Do you have the capacity to grow? There are internal and external factors involved to achieve business growth. Finding improvements looks easy when someone comes in and points issues out to you. Think about a symphony. You go, sit down, and the performance begins … without the violins. You immediately know something is up. Afterwards, you speak to the conductor who indicates they know something is up – but they don’t know how to discover, or what to do about, the reasons there are no violins.
Decide and use specific inputs that indicate change.
A requirement are financials with a strong foundation to show past performance. In addition, these reports show you exactly how the company fares at this point in time. The likeliness and ability to shift, adjust, and iterate toward growth objectives comes from the other indicators that provide data to use.
There are both internal and external indicators. What you choose to look at and incorporate is more than the secret sauce of your organization. It’s your symphony.
Is your business growth plateau the root problem?
An often overlooked part of analyzing and addressing slowed business growth is why that revenue actually stalls or even declines. Returning to the symphony analogy: an entire section of the symphony may have left, the venue may be too small, and the performances may not change enough.
The symptom is a slowdown in revenue – a plateau. Revenue is a universal measure. The skill we need to lead effectively, to make decisions, is awareness. We check in on where we came from (past performance) and where we are going (based on where we were and where we are now). What we do with what we know, and how we invoke change to shift and iterate, is what determines the full potential of each action taken.
Together, we are going to go in-depth in these areas that result in a growth plateaus, and what to do about them:
- Our company reached a new phase and what used to work doesn’t anymore.
- Business plan and strategic growth plan are out of alignment.
- Communications and actions result in unexpected outcomes.
- Competitors change, sometimes under the radar.
- Executive soft skills that make or break growth.
As the conductor of the symphony, first chair of your section, or even in a role that makes performances possible, you can use these five insights to achieve success in challenging times.
Our company has reached a new phase and what used to work doesn’t anymore.
Innovation, first to market, and fail fast are just a few of the things we experience as part of business today. A startup mentality. A serial entrepreneur. An intraprenuer. These are mindsets that typically are coveted as a necessity. The mindset driving a company’s actions are a fundamental piece of its culture.
Having worked with startup companies over the last two decades, I’ve learned a few big things, including: some companies keep the startup mindset after ten years or more in business; startups don’t have to have a shoestring operating budget; some startups work from the perspective that their startup is a side hustle. That said, everyone who identifies or wants to incorporate the mindset of startup is attracted to the resourcefulness and possibility startups possess in abundance.
There is a pivotal point in a businesses growth where it is possible to keep the mindset of startup AND grow successfully to the next level. Additional mindsets are necessary to embrace the ability to scale and to add roles that directly tie to revenue generation, which in turn results in dimensionality.
Every new phase of business requires more inputs of information so that there aren’t bottlenecks and loss of knowledge necessary to find problems and opportunities. The way get out of our own way is to embrace how to collect information that is not possible to gain firsthand. We require feedback loops to collect and analyze data. What someone with a startup mentality is used to doing inside their own head … they now have to do the process outside of their own brain – using the rest of the executive team and everyone within the company.
Self-awareness and personal dimensionality is trusting our gut, honoring our feelings, and using logic. Role or position awareness is recognizing what our experience is and being able to talk about it with others in a way that they understand. Organizational awareness occurs when every experience is recognized as potentially having information to observe trends and make decisions with confidence. Each of these has its own dimension: self awareness, position awareness, and organizational awareness. So, when you have dimension + dimension + dimension the result is dimensionality. There are internal awarenesses, and there are external ones too.
Dimensionality provides indications that changes are needed to continue growth in a new way.
One of our clients, a firm of five, has hit a growth plateau. The mentality of the founder is “side hustle” … wanting more than one basket of eggs. And that’s what’s modeled in the workplace: the entire company endeavor is secondary. Employees don’t know how much action to take, in the form of initiative. They tried doing and were chastised. They tried asking and were ignored. The result is they come to work and put in their time. Employees know how to maintain because management showed that “maintaining” IS their role. As a result, most employees now have a their own side hustle. Attention is split … from the top down. This company, with our guidance, is evaluating what they want their organization to do and to be. The path they choose will come down to what they are willing to do. Their growth to date is capped by the actions they’ve taken so far. To break through their business growth plateau, they must take different action.
