Taking your business to the next step can be a challenge, especially if you aren’t physically there to be implementing the changes. However, taking a step back and taking time off could actually be the key to improving the efficiency of your business and taking your agency to the next level, according to Joshua Bush, CEO of Avenue Two Travel.
During a presentation at Luxury Travel Advisor’s ULTRA Summit last week at the Eau Palm Beach in Manalapan, FL, Bush told attendees of how he helped transform his agency from Park Avenue Travel to Avenue Two Travel, for much of which, he was physically absent from due to a knee surgery. Bush told the advisors in attendance that his team was a bit lost without him, which made him realize three things: He needed a business that can run if he’s absent; that his business would run better when he’s present; and that it would run best if he were to leave it. “I needed a way to let go to grow,” he said.
Bush, accepting that he would be forced to stay home to recover from his injury, sought to find a way to improve his business without being there to assist his team. He joined a program called Strategic Coach at the (persistent) recommendation of Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch, and, from this, he came away with four key learnings:
“From school age, we're always taught if you're not good at something, you work harder, practice more, focus,” Bush says. “Well I'm here to tell you that doesn't necessarily always work.”
Bush explains that the concept of Unique Ability helped him transform the efficiency of his business. Instead of working on your weaknesses (creating really strong weaknesses, he says), he found it more useful to focus on the things you do best—perhaps better than anyone else. One activity he found helpful was to create four rings (in a target-design): In the outer ring (Incompetent), list all the tasks you complete in daily life that you do but know you shouldn’t be doing; in the ring smaller (Competent), list all the tasks that you might receive a “C” in, if it were a school grade; in the second-smallest ring (Excellent), list all the things that people seek you out for but might not necessarily enjoy to the fullest; and in the innermost circle (Unique Ability), list everything that you do well that you find completely effortless—"the things that you just love to do, that you get energized when you're doing them and you have no idea that you're really excelling at because it's just so simple.”
Advisors—and people in general—may take a lot of pride in the “rugged individual” lifestyle, finding solutions to all of your problems on your own. But that's the same "school age" mindset, which doesn’t always work, Bush says. Find your Unique Abilities, find others with complementing Unique Abilities and build a team that works best as a cohesive unit. To do this, you need to make an investment—in time, in responsibility and even in money.
In addition to changing your mindset as to how you run your business, Bush offers some personal mindset advice: take time to recover. Like after gym workout, where you need to rest your muscles, he says, you need to rest your brain after working all the long hours you put in. He suggests taking a rest day, which can be difficult in the 24/7-connected world, but says the rewards are worth it.
2. Build Your Team
Build from within first, Bush says. He used the Kolbe index, which measures people’s conative ability, or the way a person likes to work. Bush had all of his employees take the test and, now, he has all new hires take it. He suggests using your top performers—whether they are in sales, accounting, marketing, etc.— as a benchmark to compare others to. He also found a book titled StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Gallup helpful. It comes with a code for an online assessment test, which helps you identify your strengths. These tests, coupled with the Unique Abilities exercise above will help you properly delegate responsibilities and daily tasks. (Bush says not to worry if your employees have overlapping skills, as it’s still a business and that not everyone can be 100 percent satisfied with their duties.)
“Great people want to work for great leaders,” Bush says. You can become a great leader by: communicating your vision regularly; upgrading your personal performance and productivity for greater company leverage; constantly seeking new and better opportunities; empowering your team to take action and make decisions; and by respecting, valuing and appreciating your team’s talents and contributions.
Once you’ve found the strengths of your employees and you put them in place to be happy, give them the power to thrive. Empowering your employees is the key to building a self-managing team because once they’re working and "humming,” Bush says that then enables you to spend more time on the big vision—not the little things.
To help empower your employees, facilitate conversation. Make sure they know everyone’s roles within the company and that they will hold each other accountable. Additionally, they should be able to share tasks (which, Bush says, brings us back to the Unique Abilities). Positions can have vague boundaries, and that's OK, as long as your team can easily find the right person to work with to accomplish the task.
Sometimes, empowering employees is as simple as a job title, Bush says. He changed the job title of one of his bookkeepers to Accounting Manager; soon after, she took on additional tasks, was staying late and working weekends. “It's amazing how much that little bit of empowerment can go in making somebody feel again appreciated and valued and moving forward.”
Bush offers four pieces of advice for negotiating empowering your employees: make sure there is a clear vision of what you want any certain project to be and that you communicate it clearly; create an environment where people are allowed to make mistakes, where they can learn and, hopefully, not make that same mistake a second time; follow through with new projects to ensure they don’t lose momentum and take a backseat to the employee’s previous day-to-day job responsibilities; and you need to discipline employees who come back to you and ask questions about a project—“You say, ‘No, no, no. This is your project. You have the freedom to fail but also have the freedom to succeed,’” Bush says. Without adhering to these rules, employees will never truly become empowered. But once they are, then you will have a self-managing company.
4. Let Go
After implementing these practices in his company, Bush really began to let go. “If you have these foundations and you understand some of these principles, the ‘letting go’ piece starts to become much, much easier,” Bush says.
Another tip he offers is to hire a personal assistant. His—a virtual assistant—manages his calendar, email and “basically all the things that were non-Unique Abilities.” She only works about 20 hours a month, but it frees him up for about 40 to 50, Bush says, since these were tasks all fell in his Incompetent ring.
Bush has also created a leadership team (currently eight employees). In addition to running their own “realms” and communicating with each other, they’ve begun spearheading their own projects. This has allowed Bush to take on new product and new developments—big-vision projects. He tells the audience that, so far in 2018, he has traveled for over 60 percent of the year—“and my company is stronger because of it.”
From 2006 to 2014, Avenue Two Travel (then Park Avenue Travel) grew about three to four times “but from a very small multiple,” and in the three-plus years since, Bush’s company has already quadrupled.
“In order to succeed in an entrepreneurial organization, it's about creating value” he says. His employee checklist might go: “Every day when you come to work, are you creating value? Are you not just here to collect a paycheck, but actually producing something? And when you leave at the end of the day, can you quantify what that is?” By finding what your employees are best at (or what you're worst at), you can properly delegate responsibilities to get the best value from your team.
And to the advisors who are stuck selling, managing the books or wasting their time fixing the printer, Bush says: “If you can apply some of these concepts, where you're able to get your mindset right, you're able to start to build your team, you able to empower them, then you'll then have the ability to go ahead and let go.”