Take time off

IF you’ve been in business at least seven years, you’ve got it bad. Fourteen years, you’ve got it twice as bad. Twenty-one years? It’s like needing a triple by-pass. What is it? The seven-year itch, which can lead to burnout or boredom. The cure? A month or two away from the business. Seriously! “I felt completely disconnected for the first time in 16 years,” recounts Dan Lionelli, founder and CEO of PadTech. “Magically, two weeks into my month-long vacation, my head really cleared up; a clarity about the business and what it needs to look like literally popped into my head – what’s important and not important – boom, there it was. “It was like I had been gathering all this information over the years and the break gave ‘it’ time to sift itself through to give me clarity.” Now is the time to start planning your escape in 2007. The business will be fine (likely better) and you’ll get a badly needed recharge to successfully lead the business another seven years. More importantly, you’ll experience profound insights about your business and yourself that only come when you get away for an extended period of time. Some time ago, Lionelli was emotionally and physically drained from a rough two-year slump in his electronics business, so I challenged him to take a couple months off from his 16-year-old company based in British Columbia. A 25-employee manufacturer of mainly membrane switches (think of the keypad on your microwave oven) and other electronic subassemblies, PadTech was emerging from its slump and (in the spirit of disclosure) its executive team had just participated in my Rockefeller Habits workshop. “The company survived,” exclaimed Lionelli, when I called him shortly after his return from a month in Italy, which followed another three weeks off earlier in the summer. “Revenues were pretty much right where I expected them to be and the strong people rose to the top – and cash flow was even better than expected!” Breakthroughs As for the promised ah-has: “I had taken two week vacations before, but I now know two weeks isn’t enough,” Lionelli said. “That second week you’re bouncing a little bit knowing you’re getting back.” However, with a month of continuous time off, after the first week he felt like he had this “big black hole” still in front of him,which allowed him to clear his mind. Equally important for Lionelli, he learned that if the business can function when he’s not there, then it gives him more freedom to work on where the business can go in the future. His sabbatical also proved others can do a better job day to day than he can. Preparation He believes his insights (and the company) were helped from the three months he spent intensely preparing for his time off. Lionelli and his team had to identify a lot of things that had to get done and they got done given the deadline of the sabbatical. Actual preparations started some months before his departure, with Lionelli announcing at a regular weekly meeting that “I’m going to Italy for a month and this is when I’m leaving.” There were no negative responses and in fact, his employees actually told him he deserved it. “What I didn’t do was officially put someone in charge, right or wrong – but the operations manager stepped up,” said Lionelli, who also scheduled three shorter vacations in July to test the process, alternating between a week gone and a week in the office. As expected, the team did have a crisis about a week before Lionelli left for his month off. However, he just sat everyone down and put a plan in place. He credits the success of his team to having a good routine. “Daily huddles sustained them,” Lionelli said. “Everyone knew who was challenged or needed assistance and the team could react. It created real alignment and made a big difference.” In the end, when he returned there were only five phone messages, no stacks of paper, and no line-up at the door after being gone a month. However, the general consensus was it was good to have a leader back. The cheerleading side was missing. Future “My wife [Leanne] and children [14, 12, and 9] were very happy,” Lionelli said. “It was good that my children got to see another culture – another way of life – another way of thinking – they got to see the places they have been studying.” Lionelli’s now looking at planning a month each year along with weeks and long weekends. Copyright © 2006 Verne Harnish. All Rights Reserved. •Verne Harnish was named one of the Top 10 Minds in Small Business by Fortune Small Business. In a one-day seminar on Friday March 2 2007, Verne Harnish will provide those attending the WA Business News seminar practical tools fast-growing companies can use to create focus, alignment, better communication and a winning strategy.

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