Standing in the way of control
Wednesday, August 3, 2011/
When I was five-years-old, my parents moved to Australia with $90 in their pocket in order to secure a better life for their children.
Both my parents worked three jobs while taking English classes at night. After being an engineer in Belarus, my dad would work at the Queen Victoria market in the mornings to help set up stalls, then go on to deliver pamphlets around Melbourne, followed by delivering pizzas in the evenings.
My mother worked in four different cafes as a cleaner and waitress, taking whatever shifts were available.
Whenever we weren’t at school, my little sister and I were at home reading books and watching TV to improve our English.
Being raised with this sort of work ethic, I always like to take control of tasks and be solely responsible for their completion.
When I started Kogan, this often resulted in many days without sleep. As the business grew quickly, the biggest bottleneck for me was that there are only 24 hours in a day.
I quickly realised I needed to hire some quality staff.
Even once I got some great people on board, I found it hard to let go. I still answered every phone call and email.
I personally tested every TV we sold. Kogan is my baby – I couldn’t let go of anything.
I soon realised that letting go of certain tasks was not an option but a necessity. Business was booming and we were growing exponentially month-on-month.
To ensure the quality of work and service, I went about implementing strict processes for every element of the business.
The implementation of strict and efficient processes during the early growth stages of Kogan is what eventually allowed me to begin focusing on high level business development.
Even when I travel, I’m still always on my phone and have my laptop by my side. Last year I was travelling through Europe and a friend of mine insisted that I visit him in Kefalonia – a beautiful remote island in Greece.
Naturally, the first question I asked him was, “Do you have a good internet connection there?” He told me he did. The internet was not working for the entire five days I was there. It was the first time in five years that I was without an internet connection for more than the duration of a flight.
This came with no warning to my team back home. They were not expecting me to lose contact.
When I left Kefalonia and was at Athens airport, I could not wait to synchronise my emails and assess the damage of my trip.
What I saw when I got online made me very happy. The email chains looked something like this:
Email 1: Ruslan, something has happened and we need to resolve the issue.
Email 2: Ruslan, are you there? How do you want this issue resolved?
Email 3: Ruslan, how do you want us to proceed?
Email 4: Ruslan, don’t worry about it. The issue has been resolved.
During my absence, all of our team stood up and took on extra responsibility. I could not fault them on any decisions they had made.
The business was able to function and even grow in my unexpected digital absence because of the processes in place from my very first hire.
From day one I told every interviewee that they would be expected to work smarter, not harder.
When you identify a business problem, it pays to create a systematic solution that can be performed by any employee, often using innovative IP and processes, and then implement the solution and move on to more important issues.
Further to this, we don’t believe in staff training. During the recruitment process, everyone is told there will be no formal training at Kogan. Ever.
Training courses are for people who want to look like they’re learning; Google is for people who want to learn.
In today’s age of information and technology, you can easily find the right information and tools to solve any problem through a simple Google search.
The autonomy and confidence in your staff’s ability to reason is what enables them to make decisions in your absence.
Not only can Google teach you to think and reason for yourself and reach a solution, it’s also more up-to-date than any training course. At the speed with which today’s world moves, by the time a training course is created, promoted and then finally run, it all becomes old information.
Giving staff autonomy in their role will help them develop and contribute to your business. Prohibiting training courses and empowering staff to use the internet to solve any problem gives tremendous autonomy to every individual.
It means that every single team member can make valuable contributions to your business. My holiday and unexpected disconnection from the internet made me realise the importance of enabling your staff to work smarter, not harder.
Ruslan Kogan is the founder of online tech retailer Kogan.