Ready to Grow?

Congratulations! You have built a fantastic multi-faceted business and you are ready to take it to the next level.  You have a number of ‘arms’ to the business and are preparing to bring the heads of each branch into the business to get ready for growth.  How can you equip them for success and what does that mean for you?

Let’s assume that you have given full consideration to your reasons for growing the business and understand the market into which you are growing and are clear on the opportunity that you intend to take.


Next is your growth strategy. 

Your business is a system of systems and every part has an impact on all of the other parts.  To change one thing means to change everything.  Change-related problems often occur because the business has changed one or two things, but attempted to keep everything else the same.  To hand department heads equity and structure for growth means fundamental change in everything.  The new leaders and part owners must be crystal clear on the business vision.  They must implicitly understand and share the business values.  They must intimately understand the need, or purpose in the market that their part of the business fulfils as well as the business as a whole (they are after all owners now).

To give you the best chance of success, undertake a comprehensive review of the company’s strategy together.  You may have very clear ideas of how things should look moving forward, but the very act of giving ownership to other new directors will now give them a vote as well.  The change is fundamental and the business becomes a new entity entirely.  Below is a planning ‘funnel’ that I use to help businesses through this process which helps businesses plan the fundamentals of their transformation before moving into the detail:

The act of planning the transformation is an incredibly powerful unifying act.  What comes out of it is seldom what any of the participants expected, but something that they are all massively excited by and ready to drive forward.  The momentum at this point must not be wasted, and an action plan must be developed and run with discipline in order to make sure that the business reaches its full potential.  There are a few things that will really help to maintain momentum and keep things on track.


Put systems in place

For successful growth, it is essential to design systems into the business.  Small businesses have the luxury of allowing their workers to do things as they see fit.  As the company grows, workers must be able to switch between customers.  They must be able to pick up where another has left off if they are away or sick, but with no discernible change to the service from the customer’s point of view.  Having systems in place is also a prerequisite to a learning culture.  You cannot continuously improve your service when it is delivered differently. Having built the strategy, make sure that every role and every service the company needs to have the following attributes:

  • Can be taught to another person or a new arrival in the firm.  Any training must be delivered centrally through a dedicated and resourced process.  If you allow a worker to train another worker, you will build mistakes in to your system.
  • The value of a piece of work must be weighed against the effort and resource required to deliver it.  It is simply the juice vs squeeze equation.  The Strategy will have given the opportunity to look dispassionately at what works and what doesn’t. Especially in light of the newly articulated Vision Values and Purpose.
  • One-off work can be very valuable especially if you have incredibly rare skills. However, one-off work has to be replaced again and again through a massive marketing effort.  Making what you do repeatable in any way allows you to retain customers, gain information from them about their needs and align your people and processes ever more to meet those needs.

A good start to getting this in place is to use a framework to create and maintain coherent systems such as ISO9001. This manages and reviews the whole business with granularity on a regular basis.


Equipping leaders

You have made the decision to structure your business for growth. Then created departments where there were before just services. There will be fundamental changes happening.  The workers or even supervisors who were responsible for the delivery of that particular service or product are now responsible for the people who are responsible for its delivery.  Leadership is such a crucial function in any organisation and I find it to be one businesses invest the least in.  If technicians take a leadership role without training or mentorship in what they are doing, it can manifest in a number of problems:

  • Desire to intervene. The leader is better at the job than their subordinates.  When there is pressure or difficulty, there is an instinct to take over and intervene rather than to teach and mentor.
  • Ability to deal with conflict. A leader provides a service. Part of that service is to be the person that makes the decision when there is a ‘Hobson’s choice’ (damned if you do, damned if you don’t) decision to make.  There will arise occasions that subordinates are under-performing or disagreeing.  The leader must have the training and support to handle this correctly.
  • Understanding of performance. Poorly designed and thought-through incentivisation systems create pressures to achieve certain metrics. This may not be in the real long-term benefit of the company.  Again, understanding of the Strategy will go a long way to mitigating this. But take care to understand and constantly review what performance is, and how to measure it, to get people to give their very best.


Equipping yourself

As owner of the business (or possibly part-owner now) your role is about to substantially change as well.  On top of all of the leadership challenges, as the chairman rather than the owner/operator you have a substantially different role.  You may have managed the difficulty of working ‘On’ the business rather than ‘In’ the business before.  You are now almost exclusively ‘On’ the business.  The adage is that you are no longer delegating what you are not good at.  You are now delegating what you are good at.  What do you now do?  You are now dedicated to meeting the needs of the business rather than to meeting the needs of the customer. Your people do that now.  It is a massive mental leap to make especially if you have been fully customer-centric for your whole working life.  Don’t get me wrong, you are not abandoning the customer- but you are now serving the customer through instilling that focus in and developing your people.  This creates the dispassionate and strategic mindset of the visionary leader.

To make these and myriad other changes in a business takes time resources and dedication.  And to make them whilst maintaining profitability and ‘business as usual’ without any detriment to the customer is especially challenging.  To make the process as smooth as possible allowing the business to grow without disruption, many businesses benefit from bringing in outside help.  Someone with no vested interest in the business. And someone with access to the resources to guide and support the business through the growth process.


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