Whats better than being the boss is being the customer

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. And one thing struck me: no-one in the group actually enjoyed being the boss (me included). And by that I don’t mean that they don’t value the independence. We all do. But we all see managing people as a necessary evil, a means to an end not the end itself.

And when i thought about it it actually makes sense. Entrepreneurs (or at least the true breed of entrepreneurs) 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 just 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, too firey and passionate, and 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 testimony to this. People like Steve Jobs who probably violated every rule in the manager’s  rule book, like being brutally honest and harsh with people in order to get a better result. Telling people that their work is ‘crap’ when it doesn’t meet their high standards. And 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. And take on anyone who gets in his way!

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

The mind-shift im 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.

And so what this does is it eliminates 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. Does the customer care ? No.  The customer shows no empathy – they are paying and they want service. As they should. And therefore so should you as the boss.

Equally, it eliminates bureaucracy and unnecessary tact. As a boss you sometimes have the urge to just brutally destroy someone because they are just not delivering or delivering sub standard stuff thats 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 ass about those things.

Put simply: if we (or any company) lets our customers down, they don’t call me or email me and say “hey, xenios, you know, have we thought of this, or that, or doing it this way, or that way… you know that could be better- something to think about…” and all that walking on eggshells crap with HR sitting in the corner taking notes just to be compliant. No. They call me and say “this is crap get it out of my face.”  Or worse they go on Twitter or social media and trash us. As they should. Customer should be demanding, otherwise we live in a world where mediocracy is accepted.

So my thesis is simple. If that’s what my customer tells me, i’m not paying anyone any justice to sugarcoat it. Why should I ? We exist  to serve the customer, right? So it’s my duty as CEO to deliver it raw and untouched and just as tactless. Otherwise we shelter people from the reality of those who we exist to serve – the customer!  And that’s not good for anyone, least of all the customer and the people you shelter.

So if you hate managing people here’s the 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 im not just notionally the customer but i am literally one.

I still consider them my team and they still have stock options in the company. But equally i encourage them to have other customers aside of PeoplePerHour, go out and get ideas, see how other companies work and bring them back to us. Progress and grow and get to taste what it means to serve a customer. I think its a shame that in most companies from large to small, in whatever industry, the majority of people end up building things for customers they never end up interacting with. Ever!  So being on the front line gives you a taste of the real deal, what it is you do, whom for and why it matters. It’s not just because your boss told you so.

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’.

Job security. What in the world is that? Entrepreneurs are the ones who create employment, push the frontier of innovation and technology, and create new opportunity. Who ensures their job security? If i screw up as an entrepreneur, if i let my customers down, can i go to them and ask them for a second chance? Can i beg or forgiveness? No. So why should those that i ‘employ’ have that comfort ? And thats why if the whole world operated that way, it would be a much more customer-centric world. And one that delivers better results.

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 !

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