I’ll only be able to share 2014’s singular business moment in detail some years from now, when we celebrate another major company milestone. However, I can say at this crucial meeting, I let go the reigns of control over the business, almost allowing it to float free in the hands of the organization’s employees and contractors.
At one level, this letting go set me free. At another, it required me to give up the precious perks of business ownership and sole shareholding power (which I, for now, retain). Most noticeably, I needed to open the company books for the highest level of scrutiny you could imagine, and there, little details about business-related personal perks emerged, perhaps the most obvious (and in many ways rational) being the daily delivery of two newspapers to the address which is both the place of business for one of our companies, and my home.
Sure, the $75.00 or so monthly cost would make little difference in the big picture and the expenses certainly would pass any tax audit smell test: After all, we are a news publishing business. But — employees and contractors told me — do I absolutely need these newspapers to run the business? I could not definitively answer “yes” — and so put a vacation stop on them, with the understanding that either I will cancel the subscriptions or pay for them out of personal funds, perhaps charging the payments against an existing shareholder loan (as, again, they are in the tax planning sense, certainly proper expenses.)
This expense management effort has taken us through all of my sacred cows and personal requirements, and even required me to stretch what I thought were core values about business management and control. But this is, I realized, true open book management — and if the model/objective is to ultimately turn the enterprise into an employee-controlled organization, then I need to accept the changes and go with the flow.
I cannot say how the story will end, yet. We still need to figure out the time frame, cost, and structure for the employee ownership transfer. But my bet is that the business will increase in value as employees and contractors work to maximize its potential (and their own return). The result: As I release below-market shareholdings to the employees, my residual shareholding will increase in value, resulting in an overall gain for everyone. (There is a possibility that the employees will build the business to a third-party buy out stage — but this will also be rewarding for everyone, of course.)
“Letting go” — that sense of free-fall freedom — doesn’t happen very often in life, I realize. I expect some spiritualists and meditators have discovered how to manage/control and live in the present, and enjoy their natural selves. And clearly undisciplined chaos could bring any business (or life) down to a screeching thud. However, the point when you can be open, share, and trust, and cede control, can also be the point when you achieve freedom, even if you need to give up some treasured perks.