have a tough time letting go. We often have to remind the latter that the value of their enterprise is not going to depend on how detailed their bookkeeping entries are. Rather it will depend on how well they've demonstrated product/market fit, landed paying customers, and established strategic partnerships. Any time spent on the former rather than the latter is not time well spent.
The nice thing about Vacation as Management Tool is that if forces one to figure out how to make sure that things don't fall apart in your absence. You actually have to do the training, establish the process, and delegate the work. And as an added bonus, the time spent away will hopefully leave you refreshed, renewing your capacity for creative thought and new insights about your business.
* I sometimes get the smug question from an entrepreneur "why would we ever need managers?" My answer: "You don't provided all your people communicate with each other perfectly, they self-coordinate tasks seemlessly, all play together well, and they all know the mission and understand the implications of that mission for their own tasks." In my 20+ years of managing people, I'm still looking for those people.