Make Yourself Redundant

Your most important job is to make sure you don’t have a job, and that’s the best measure of success any person can have.

Photo by Marek Studzinski on Unsplash

I was recently having lunch with a social entrepreneur working at the task of reducing food waste along the process from farm to food bins. She mentioned how supermarkets are getting much, much better at using wonky or ugly veg which is leading to decreased supply that others might think is a risk — but this was not her view.

Being made redundant is the goal — and achieving it means that your social or environmental mission is less urgent than it was when you started.

Anyone with a focus on social challenges has one job, to make themselves redundant, but this same energy is needed by all founders as they scale up.

Alexis Palá created this excellent graphic on systems change thinking which explains it better than I ever could. By having an “ending a problem” mindset we don’t get caught up in our role in it, but focus more on the role we can play in making sure we’re not needed.

Go follow @alexiscpala for more systems change insights

This might require a lot of self-confidence, or self-esteem. There aren’t many people who can afford to discard their job as if it means nothing but I think therein lies a big flaw in our world of work.

The more we feel in control of our career the more satisfied we are with our lives in general, it’s a big part of our identity.

This isn’t just for social founders though, you need to continually make your role redundant as the founder of any company.

At the start, when there are just two or three of you there’s a need for everyone to do everything, but as you scale up you backfill those roles to release you from the tasks but also to bring in true expertise rather than your somewhat improvised approach.

It’s hard handing over duties and responsibilities, especially if you enjoy doing them. I remember how much I loved poring over ad campaign stats, looking for patterns and understanding what worked and what didn’t. I think this closeness to the feedback loops is essential in the early days when you’re trying to identify what resonates and where your product/market fit is.

But once you’ve got a good idea of what’s working, and you understand it well enough, handing it over to a suitably qualified professional to take it from there frees you up to take on the next challenge.

Sometime this is a shame, it can be quite satisfying and fun to do certain jobs, or using skills that you’ve built up before starting your business — like if you were a marketer in a previous life.

This is one bit of feedback I tend to give to a lot of early-stage founders. Think twice about starting a business if you love doing the thing, because chances are you’re going to do less and less of it as you scale.

We see this a lot in coworking, people start a coworking space when actually they really just want to join a great coworking space in their community. Running a space is a lot less fun, and returning to the theme of this article it’s a lot harder to make yourself redundant from that role!

You need to prove the business isn’t reliant upon you, and by recruiting a team of folks who can do those tasks without you being present shows that there’s more to it than just you working every hour of the day with the drive and determination that only a founder can display.

There’s one other aspect to this — being able to “get out alive”. When I exited from my first proper business I was not anxious at all about its future because we had managed to pull together an amazing team of people who I knew would be great custodians for the future.

The reason why redundancy should be celebrated is because once you achieve such status you have plenty of options for what do take on next. I’ll do a future post on zooming in and out, but the more zoomed in on a topic or issue you are the more you see the detail and the other niches into which you can neatly fit.

You’re never truly redundant in the sense of being an excess within a system. If you’ve managed to make yourself redundant you’ll be more in demand than ever.

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Gareth I. Jones

Gareth I. Jones

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Founder of TownSq, focused on building communities of entrepreneurs, supporting startups and B Corps - businesses that are better for the planet.