Does this sound familiar? You’ve worked hard and donated blood, sweat, and yes, even tears, to building your business because you love your product or service and truly believe it makes your customers’ lives better. You’ve survived wildly fluctuating economies relatively intact, and have built a solid core of employees and managers you trust. You’re ready to take it to the next level in your strategic plan and start going after a revenue number or market that seemed like an impossible dream only a few years ago.
As you start ramping up, you notice a few things that don’t seem like too big a deal at the time, but are starting to tickle your radar. For example, as you need to add to your staff to fulfill orders, it’s harder to find exactly the kind of employees you’re looking for. And you know your managers understand the value of developing their employees and staying strategic, but lately they’re too busy putting out fires to work on preventing them. Then one of your best employees tells you that if you don’t give her a substantial raise, she’s leaving. Then another employee does leave. You’re starting to notice a lot more mistakes as handoffs that used to happen seamlessly, now don’t. And then one of your larger accounts actually does start complaining that your service isn’t what it used to be. Now you’re starting to get worried. Was your previous success just a fluke? Do you really have what it takes to play in a bigger ballpark? What if it all implodes? (And, if you’re like me this quickly degenerates into visions of homelessness, hungry children, and a life of drudgery working for minimum wage as a cashier for a big-box retail chain).
You turn to experts for answers. It all makes sense, on some level. You need to create the right culture to get the right employees. You need to develop your leaders so they can develop your employees. You need systems and dashboards to manage performance (or maybe you don’t…there seems to be some contention on that). Above all, you need to keep providing your customers the level of excellence to which they’re accustomed because if you don’t do that it’s all moot. And even though it all makes sense, it seems so disjointed!! Is training the answer? Who do you train first, and when do you find the time? Do you just need to start measuring things so you can hold people accountable? Start documenting? Have offsite teambuilding meetings? None of these interventions are cheap, and there doesn’t seem to be any particular assurance that any will get you out of what is starting to seem like a no-win situation.
It’s okay. Believe it or not, you’re right where you’re supposed to be.
Before you hate me for saying that (because I can see why you would), just think about how far you’ve come. You’ve beat the odds by actually getting to the ‘quality problems’ stage. Trust me, I’ve been in growing companies and dying companies, and they’re both stressful but I’ll take growth stress any day. No matter what the circumstances, growth is uncomfortable, and surviving it is what makes you great. So above all, DON’T feel like you’ve done something wrong, or are somehow unqualified to play in the big leagues just because it’s so messy right now.
And believe it or not, the solution for your current problems is far, far more simple than you probably believe. But not easy. Which is good and bad news. The good is that with some perseverance and discipline you can build a first-class company. The (kind of) bad news is that there are no shortcuts. There’s no magic formula, or class you can take, or speaker you can hire, that will allow you to achieve a solid foundation that WILL get you to the next level (no matter what anybody tells you).
In order to get there, you need to think of your business as a whole, not a collection of different problems to fix. Band-Aid solutions may stop the bleeding temporarily, but that’s not what you need. Once you start thinking of your business as a series of systems, ALL of which are vital, then you can begin the process of diagnosing your strengths and weaknesses, and developing a treatment, (or triage) plan to fix the whole thing.
This means a lot more work on the planning stage, to make sure your big picture is cohesive, unified, and interlocked for success. The major steps (and all have several sub components) are Performance Management (which includes training, goal-setting, metrics, and more), Leadership Development, Corporate Communication (your system for disseminating info to and from your staff), Culture, Hiring (I include that as its own section because it’s a major challenge in today’s climate) and your infrastructure, which includes your regulatory compliance.
Because all of these are so interlocked, I can’t stress enough the importance of resisting the temptation to just start fixing the problem with the loudest symptoms. Sometimes you have to if the problem is threatening your business, but by knee-jerk investing in recruiting, or leadership training, or culture improvement without a holistic view of your entire situation AND your desired endgame, you may end up shortchanging yourself, and having to go back and redo things. And from a corporate communication side, it’s pretty hard to get people mobilized and excited about the vision when you have ‘next best thing’ phenomenon coming from the top.
If this resonates for you, the first step should be an objective, big picture review of all your systems. Don’t worry – chances are you’ll be much better in some areas than you think. As for the areas that aren’t so good? Well, they’re not so good whether you address them or not, so what will you want to have done this time next year?
If you’re interested in learning more about my diagnostic tools, please contact me for more information!