Skip to Main Content
Ninety logoNinety Presents

Grow or Die #3: The Art of Letting Go

As a founder, you know business growth is essential for thriving in the modern marketplace. After all, if your business isn't growing, it's dying. But growth doesn't happen by accident — it requires a deliberate effort to combat massive amounts of entropy (as I like to say, I see entropy everywhere) and create both a Vision and a complimentary structure that enables your organization to scale wisely. One of the most critical skills you need to master to achieve this growth and keep your business moving forward is delegation.

In this third installment of our ongoing Grow or Die series, we'll explore the art of delegation — a crucial aspect that is dependent upon your mastery of planning and organizational structure (the Goals and Structure Competencies). These Core Competencies are often underappreciated in the flurry of company-building activities. Yet, delegation is vital to maintaining a company’s growth and preventing stagnation.

[Read Grow or Die #1: The Physics of Business]

[Read Grow or Die #2: Why Structure Comes First]

Why Delegate?

As your organization grows, if you want to build a Stage Five company or beyond, you need to consider your company's future in terms of a decade (or longer) rather than months or quarters. This entails developing at least a 10-year Vision that makes it possible for everyone to be aligned around the same goals. Mastering and excelling at structure is vital for building a Stage Five company and maintaining organizational sanity as you and your colleagues build a company that confidently scales.

The image of a founder working 80+ hour weeks for years on end is all too real, but it’s hardly a recipe for long-term success or building a company you’ll love. For the sake of your Ideal Stakeholders, you can’t be all things to all people. If you don't learn to delegate, your company will eventually hit a ceiling, unable to grow beyond your individual capacity. This is where the "grow or die" principle comes into play — without delegation, your company's growth will stagnate, and it will ultimately fail. Unless you delegate, your company will never move forward from being just about (and dependent upon) you. Instead, it will eat away at your soul and become a thing you no longer love. At Ninety, my colleagues and I deeply don’t want that for you or any one of your Ideal Stakeholders.

To build a thriving company, a company you can pass on to the next generation, you must learn to focus on your passions as well as doing what you’re best at doing (hopefully, these are similar). By delegating the rest, you free yourself up to focus on the longer-term objectives that drive your company's growth and success far into the future.

Delegating isn't just about freeing up your time to focus on the big picture. It’s also about empowering your team and fostering a strong, cohesive, agreements-based culture. When you delegate accountabilities to your team members, you trust in their competency, commitment, and capacity (what we call CCC) and give them opportunities to grow and take on new challenges. They will either demonstrate they've “got it,” or you need to go find leaders who do.

Only by surrounding yourself with people who can and do “got this” can you deliver on your accountabilities, one of which is to ensure every one of your direct reports is the right person in the right seat. Only by mastering delegation, by being able to let go, will your company have the ability to confidently scale. Only by creating a more engaged and motivated workforce, where people feel they’re doing work that matters, will you be able to find yourself running at least a Stage Five organization. Otherwise, all you’re going to be doing is fighting entropy, a soul-crushing battle you will eventually lose. I share this with utter confidence.

Stages, Strata, and Time Span of Responsibility

If you’re an ambitious founder, you’ve embarked on a journey to turn a damn good Vision into reality. In the beginning, you identified your Industry and Niche, created a great product fit, developed a strong Unique Value Proposition (UVP), crafted a Compelling Why, and steadily gained Ideal Customers. But what comes next? Regardless of which Stage you’re in, entropy is everywhere. It’s already creeping in, and things can easily go downhill if you're not structured, organized, and intentional about what it takes for your company to keep sufficiently contributing to helping your Ideal Stakeholders achieve their dreams.A pyramid with numerals 1 to 5 from bottom to top on each layer is titles Stages of Development.

At Ninety, we use our Stages of Development framework to help companies work toward becoming great, enduring organizations. Each of the first five Stages, from Survive to Steward, presents unique challenges and opportunities. In the early Stages, you wear many hats as an ambitious founder, from product development to marketing to customer service. If you’re going to be successful and keep your business growing, you must learn to delegate accountabilities to others and allow yourself to work on higher-order activities that focus on the growth and long-term well-being of the company.

In your organizational structure, each company layer (what we call Strata) should represent a distinct degree of work complexity and decision-making authority corresponding to the Strata’s time span of responsibility (TSR). Here's a breakdown of these Strata:

  1. Stratum 1: Team members at this Strata are responsible for tasks and objectives lasting up to three months. These tasks are typically well-defined and require minimal decision-making authority.
  2. Stratum 2: Supervisors at this Strata handle responsibilities that can take anywhere from 90 days (like a Rock) up to one year. They are often accountable for overseeing the work of Stratum 1 team members and ensuring projects are appropriately completed in terms of quality and timeliness.
  3. Stratum 3: Core Functions leaders at this Stratum are accountable for initiatives that span 1–2 years. They focus on medium-term strategic planning for their Core Function, leading multiple teams, coordinating resources, and ensuring things are running predictably and consistently within their domain of expertise. A table has two vertical columns. The left is titles Stratum and the right is titled TSR.
  4. Stratum 4: Leaders at this Stratum include Stage Four CEOs, Chief Operating Officers, and C-Suite members and have a TSR of 2–5 years. Their focus is on long-term strategic planning, organizational health, cross-functional alignment, resource allocation, and policy development and adherence.
  5. Stratum 5: CEOs of Stage Five companies have expanded their scope of responsibilities to the 5- to 10-year horizon. Founders and CEOs who reach Stratum 5 are able to devote their considerable resources and energy toward long-term strategic planning for the organization, fostering a healthy culture, organizational transformation, and big-picture ideas and initiatives (some of which may not turn into a product/service for years).

