Seventy-five percent of my time is spent helping businesses manage their growth. As my regular readers know, I write about what I know about. Some of my clients are start-up companies—just getting on their feet. Most of the organizations I work with are established concerns that have become what I call “victims of their own success.” Someone had an idea for a service or product and… low and behold…it worked! With the success came the need for more people, more space, bigger budgets and increased expectations. The increase in excitement was tempered by the increase in stress and an increased chance for unexpected problems.
To successfully manage your growth, here are seven questions you need to ask yourself and others in the organization:
1. Are we planning for or reacting to the changes around us?
Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as “reactive management.” Managing is about planning and anticipating. Reacting is about…well…reacting. Does your organization have goals or performance targets for the year? Does everyone know what those goals are, what their part is in achieving the goals and why these goals have been established? If the answer is “no,” creating those targets and getting your people to “buy in” should be your first order of business.
2. Are we communicating effectively and in a timely fashion?
Take a written, anonymous survey of your personnel. Ask your employees two questions: “What do we do well?” and “What do we need to improve?” Set a deadline for the responses. Then wait. Don’t remind them again when their feedback is due. If you get only a few responses with primarily negative answers, that’s not good. It means morale is low and communication is not so hot. You may need to get some outside help to improve the way people are speaking and listening to one another. If that’s the case, let the people in your organization know that you realize there is a problem, what steps you are taking to correct it and when “help will arrive.”
3. Do we work smart as well as hard?
As human beings and organizations age, they both often become resistant to change. Individual resistance is often accompanied by the expression “That’s just the way I am.” Organizations resist changes with phrases such as “This is the way we’ve always done it.” Working hard is important but, as your organization grows, simply spending more time on a problem will not necessarily be the answer. If the ways you’ve always done things aren’t getting the results you want in a timely fashion, are you willing to make changes? Are you willing to approach a problem differently? Will you bring different people into the mix and really listen to what they have to say?
4. Does each person know what they are responsible for and why they do what they do?
There may be times when you feel you want an organization in which people do what they’re told to do simply because they’re told to do it. Trust me. You don’t want that kind of an organization. You don’t want an environment where you constantly have to motivate people by lording over them. It should always be your policy to tell people why they are being asked to do what they do. Sometimes you don’t have a reason. If that were the case, maybe you would be best to hold off the request until you do have a reason you can articulate.
5. Do you have a handle on finances? How do you know?
The rule of business is “no margin no mission.” If you are going to continue to bring value to your customers, shareholders and employees, you must have your financial house in order. This is not rocket science so we don’t need to use technical language. Sound fiscal management means you have the answers to the following questions on the tip of your brain or you are able to retrieve the information in a matter of minutes: Who owes us money? How much do they owe us? By when are they supposed to pay us? To whom do we owe money? How much do we owe? When are we supposed to pay? What are our revenue sources? How much business will each source bring in? For how long? What are we doing to develop new business? Are our efforts working? How do we know? How much of a “rainy day fund” do we need? How much have we saved?
If you have a handle on the answers to these questions, you probably have your financial house in order.
6. Do you have any systems in place? What are they and are they working?
When organizations are very small they don’t have many, if any, systems, policies or procedures in place. When the business is small, you’re reacting all the time and flying by the seat of your pants working out problems as they present themselves. As companies grow, people are often hesitant to bring too many systems into the mix fearing they will turn a once caring environment into a bureaucracy. Systems do not make you bureaucratically impersonal any more than not having several systems makes you caring. I have seen $100 million dollar businesses that are unbelievably caring and three-person companies that are basically unfeeling. It is not because they have or do not have systems and procedures in place. Bottom line: As your businesses get older, you will need to codify some of the things you do to keep order and to keep communication lines open.
7. Do we have a succession plan?
You know, I’ve never actually met an organization without a succession plan. Unfortunately, most plans fall into one of two categories. There is the “The owner is not going to die” plan or the “I don’t want to talk about it” plan. I would suggest that neither is a particularly good approach in dealing with the issue of succession. An organization without a plan for succession is an accident waiting to happen. If you don’t have a plan, the first question to ask yourself is “why?” Does the person with the power not want to give up control? Have you failed to develop a protégé? Do you feel no one is capable of doing what you do? These are important questions requiring honest answers. There is not enough space in this article to cover all the steps necessary to create an effective succession plan, but answering these questions should allow you to begin the process.
Whether you’re just starting out or have been a profitable firm for years, you will have to manage your own direction. We must either act or be acted upon. Make the decision now to act upon your problems, and your business can experience relatively smooth growth for years to come.
As always, if I can be of assistance in any of these areas I am just a phone call or email away!