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How a second-in-command can transform your business

November 4, 2021 -  By
People in a meeting (Photo: Cecilie_Arcurs / E+ / Getty Images)

Photo: Cecilie_Arcurs / E+ / Getty Images

Last month, I explored how successful landscape entrepreneurs employ a secret weapon: a powerful second-in-command (SIC) to help run the business. This month, I will take a closer look at the job of a SIC within operations.

The responsibilities of the SIC

The role and responsibilities of a successful SIC vary greatly depending on the personality and needs of the owner and business.

Having said that, here are seven key responsibilities that the SIC can support or do:

1. Keep the trains running profitably and on time.

This is often the main reason an owner decides to hire a SIC: keeping the day to day operating with good systems and all positions filled, with a steady eye on hitting the budget.

2. Identify issues and set priorities.

The SIC acts as an internal consultant, identifying the operational priorities that need addressing and acting as a filter for the new ideas the owner brings. This task requires a strong amount of trust from the owner and skill from the SIC.

3. Align the people and operations around the company’s vision, values and mission.

This is more than a theoretical exercise; it’s about building a culture and protecting it from variances, culture killers and distractions. The SIC strengthens the legacy and builds out the aspirational values needed to grow the business.

4. Coach and train the talent.

To grow the company, one must grow the bench. A great SIC always has one eye on the future while keeping things moving in the current year.

5. Find and drive continuous improvement, both personally and companywide.

The SIC helps drive improvement both through others and with what he or she personally gets involved in. This is about creating an innovative culture, setting up company initiatives and taking on personal improvement projects.

6. Temporarily fill leadership gaps personally as needed.

This is a double-edged sword: A SIC often comes from outside the industry and cannot do this in every position, but he or she can still jump in and support a division where needed. If the SIC comes from inside the industry, the danger is he or she will fill gaps too often. A successful SIC prevents fires instead of putting out fires.

7. Lead or support budgeting and strategic planning.

This last responsibility is shared with the owner and depends on the owner’s inclinations. Some owners want to lead one or both of these, and some want their SIC to lead both of these.

Whether your SIC should handle these tasks initially depends on the situation, so view this list as an end point. If your SIC is more of an operations manager, the list of responsibilities will look different.

A SIC case study

I received a call from a young, serial entrepreneur from Alabama who owns a landscape and a real-estate company. He was looking for financial tools to improve operations and help to identify a SIC to completely run his company day-to-day. His desire was to focus his time on new outside business opportunities.

When we met with his team for a consulting retreat in New Orleans, I immediately identified a gem in the midst: his young, new marketing manager. She had the underlying competence to fill this role. What she lacked in life experiences and green industry knowledge, she made up with balance, ambition, innate skills and smarts. We started her in the role of chief of staff, with a clear growth path into chief operations officer. She will eventually lead most and probably all of the responsibility areas listed above.

Be on the same page

Critical to success is mutual respect and an honest relationship. They must have each other’s back 100 percent for this relationship to work. The two must also have clear deliverables and a consistent meeting rhythm where issues and needs are discussed. You can’t set it and forget it; you must continually work at the relationship for the arrangement and the company to grow and prosper.

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