Are You a Bottlenecker?

by Josh Fonger

Bottlenecking, or preventing a company from growing into the success it could be, is a common pitfall among business owners. When coaching a recent client I asked, “What three roadblocks will I encounter when implementing documented systems into your business?” the three answers I got back were humbly honest and signified a turning point for his business: “Me, me, me!”
Though this owner was sharp and had some good success, he could not break free to the next level in his business. He was a bottlenecker (and thankfully he is now cured!).
I don’t call business owners bottleneckers in a derogatory sense, but as a clear descriptor of the stranglehold they induce on themselves. A straightforward look at bottlenecking reveals that there are some positive results of this behavior…which is why it is so deceptive. The owner:

  1. always knows what’s going on with every order
  2. is personally acquainted with all of the customers
  3. is a master of all of the technology of the business
  4. becomes very good at the craft/service of the business
  5. feels like the hero every day, because no one can do what they can do


This all sounds nice, except the owner is doomed to a vicious life of servitude with no hope of business growth, financial freedom, or the ability to take some time off.

So, you, the business owner – just like time, money, number of paying customers, inventory, square footage, etc. – can be the limiting factor in your business success. The more of the “physical you” that is necessary in the business on a day to day basis, the smaller the business must remain in order to avoid implosion.
Once you have identified that your bottlenecking is preventing your business from reaching its true potential, you have two choices. You can either get comfortable in the bottlenecking box you have built – a box where you’ll always be the “key” employee in your business – and never achieve the kind of time and money freedom you’ve always wanted. Or, you can choose to make a permanent adjustment that will transform you, your company, family, clients, and vendors, forever.
Since I have been a part of this transformation with hundreds of business owners, I can reveal the three time-tested steps to moving past the bottlenecking business plateau.

  1. Look in the mirror – Explain to yourself and your team that you are the limiting factor of the business. By being a bottlenecker (i.e.: micro-manager, technician, loving status quo, wearing too many departmental hats, always the hero) you have been holding back the success of the business, but now it’s time for change.
  2. Lead – Leadership is void when a bottlenecker is too busy doing the work of the business (which is so often the case), but now leadership must be strong, clear, and decisive. To galvanize this strategic shift in a business I suggest creating the Strategic Objective and Operating Principles documents.  They will provide direction to the team in a scalable and unwavering declaration.
  3. Enable – Actively engage your team using documented systems to grow to new levels of sales, profitability, quality, and efficiency. Since growth is no longer dependent on the number of hours you work, but on the systems your team creates, the sky is the limit.

The key in all three of these steps is in realizing that you must take action, because no one else in your company will do it for you. For the few, the brave, those who pursue excellence and not status quo, now is the perfect time for change.
Great leadership always comes before a systemized business, and a systemized business can’t happen without a great leader.

So, outside-and-slightly-elevated, looking down on your business, honestly, what type of leader are you?

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