Autonomy and communication: Are these the keys to effective business success?

planning meeting
One of our previous annual planning meetings. We gathered in person. Yesterday, we gathered on the phone.

Years ago, I set up the business with a philosophy that employees and key contractors would be allowed as much autonomy and as little centralized control as possible. At times, this approach turned out to be costly, when individuals doing their own thing acted in their short-term self-interest at the expense of longer-range objectives.

In one classic situation, as our business entered a crisis period in the early years of the last decade, I called for a rare general meeting. One relatively new employee said it was vital that he attend, so we paid his travel costs. His mission: to seek a pay raise for himself.
We?ve survived ups and downs, and plenty of adventures including an initially astoundingly successful then near-disastrous US expansion. Ironically, what should have been a truly dumb thing (again at the instigation of a former employee thinking for self-interest rather than the overall business health), turned out to be our route to survival south of the border. His replacement, Bob Kruhm in Durham NC, carried on through seemingly dark years, working on pure commission and sustaining our presence, before he formally retired a few years ago.

Our business has evolved. We have some systems and processes including regular weekly teleconference meetings and a formal annual planning session. These events provide quick reference points for business communications and allow us to share and air issues before they get out of hand.

Our marketplace, like for most established media companies, has been truly turned on its head by the Internet advertising revolution. Thankfully, we?ve adapted, with improved websites and eletter opportunities. I?ve been fortunate to achieve some status with Google and am invited to annual meet-ups and summits, allowing me to keep in touch with trends and see, sometimes, a little into the future.

In the last few weeks, I?ve observed how the combination of employee/contractor autonomy and healthy communication has helped the business through what could have been a serious rough patch. I couldn?t have anticipated the ideas that emerged from the individuals around me, impacting sales, editorial, production and administration. Yet, when

I reviewed the process last night I knew that the combination of freedom and communication worked well here.

What about the future? We?re moving towards an employee-ownership model, which I hope to formalize within the next 18 months. I don?t plan to retire anytime soon but equally I will prepare to hand the reins to the next generation and spend more time exploring the world, and new technologies.

I?m not asserting that our business process model really is the best for everyone; there cannot be that level of bragging for an organization where the business volume hardly sets records (especially for a multi-national). Yet it is good to see how well the team functions when individuals are treated with respect and receive recognition for their successes. For me, at least, it is a great way to manage a business.

You can comment on this posting, email me at or phone (866) 627-8717 ext 224.

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