Andrew Cohen is the Founder and CEO of Brainscape, an adaptive mobile education platform that helps you learn faster. This article originally appeared at Entrepreneur. You can follow Andrew on Twitter.
I spent the first several years of my career working for a federal government department in Washington, DC. One of my strongest impressions of that experience is how monotonous everyone’s job was. Rather than encouraging each employee to “automate” or delegate newly developed processes and thus make time for new and exciting work, they just stuck with the same old routine.
Government departments have little incentive to squeeze more work from fewer/cheaper employees. Cutting costs for this year would only cause their budget to be slashed for the next fiscal year. That’s why bureaucracies are incentived to grow in spending but not in productivity.
Building a company is the exact opposite. A startup’s primary purpose is to prove it can solve an existing problem more efficiently than existing solutions. When you don’t yet have unlimited funds to increase your full-time head count, then the only way to grow is to increase the productivity of your current team. You have to automate, eliminate or delegate new processes as fast as possible to free your valuable mental bandwidth for higher-level growth tasks.
In other words, everyone on the team should constantly “get fired” from individual tasks, while freeing their mind to work on higher-level managerial thinking that helps them grow into the next stage in their career.
This level of rigor should be taken by every team member who is currently responsible for any “monotonous” daily, weekly or monthly tasks. For example, your engineers may want to automate parts of your code deployment or software-testing processes, so they can better focus on creating and managing new product features.
You (or your CFO) may want to offload your payroll responsibilities to a third-party system such as ADP or ZenPayroll, so you can focus on raising money from investors. You may even want your junior-level employees to delegate some of their work to a virtual assistant. The important thing is that your whole team constantly “fires themselves” from any part of their role that can be offloaded to another resource that is “cheaper” than they are.
At Brainscape, we make extensive use of freelancer marketplaces such as oDesk to easily find, recruit and manage people to do things that are outside of the core skill sets of our existing full-time team. We use these virtual assistants for tasks such as customer service, software testing, copywriting, editing, bookkeeping, translating, voice recordings, market research, data entry and the occasional graphic design touch up. Eventually some of these roles might become full-time positions, but for now, oDesk provides us the perfect balance of talent and flexibility. It allows everyone on the Brainscape team to be a manager and not just a doer.
Whatever monotonous tasks you decide to automate and delegate at your company, you and your team will benefit from having more time to focus on higher-level growth activities. After all, the ability to consistently abstract and delegate roles is the mechanic by which small companies grow into large ones, and by which junior employees evolve into seasoned executives. A team that fires itself every day will grow faster and attract more capital than a team whose members become complacent with their existing jobs.