Escape The Overwhelm: How Agency Founders Can Free Themselves From Wearing Multiple Hats

June 28

By Kenny Lange:

“How in the heck am I supposed to deliver everything I just sold AND keep generating more business?!”

This was me about 18 months into being an agency owner.

I was thrilled about selling the biggest retainer I had ever sold and completely overwhelmed with the reality of delivering on it along with all of the other responsibilities I had - BY MYSELF!

I had become the CEO but it didn’t mean Chief Executive Officer. Instead, it meant Chief Everything Officer and I felt like I had stepped into a prison of my own making instead of being on the path to freedom that being an entrepreneur promised.

I knew I needed help but worried that I either couldn’t afford it or that whoever I hired would come along and mess up everything I had worked so hard for.

Because, when you’re a founder, YOU are your agency.

Fast forward almost 7 years later and I’ve sold my agency and helped the acquiring agency nearly double its revenue in 2 years before leaving to start my coaching practice.

Now, I help agency founders transition their agency from being founder-led to being led by a team of senior leaders using the System & Soul Framework so that you don’t have to go through what I just described - or at least not for long.

Let’s take a look at 4 critical steps that can help you escape that overwhelming feeling and stop wearing multiple hats so that you can become a true CEO.

 

Identify what hats you’re wearing 

Much like any great adventure (and I think we can agree that being a founder is an adventure), we need to get the lay of the land to understand where we’re starting in order to create an ideal route to where we want to be.

While it’s easy to say, “I just need people to see things that need to be done and DO them.” The problem with that is that, in your current state, everything that needs to be done is in a jumbled mess inside of your head.

BUT, if you can organize the chaos into clear functions where people know what they're meant to accomplish, what they are chiefly responsible for, and how they - and you - will know if they're winning at what you've asked them to do, then you have something that can be handed off to another person with little to no fear.

That’s why you need an Org Chart!

Now, I know what you’re thinking when you read those words, but this isn’t your grandpappy’s org chart that was mostly used as a reminder of who was at the top and whose thumb you were under.

The kind of Org Chart I’m talking about is designed to create 3 things:

  • Clarity
  • Autonomy
  • Results.

I’m going to show you how to create each of those quickly and easily.

As you design every hat (or seat) within your agency, you’ll then get a clear picture of exactly how many hats you’re currently wearing and be able to make better decisions faster about who to hire next or where there are opportunities to delegate.

Using this method will improve the chances that these hats won’t end up back on your head or that you’ll have to fix everything other people have done because they didn’t do it like you would have.

 

Clarify what winning looks like

Imagine you’re playing in the Superbowl and you reach the end of the game and look up and the scoreboard is blank. You’re exhausted from running so many plays and you’re confident that your team scored more than a few touchdowns and it all leaves you feeling confused and frustrated.

This is what your people feel like when they don’t know what winning looks like in their job.

Every seat in your Org Chart needs to have 3 elements:

  1. A Mission
  2. Core Responsibilities for that Mission
  3. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to know if the Mission is going well

KPIs are where you can create the clarity needed to unleash your team and stop the handholding. With clear numbers that tell you and them if they’re on the right track a whole host of possibilities are now open for consideration.

There are 4 components for a compelling KPI:

  1. A clear name and definition
  2. A target goal to be achieved (usually expressed using =, <, > and the number which can be a whole number, a percentage, or currency)
  3. A frequency that the target is to be repeatedly achieved (weekly, monthly, and quarterly are the most common)
  4. One owner

These KPIs are compiled by team on a Scoreboard and then checked during Weekly Syncs (more on that below) or Quarterly Off-site meetings.

 

Provide guided autonomy

Autonomy was identified by Daniel Pink as one of the 3 key elements for worker satisfaction in his book, “Drive.” However, it can be easy to confuse giving your team autonomy with abdication.

The difference between them is that autonomy empowers your team to work towards and achieve the goals and KPIs you set for them by whatever method they see fit. Whereas abdication is the equivalent of teaching a kid to swim by tossing them into the deep end of the pool and yelling, “let me know if you need anything” as you walk back inside the house.

There’s a specific type of autonomy that is to be given called guided autonomy that comes from the world of psychological safety.

Dr. Timothy R. Clark teaches about this in his book, “The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety” that in Stage 3, Contributor Safety, there is a social exchange that happens in order for team members to make a meaningful contribution that you must offer autonomy with guidance in exchange for results.

That means you can’t just throw the task, project, team, or decision at someone and completely wash your hands of it. It’s an opportunity to teach, train, and coach your people to work, think, and solve problems the way you would if you were there.

How much further along could your agency be if your people had the benefit of your experience and way of thinking?

 

Hold people accountable for results

You’re a visionary, which probably means you’re either annoyed or overjoyed about weekly meetings. Whichever way you fall on that spectrum, it can feel frustrating to have a standing meeting on your calendar that isn’t designed for big brainstorming or designing the newest strategy.

You’re not alone.

What I can tell you is that a standing meeting with your senior leadership team - when done correctly - can create better culture, performance, and momentum that ultimately free you up to focus on the things that ONLY you can do.

These meetings should be:

  • The same day
  • The same time
  • Have an agenda
  • Start on time
  • End on time

In the System & Soul Framework, we call this meeting the Weekly Sync and teach a particular agenda that facilitates connection, accountability, and alignment.

Building the business you envision isn’t complicated but it is difficult. The first step towards significant progress is to start taking off all of the hats except the “visionary CEO” hat.

Following these 4 steps will help you get back to making a big impact and feeling like you own the business instead of it owning you.

 

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