Meddling business owners are the biggest barrier to their own company’s growth, according to some research from Cranfield that crossed my desk this week.  Entrepreneurs, it seems, are finding it difficult to step away from routine, day-to-day tasks and as a result are failing to focus on the future growth of the business.

The statistics are really quite alarming.  The study of more than 1,500 business owners found that as much as 85 per cent of an owner-manager’s working day is typically spent on the basic marketing, selling and financial tasks they have often hired other people to do.  Instead of concentrating on new product development, diversification or strategies to increase market share, they are looking over the shoulders of their team, sticking their fingers in every pie going and obsessing about the day-to-day detail.

Now I suspect a few people out there reading this may be starting to recognise themselves.  So if you are an SME owner-manager who secretly knows you’re spending too much time on the wrong stuff, here are a few suggestions for how you can get out of your own way.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

When a business is in its fledgling stages it’s quite normal for the owner to get embroiled in everything from stuffing envelopes to pitching for new contracts.  But as the company starts to grow, there comes a point where you simply can’t have a hand in everything and you have to trust other people to get on with it.  It’s tempting to think that you are the only person who can do the job properly, but with the exception of a few highly talented creative professionals, that’s rarely the case.  If you recruit the right people – and let them do the job you’ve hired them for – you will find the wheels will keep turning without your detailed input.  Cranfield’s research shows that 60 per cent of senior staff in small firms leave within two years of being taken on.  Make sure you are not demotivating your people by hovering in the background and unnecessarily criticising the way they do things.

Give people the tools to do the job

When the economic climate is uncertain and budgets are tight, it’s tempting to think that investing in the latest equipment or updating your technology is a luxury you can’t afford.  This is, however, a short-sighted view and often leads to people in the business either wasting time on unnecessary tasks or getting frustrated because equipment keeps breaking down or doesn’t work as well as it should.  HR technology is a prime example.  So many businesses are still using time-consuming paper based procedures or complicated spreadsheets to manage core HR activities such as absence management and annual leave.  Technology has advanced enormously, however, and sophisticated software which can reduce admin and streamline processes is now within reach of even the smallest business.  Many of these HR systems are hosted in the Cloud – which means there is no need to invest in expensive hardware or constantly update software.  Some, cost as little as £2 per employee per month.

Develop your people, not just yourself

Many business owners – quite rightly – invest a great deal of time reading the latest business books, updating their knowledge and honing their management skills on (often expensive) external courses.  They come back to the business full of enthusiasm for the latest new idea or approach – only to find it falls flat on its face when they try to implement it because they are the only person in the business who really understands or buys in to it.  Investing in your own development is of course important.  But it’s vital that you invest in the development of your managers too.  If they are fully up-to-speed in their specialist area and have had the chance to develop their own management expertise, they will be better able to support your plans for business growth and you will be much more willing to trust that they are going about their role in the right way.

Focus on the team, not the tasks

One of the biggest challenges facing a growing SME is how to retain the ‘family’ feel and excitement of the heady early days.  But you’ll never get the culture right if you’re spending all your time worrying about where the marketing manager is with the latest email campaign or how many visits the sales people have racked up this month.  Make sure you set a significant proportion of time aside to focus on how you can keep people engaged and at what you need to do encourage innovation and collaboration within your teams.   Some of the latest social technology is great at providing internal platforms which encourage people to work together more effectively – so get technology-savvy and make sure you use some of the tools that are readily available to support your efforts to build a cohesive team.

Exploit the data at your disposal

As a business continues to expand, there’s often a tendency for the owner-manager to make decisions that are based on past perceptions that don’t reflect the current state of play, or start introducing complicated new systems to keep everything on track and under control.  Policies and procedures are of course important – as is gut instinct – but the reality is that the MD often isn’t making proper use of the data they already have at their fingertips.  Focus on exploiting the solutions you have already – rather than investing time creating complicated systems that sap people’s energy and stop them focusing on the real priorities.

Are you a ‘meddler’ or have you been able to shift to a more strategic approach?  Let us know what techniques you’ve found most successful in driving your business forward.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.