THE BLOG

What's Better Than Being the Boss? Being the Customer

26/06/2014 12:56 BST | Updated 25/08/2014 10:59 BST

I was recently at a gathering of entrepreneurs and we talked about our challenges, what we like and what we don't like about what we do. One thing struck me: no-one in the group actually enjoyed being the boss myself included. By that I don't mean that they don't value their independence, we all do, but we all see managing people as a necessary evil, a means to an end not the end itself.

When I thought about it, it actually made sense. Entrepreneurs, or at least the true breed of entrepreneurs, these are not people who rise up the ranks and become CEOs. They are mavericks, the round pegs in the square holes, people who don't abide by social norms or fit in large groups be it social groups or corporations. What drives them is an itch to innovate, to create products that serve customers in ways that are either totally novel or simply better than what's out there already.

I've not heard one entrepreneur tell me that they started a business because their dream was to be a manager. In fact most exceptional entrepreneurs are terrible managers. They are visionaries who see what others don't, they are go-getters who take risks and go out to build what they see. But, they are not managers. They are too impatient, temperamental, intense and passionate. All have high standards, too high for most people to meet, at least consistently. Managing is something that comes with the ride and has to be thrown into the mix.

Some of the best entrepreneurs of our century are testament to this. People like Steve Jobs who probably violated every rule in a manager's rulebook, by being brutally honest and harsh with people in order to get a better result. Telling people that their work is 'worthless' when it doesn't meet their high standards. People like Richard Branson who virtually hasn't managed any of the businesses he created. He creates a new business, brings in people to run it and then moves on to what he does best: dream up his next big thing, taking on anyone who gets in his way!

The good news is that in today's world you CAN in fact rid yourself of that necessary evil if you just mind-shift. It's a mind shift I've gone through and implemented ruthlessly, yielding great results in my company PeoplePerHour - both financially, but also equally importantly - culturally.

The mind-shift I'm speaking of is in fact to stop thinking of yourself as the boss. Think of yourself as the customer. And then get your team to think that way too. It's refreshing and actually surprisingly simple. And creates a very customer-centric culture.

The basic thesis behind this is as follows. If I behave and act as the customer, not ANY customer but SPECIFICALLY the customer we serve as a business, and if my team treats me as one, then we serve the customer better. Dead simple.

What this does is eliminate the things that a 'boss' should normally care about. Like all the reasons why things don't go according to plan. Why things don't happen. Equally, it eliminates bureaucracy and unnecessary tact. As a boss you sometimes have the urge to just brutally destroy someone because they are not delivering or delivering sub standard stuff that's killing your business, for the Nth time. Now, in this HR-ridden bureaucratic world we live in there are things a boss shouldn't say or do. But frankly, a customer won't give a rat's about those things.

So if you hate managing people here's the simple formula: don't! In my company everyone apart from a core of 5 people, of which two are myself and my assistant, are freelancers or contractors. After all that's what we sell, so we eat our own cooking. And that makes it a hell of a lot easier. Because I'm not just notionally the customer, I am literally one.

Most companies unfortunately operate in a very top down bureaucratic way. The vast majority of employees never actually get any visibility on who makes the decisions and why. Turning that on its head so that everyone is an independent service provider, servicing a customer that they need to retain and please, who will give them brutally honest feedback as a customer and won't sugarcoat it, who is key to giving them their next customer via referral etc.. is very refreshing and liberating. It reminds people of the importance of being accountable to the customer, being proactive, and not taking comfort in this so outdated and potent notion of 'job security'.

So to all those entrepreneurs who are frustrated with the 'managing' part of their job , who hate managing people and are just eager to go out and disrupt, to find and please customers, retain them and build more for them, serve their needs today and invent the products that will serve their needs tomorrow: just mind shift. Don't procrastinate. Just do it. Today!

Stop being the boss. It sucks. Be the customer. It rocks !