This article was originally published on Forbes.
By Erin Hoffman
“I’m taking a week off!” are words said by no small-business owner — ever. The amount of work and leadership involved in owning and running a small business means there is little time to completely disconnect from the office. In my experience, leaders of small businesses also fear anything that could force them to leave work for a period of time, such as health issues. And when an owner does leave the business on its own, they’re often constantly contacted by their team with questions, which makes their day off meaningless.
As a senior consultant, I coach leaders on how they can help their businesses grow. I have seen the importance of small-businesses owners preparing their teams to keep the business running smoothly without them, particularly in the event of a sudden need to step away. I once worked with a leader who had to unexpectedly leave the office to take care of her elderly mother during an extended illness. Her mind bounced between all that could go wrong at her business and the health of her mother. Despite not preparing her team at all for her absence, she was surprised and impressed with how well the team stepped up without her.
Although successful, this anecdote doesn’t mean business owners should leave the wellbeing of their business to chance. The steps below can help you set up your team so you can peacefully leave work for a period of time.
Develop clear roles and responsibilities.
Make sure it’s clear who is responsible for what. Categorize your daily to-do list and assign a team member to each category so everyone can fold into place when you’re not there. In a small business, this can be ever-changing, so be sure to revisit roles and responsibilities at least once per year.
Create decision making parameters.
What decisions can the team make when you’re away? Work to empower them when you’re still in the office so they are prepared to handle the decisions you’re comfortable with them making. Start shifting the way you respond to questions now, and work with your employee to give them the confidence to figure it out on their own. Ask, “What would you do if I weren’t here?” or, “What do you recommend?” Once they respond, follow up with guidance based on your own decision making process. For example, if you have a set of core values, emphasize how you use them to guide your decisions. Forcing them to think critically about a decision, paired with your guidance, will give them the strength to act in your place when needed.
Set up communication structures, such as consistent team meetings, so everyone is aware of how other team members process information and make decisions. I believe groups without a consistent team meeting are more likely to barrage the owner with questions because they’re unsure of what to do or are afraid of making an error. In my experience as a coach, those who do have team meetings often have employees who are on the same page and welcome opportunities to discuss challenges or issues. Creating a time and place to meet gives team members the tools to utilize one another, not just the leader, to solve problems. Let the team know that these meetings should still take place when you’re out, as they can be even more important at that stage.
No matter how optimistic you are today, you never know what tomorrow might bring, such as personal matters that could take you away from your business for any amount of time. Prepare your team for your absence so you can rest assured that the company will continue to run smoothly.