Posted on 2019-10-18
For many people, hoarding is human nature. I should know: My company 1-800-GOT-JUNK?—found fame when it was profiled on a television show about helping people who are buried in their own junk. Hoarding “stuff” can be unhealthy for people, and it can be even worse for entrepreneurs. Leaders in business can’t afford to hold on to past failures or refuse to let go of decision-making. It’s imperative that we learn from our mistakes, give others a chance to shine and let go to level up. Here’s how you can learn to shrug off the “stuff” that doesn’t matter.
Anyone who owns a business knows that some decisions are harder than others. One of the first difficult ones I had to make was in 1994. I realized my 11 employees just didn’t understand my vision. They could haul junk, sure, but they didn’t get why customer service was important to our brand. My long-term goal was to turn 1-800-GOT-JUNK? into the FedEx of junk removal. To make that happen, I had to clean house. I fired everyone in one day. Sure, recruiting a new team was a stressful process, and yeah, there were times when I questioned if I had done the right thing. Looking back, though, if I hadn’t made that tough choice, I would still just have a local junk-removal business. To keep moving forward, I had to focus on the future. Today, we have hundreds of employees and are approaching a quarter of a billion dollars in revenue.
You may have a ton of skills and good ideas; after all, you wouldn’t be an entrepreneur without them. But sometimes you have to delegate authority to let others shine in the role you hired them for. I used to go through every line of our budget, every year, with a fine-tooth comb. As Jack Daly would say, I was working in my business, not on it. It was taking up a lot of my time, and I wasn’t even good at it. When I gave it over to our COO, the process was faster and more accurate, and I went back to things a CEO should focus on, like innovating and envisioning long-term goals. The lesson here is to focus on your unique abilities and let the rest go. Given a chance, your people and company will thrive.
During massive clean-outs, there are always items in the “keep” pile— valuables, antiques, mementos … a neon beer light you can’t bear to part with. In business, there are always important things you should never throw away. For example, we’re not willing to let go of our core values and workplace culture. Companies that let their central mission go pay for it later. When the recession hit, Goldman Sachs abandoned its mission to help clients and focused instead on maximizing their own returns. It hurt their brand (and contributed to a marketplace meltdown). In contrast to its culture of innovation, Blackberry became complacent and stuck to a keyboard design while the rest of the world turned to touchscreens, causing the brand to enter a downward spiral.
As an entrepreneur, you have to decide what’s essential to your company. I remember when we were growing quickly and needed a new executive to manage and drive that growth. That meant welcoming new ideas— but not necessarily all new ideas. Getting rid of our seven-minute daily huddle because it was “corny”? Nope! Private offices for the leadership team? Never going to happen— a transparent, open office is part of our core culture.
Learning to let go in business isn’t easy. Your business is your baby. You brought it to life and nurtured it. But some entrepreneurs are just as obsessive about their company as hoarders are with their junk. In the end, growing requires giving up control and getting rid of the baggage.