Q With two fellow co-founders, I share responsibility for running things. It worked at first, with just three of us and so much to do. But with new employees taking jobs off our hands, we've started to notice overlap at the top. What’s our approach?
A If you aren't careful, as your business grows, you will find it less fun and less profitable.
At first, you enjoyed the excitement of mucking in together. Being busy gave you the adrenaline that put a real buzz into the business. But as soon as you decided it was too much for the three of you, you started to think like a bigger business and things changed.
By handing out some of your workload to new recruits, there’s a danger the company is being burdened with an overhead you can't afford. Instead of making profits and putting cash in the bank, you will
be running faster to pay the costs of a larger payroll.
You should have split areas of responsibility between the three of you some time ago. Each co-founder should take on the role that plays to their strengths. This will help you to be better organised, but don't start drawing management charts. The insistence on a proper management structure is one of the most expensive and inefficient parts of what many businesses regard as “best practice”.
Some companies have too many executives, because they fill every empty box on their management chart. At Timpson, we find it better to fit jobs around the people, rather than find a person for every job. If we had a published management structure, it would record how our colleagues make things work in practice, rather than following any theoretical model.
It’s time for each of you to specialise in a major part of the organisation – perhaps sales, finance and colleague support. Still work as a team, but if you haven't already, decide who should be your chief executive, keeping an eye on overall performance and future strategy.
Don't grow too big, too quickly – act like a tiny business and keep doing those jobs that you enjoy most and know best. It isn't too late to take back the day-to-day tasks and return to the days when you three founders were in full control. The time to take on new blood is when you really have too much to do, but make sure that any newcomer truly understands your company culture.
Q How do you come up with creative ideas? My media agency has a tricky client brief, but brainstorms aren't getting us anywhere.
A Ideas are at the heart of what you do, but I'm sure you already know that flashes of inspiration come when they’re least expected.
I doubt whether the colleagues behind a desk in your office are constantly dreaming up concepts for creative campaigns. They’re more likely to be working up ideas discovered elsewhere: in the bath, out jogging or while watching a school play.
Instead of bringing everyone together for a brainstorm session, get out and look at the world around you
Cobblers and key cutters are hardly a hotbed of creativity. We don't even have a marketing department, but we still need new ideas. Over the years, I've spent many productive hours with a pen and an A4 pad, hiding at home with time and space to think. However, if (as often happens) nothing comes to mind, I stop staring into space and go to the golf course – or even better, visit some of our shops.
A big bonus of our upside-down style of management is that the freedom we give to frontline colleagues lets them use their initiative, which means that everyone can be a trailblazer.
But don’t rely on a suggestion scheme; the secrets behind our most successful developments – passport photos and mobile phone repairs – only came to light during visits to our shops. Instead of bringing everyone together for a brainstorm session, hiding in a hotel for an away day or forming another focus group, get out and look at the world around you.
Take your mind off the problem and do the weekly shop, watch your child play football, or go for a walk. While you relax, your brain
is still working. With a bit of luck, the perfect idea will suddenly appear like a flash of the obvious.
John Timpson is chairman of the high-street services provider, Timpson. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.