Let Go to Enable Growth

As your organization evolves, you and every member of your SLT must master the art of delegation. This involves understanding the 20/80 rule, which states that roughly 80% of effects result from 20% of causes. In the context of delegation, you should focus on doing the level of work that’s appropriate for your current Stage of Development. And, unless you want to burn out and start to resent your company, you need to delegate the remainder to the rest of the team.

As you navigate the Strata and delegate responsibilities, ensure you have the right team members in the right seats to take on the accountabilities and objectives you no longer own.

One framework we’ve found to be very useful for delegating responsibilities is the 90/80/70/60/50 principle. This model recognizes that as individuals ascend the organizational Strata, they naturally begin to engage in tasks they excel at and enjoy (they consistently find themselves working in flow). By delegating more and more responsibilities to your SLT as you progress through the Stages, you’ll eventually allocate 90% of your time to activities you love doing, that you are great at doing, and that are significantly and appropriately impactful for your Stage of Development (as well as aligned with your level of ambition).

As you bring your SLT along on this journey, the same gradient works for them, promoting both personal and professional growth in a virtuous cycle of upward mobility. Trust and a willingness to let go of control are crucial for empowering team members and fostering the right level of autonomy and leadership across and up and down your organization, which is essential for not just overcoming the many entropic forces attacking your organization but also keeping your business moving forward.

Encouraging your SLT to embrace upward mobility and delegate accountabilities to the lower Strata of the organization is necessary for building a company you’ll love forever. This approach creates a workplace that attracts and retains great talent and ensures the workplace doesn't suck for any of your team members, including you.

The Best Cure for Entropy: Get Out of Your Own Way

Failing to master the art and science of delegation will hinder your company's growth, allowing entropy to creep in and stifle progress. Without a time-tested framework for knowing when and how to hand off lower-order responsibilities, you'll find yourself stuck in the weeds, unable to focus on longer-term goals or adapt to change. Consequently, your best talent may leave for better opportunities. This is entropy in action — a once thriving company slowly descending into chaos and stagnation.

By effectively delegating accountabilities, you create a cycle of growth and development. As you provide your leaders with more accountability, they too must learn the art of delegation, fostering a culture of growth and development at all levels. This frees you and your SLT to focus on the level of work only you can and should be doing. You own the bigger picture: turning the company’s Vision of its future state into reality. You own creating an environment that attracts and retains top talent. You own creating a company that builds high-trust relationships with all its Ideal Stakeholders.

You choose to own all this not because it’s easy (it’s not) but because you're an ambitious founder — someone who loves the game you’ve chosen to play, someone who wants to be great at doing the work you’ve chosen to do, someone who welcomes all the challenges associated with creating, building, leading, and scaling an idea into a business and that business into at least a Stage Five company.

In my four decades of experience as a coach, investor, and founder, I can’t begin to tell you how many business failures I’ve seen firsthand simply because the founder was joined at the hip with every part of the company. It’s a lose-lose situation in every way. The founder becomes overwhelmed and burned out while the company screeches to a halt, unable to grow beyond the founder's individual capacity. This is the ultimate manifestation of entropy — a once-promising company collapsing under the weight of its disorder.

How can you avoid this? Get out of your own way. By effectively delegating responsibilities, you create space for your company to grow and thrive while freeing yourself to focus on the high-level tasks that drive your company forward. It's a win-win situation that enables you to build a Stage Five company you can love forever.

Build a Company You'll Love Forever

Delegation is essential to building a company that can withstand the pull of entropy, overcome stagnation, and achieve long-term success. As your company grows, you must invest in anti-entropic activities that promote growth and counteract the natural tendency toward disorder. These include:

  • Investing in your products, customer service, and market expansion
  • Upgrading your ability to serve your Ideal Customers
  • Assessing and upgrading processes every 3–6 months
  • Adding more people and making sure they have the CCC for their roles

To successfully delegate roles, accountabilities, and responsibilities (RARs):

  • Invest in your leaders' growth and development.
  • Create a high-trust, agreements-based culture.
  • Hire and place the right people in the right seats.
  • Embrace anti-entropic activities that combat disorder and stagnation.

These elements make your company more efficient, innovative, and resilient, allowing you to confidently scale faster and more sustainably. You’ll build a workplace people love, attract and retain top talent, inspire loyalty and creativity, and create a lasting legacy.

Create a Legacy

Ask yourself where you see yourself (and your company) in the future. Will you be entrenched in your company, or will you be leading a successful Stage Five company that grows and thrives long after you're gone, a company you'll love forever?

Remember, in business, you either grow or die. By mastering the art of delegation and investing in anti-entropic activities, your company will continue to grow and thrive, even as you step back from day-to-day, month-to-month, and even quarter-to-quarter operations. This really is the first big goal of any ambitious founder: to build a company that stands the test of time, that eventually isn’t dependent on you, and that makes a lasting impact.

Embrace the power of delegation and stand back more and more. Your company’s future and your legacy depend on it.

Are you ready to take the next step in your company-building journey? Subscribe to my Founder's Framework newsletter to join the conversation.