"Where do I start?”
It’s a question I hear a lot from clients in growth mode. “Problems keep popping up and they’re taking up all my time. We’re not making progress fast enough!”
What I find with many of my growth-mode clients is that they’re overwhelmed by all the things that are demanding their time and attention. It can feel like – and you backpackers/campers know what I’m talking about – setting up a tent in storm conditions. Everything’s flapping in the wind and nothing’s nailed down. Once you’ve got that first tent corner staked down, the next corner is easier to deal with…
Managing a growth company is similar. You’ve got to nail down some things in order to create the space to move on to other things that need attention. Three hacks will help bring some stability, eliminate unforced errors, and take distracting noise out of the system.
Choose a focused set of issues to tackle.
When it’s impossible to do everything at once, it’s time for focus on what’s most important and most feasible to accomplish.
True story: Raj had launched his CPG company along with two other co-founders, and they were finally gaining real traction in the market. Sales were about $12M but the team was struggling with multiple issues which seemed to keep them running in place. To name just a few, rework was tying up key capacity in non-productive work; their inability to accurately forecast volume limited their ability to make good procurement decisions; and their decision support software was spread among multiple platforms making data sharing confusing and informed decision-making tough.
Everyone in the company felt like they were sailing on a leaky ship. The leadership team realized that they couldn’t do everything at once, so we worked with them on creating a growth game plan that prioritized and sequenced the issues they would take on.
How to start: Pick the top three things you want the team to accomplish in the next 3-4 months. Be sure to develop the related metrics to evaluate progress and measure success. Focus on those issues and make sure everybody in the company knows what they are so they feel they have a stake in the effort. When you accomplish the first three, take on the next set, and reap the reward of a culture of success as your goals are met.
As the team gets bigger, pay attention to job descriptions.
Either there were no job descriptions at all when you were in startup mode, or the ones you created back then don’t fit anymore.
True story: Tony was asked to join an energy company, about $100M in sales, to bring structure and discipline to the fast-growing product development group. It wasn’t long before he discovered there were no formal job descriptions for anybody, and he found himself being accused of stepping on toes by co-workers who thought that “this is my responsibility.” This led to infighting as to who had accomplished what…and who should get credit. Sadly, the confusion ultimately led Tony (and a number of other managers) to quit in frustration. The company lost out on talent they needed for the next stage of their growth and now had to deal with a turnover problem. An avoidable unforced error.
How to start: BEFORE you hire anyone new, create a simple process of asking your team/employees to list out what they do and what they perceive their job description to be. Devote a leadership-team meeting to go over and compare the descriptions in order to identify where there are overlaps and where there are gaps. You’ll now be better equipped to add new talent that fits.
Empower internal teams.
Delegation is the No. 1 challenge I see for many founding CEOs. Somewhat understandable – the business is their “baby” after all – but not delegating can be a block to growth. There aren’t enough hours in the day to keep doing it all yourself and expect to scale. (In some cases it’s the CEO who turns out to be the decision bottleneck.) Instead, take a leap of trust: entrust a team member to find a solution to a problem you typically take on yourself to solve, and see how they do. I’ll bet a cup of coffee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
True story: As a CEO, Lexi was a terrific salesperson, and the company she founded had grown rapidly to about $30M and a team of 100 in 5 years. But growth had stalled, and internal finger-pointing ran rampant among different departments over miscommunication and frustration from constantly fixing errors. Her typical approach – take charge and dictate a solution – didn’t seem to be solving the issues. Once she took a step back and empowered a team to take on the issue, Lexi realized she had been sitting on a powerful way to find a better solution as well as free up her time.
How to start: Look for situations where you see repeated mistakes or rework happening, a project that’s small but important, tasks that persistently get shoved to the bottom of your to-do list. Delegate it! Be clear about the issue, be clear about what you expect and then, step back. Be careful not to just unload unwanted tasks on others, rather take the longer view that you’re recognizing talent and building trust in your team.
If you’re ready to dip your toe in a little deeper to explore other growth hacks, then take a read here. Or contact me for a Growth Leap conversation.
Andrew Green shares perspectives and hard-won lessons on mastering the business growth path