Deborah Sweeney’s keys to building healthy employee bonds

Deborah Sweeney, President and CEO, MyCorporation

Deborah Sweeney was just about at her breaking point. She had a group of employees at MyCorporation that she loved, but the tight bonds that she had built with them was making it really tough to be an effective leader for the business.

“I want them to be connected to me, to feel a connection to the business and to me as the owner and I want to be open with them,” says Sweeney, president and CEO at the 40-employee company that provides online document filing services for clients who wish to form corporations or limited liability companies.

“But sometimes that can end up taking every single waking minute of your day. They all have their ideas and their personal initiatives and motivations and goals. It’s balancing that against the focus on the broader strategic goals of the business.”

Unfortunately, Sweeney was not doing a good job balancing these two tasks.

“I felt this drastic pull of, ‘Wait, I have to grow this business and really focus on the larger business initiatives. I just cannot do both.’”

She needed to find a way to stay close to her people and enable them to still feel close to her but, at the time, separate a bit so she could work on bigger picture tasks like strategic development and growth.

“I didn’t want to shock them,” Sweeney says. “I’ve been running it this way for a year. How do I make this message?”

She began by meeting with key leaders to get their buy-in on her idea to step back a bit from day-to-day responsibilities at her company and focus more on growth.

“I empowered them to work directly with their direct reports instead of having to come to me for all the questions,” Sweeney says.

She scheduled an all-hands meeting which she touted as a celebration to let everyone know about the changes she was making.

“I didn’t position it like, ‘I’m exhausted and I can’t handle you guys anymore,’” Sweeney says. “I positioned it like, ‘Hey, I really think we have an opportunity to grow the business. In order to do that, I need to spend time on those things that are growing the business. So I have a couple people who are going to be taking on more leadership roles and are going to be answering your day-to-day questions.’”

She then handed out charts that explained how things would work going forward and moved her office to the back of the building.

“I felt I needed to give the people to whom I was giving the responsibility that kind of center space for them to be more in front of the employees,” Sweeney says.

At the same time, when you decide to step back from the inner workings of your business and focus more on external issues, you need to make it clear that you’re not abandoning your employees.

“You don’t want to be perceived as disengaging from the business,” Sweeney says. “I almost try to overcommunicate with where I’m going and what I’m doing. You build a trust and respect.”

You also make sure you create systems for people to bring up concerns with you since you are still the CEO.

“I have them every week tell me the five things they accomplished this week,” Sweeney says. “They give it to me every Friday and then they tell me their top three initiatives for the following week. I don’t do it with all employees, so I ask them to ask for the same thing from their team members. So we all consistently flow that information upward.”

The result of all this is that Sweeney has found more time to help her business grow without reducing the workplace culture at MyCorporation to a detached and impersonal environment.

“I’ve seen so many CEOs fall into that thing where they can’t let go, and then they lose the respect of their team because they are so busy trying to manage the minor nuances of who sits where and who is hired when and all these little things that they lose the perspective,” Sweeney says. “I think this is my opportunity to get that back into perspective.”

How to reach: MyCorporation, (877) 692-6772 or www.mycorporation.com.

Just do it

Deborah Sweeney had tried many times to get other people in on the hiring process at MyCorporation. And every time, it was met with very little response.

“Every time I used to do interviews, I would offer, ‘OK, who would like to be involved in the interview process? I want to engage the team,’” Sweeney says. “One or two people, always the same people, would volunteer.”

Sweeney decided that needed to change. This time, they weren’t being asked to help. They were being asked to do it.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to do the interviews this time. I want your team to make the decision to hire this person. If they end up being not that great, you’ll have to deal with the consequences,” Sweeney says. “They did more reviewing of resumes than I’ve ever seen. They had more people on the team interview the people, more engagement once we decided to hire this person and then of course a welcome party and all of this other stuff. They set up it so much better than if I or one of the leaders had made a unilateral decision.”

The key was the empowerment of not being asked to help, but being asked to take on the responsibility themselves.

“They really took ownership,” Sweeney says.

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