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How to Level Up as a Shop Leader and Work On, Not In, Your Business

How to Level Up as a Shop Leader and Work On, Not In, Your Business

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck working in your business instead of on your business?

Small shop owners are responsible for focusing on their organizations’ overall health and growth, but that’s hard for us to do when we’re in the weeds, involved in everything from job setup and project management to purchasing and customer outreach.

I know how it goes—as the owner of a 20-person job shop, I spent years working on tasks I could have delegated to team members. I was frustrated that I didn’t have time to think more broadly about the company and prioritize growth and success, but I also didn’t know how to change my situation.

Then, I had the opportunity to partner with a consultant on strategic planning for Peerless Precision, and I learned how to work on—not in—my business. You can, too.

3 Tips to Hand Over the Reins in Your Shop

Working with an outside consultant, I learned three leadership skills that empower me as a business owner and help my company succeed.

1. Master your mindset

Concepts like “mindset” can seem taboo in the manufacturing industry, but if you want to level up your leadership skills and grow your business, you need to align your mind with your goals.

You know the adage, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” Many small shop owners live by this mantra, and I used to, too. I’m a “doer” by nature, and I’ve always found delegation challenging. I believed it was easier for me to do the job myself than train someone else to do it effectively.

But I realized that my “doing” kept my team stagnant; I was “too busy” with everyday details, and I couldn’t focus on the bigger picture to take more strategic actions. If I wanted to move my company forward, I would need to rely on my team to handle the daily tasks.

Working on my mindset and acknowledging that it’s vital to delegate responsibilities is a constant practice. It’s all too easy to slip back into old habits of doing everything myself, but today I have the tools to delegate to my team instead of adding more to my plate.

2. Perfect your processes

To delegate tasks effectively without micromanaging your team, you must figure out the best way to transfer the tribal knowledge in your head.

I created processes and step-by-step instructions for my employees before handing anything off. Not only does that give my team extremely clear directions that empower them to take action, it also gives me the confidence that they’ll get the job done right.

By providing detailed instructions and establishing clear expectations, I can ensure our organization operates successfully, no matter who is responsible for a specific task.

I happen to love creating processes, but I recognize that not everyone feels the same way. If you struggle with this kind of documentation, enlist a team member who is good at processes to help you.

3. Train your team for success

Delegation only works if you take the time to train your team. Having documentation isn’t the same as implementing the techniques. You might find that what seemed clear to you when you wrote your instructions is now confusing to your team when they try to execute the process on their own.

Remember that learning is a two-way street. You have a teaching and training style, and each of your employees has a learning style. To make training sessions successful, ask your employees how they learn best. Do they need audio or written notes? Would they like to watch you do the task first?

Give team members the opportunity to ask questions so they feel supported and confident as they take the reins. When you make an effort to train your employees on their terms, it will set them (and you) up for success.

Working on My Business: Spending Time on Strategies for Future Success

By changing my mindset, establishing processes, and training my team, I now have the time and energy to work on—and not in—my business.

In 2017, I started working from home on Fridays to ensure I have the quiet space to prioritize bigger-picture shop initiatives. While remote work is almost unheard of for shop owners, keeping my Fridays focused on business development and strategic planning is beneficial to our organization and to me as a leader.

I’m able to assess our systems and strategies and think about the future of our company. Are we serving our customers well? Can we stretch and grow to meet our customers’ evolving demands? How can we apply what we’re good at to new industries and opportunities? Do we need to diversify?

For our business to succeed, I must be aware of outside factors such as market trends and developments in the industries we serve. I now have time to notice what’s happening, research how we can rise to meet current and future needs, and plan for success.

I also have dedicated time for community outreach. I can build relationships with potential customers and seek partnerships with other shops through trade shows and industry events.

Does my shift in focus mean I don’t jump in and help out my team when needed? Of course not! We’re still a small, 20-person job shop, and I’ll happily fill in to cover for a sick team member, manage a challenging customer relationship, or light a fire under a vendor.

I don’t believe in an “all or nothing” approach. Instead, I follow the 80/20 Rule: if I can delegate key tasks away at least 80% of the time, that’s good enough. I know that we’re in good shape when I achieve that balance.

If you’re doing too much and not delegating enough, take a moment to think about why you chose to run a shop in the first place. Do you want to spend your time running a machine on the shop floor? Or do you want to rely on capable people who can make the parts, manage customer relationships, and oversee each project, allowing you time to build your team even more and focus on long-term success?

Through effective delegation and a focus on top-level business priorities, you can level up your leadership skills and grow your company. The choice is yours to make.

Learn how Paperless Parts can give you time back so you can work on, not in, your business.

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This article was written by Kristin Carlson


Kristin Carlson is the President of Peerless Precision, a 20-person job shop that specializes in the manufacture of precision machined parts for the aerospace, defense, and medical devices industries.