The business plan and strategic growth plan are out of alignment.
In existing businesses like yours, the business plans used each year are different than the one used to start the company. While the role of an annual business plan changes, it does not go away. A strategic plan is separate and critical to building and keeping competitive advantage through the years. It provides the focus to prioritize opportunities, actions, and decisions. A strategic focus for growth is critical to attaining the success you’d like to see your company achieve.
Understanding the difference between a business plan and strategic growth plan allows us to know what to do and how to make sure the plans work together to grow your company. Every chance I get, I ask about strategic plans and business plans. Ya, I’m curious. The use (or not) of business and strategic plans indicate where and when growth plateaus may occur.
You want your company to grow. How to attain growth is a decision I see executive teams anxious to make. In a world where there are so many options, choosing a path tends to be hard. Fears about failure and aversion to risk also makes choosing a path hard. Avoiding decision-making creates gaps where resources and energy become inefficient and even lost.
Use business plans for one-year objectives. Align those objectives to the strategic growth plan, which can span five to ten years. A business plan that is departmental, and even as granular as a specific role, is the way to create performance metrics and identify gaps and opportunities at every level of the organization. Business plans do more than articulate responsibility. They create a very clear understanding of how one can perform well, and also open up the ability to have conversations where a person wants to go – and the hard and soft skills they need to get there.
Use strategic growth plans to solidify and strengthen competitive placement. Whether by organic growth, new products or markets, or even acquisitions … all provide clarity around how to prioritize resources and time. What ideas and opportunities move a company closer to sustainable growth over time. And the decisions made use dimensionality to adjust and iterate toward growth instead of pivoting to a new direction. Pivots require more time and money. Conversations that actively include each of the moving pieces that make your symphony possible provide a focus to both protect and take risks to develop your organization. When departmental and role business plans are aligned to your company’s longer-term strategic plan you will have created an environment for everyone to move in the same direction.
The connection between short term and long term, and then having the two aligned with purposeful action creates growth.
One of our past clients, a company with a team of fifty, kept getting stuck. Each new initiative for longer-term growth would eventually stall and stop. This stop and start was a pattern they recognized happening overall but couldn’t see it in the tasks day to day. We worked with them to find out what exactly was stuck and how to break the cycle. Our work uncovered a strong foundation to support strategic growth through new products (which they were open to acquiring and developing). What was missing in the communication was how sales, marketing, administrative functions, service, R&D, and other departments fit into making this growth plan happen. They did not have departmental business plans that showed the short- and long-term initiatives capable of move the needle toward lasting growth. Together we created and implemented a process to do just that; the focus these actions created allowed the team to evaluate and make recommendations to support the longer-term growth.
Communication and action may result in unexpected outcomes (or not).
Our ability to anticipate is the key point. Can we anticipate what our customers want? Can we anticipate market changes? Can we anticipate the full impact of product offering decisions? Yes, we can, by collecting and using data skillfully to find internal and external patterns over time.
What we do, how we ask, and what we expect … these factors set the stage for what those around us will do. When the key indicators have as much or more weight than the way we work together, the results will show it. Behaviors we see will align with what we measure and how work is done regardless of what we say. Behavior sets the culture. When our behavior doesn’t match our mission or values our culture is broken. Our people don’t speak up about broken culture – they do what they need to to feel safe in the environment.
Business in 2018 has different expectations on both the company side and the employee side. Companies recognize that people want different things from their career today and have made changes both to protect the company and to be a better fit for today’s lifestyles. Employees take more control over their interaction with the companies they choose to work for and recognize that their future is solely in their own hands. Adding this relationship dynamic to the complexity of building and scaling a business makes clear that consistent, constant communication impact how work gets done.
A willingness to look at your processes and actions to find and fix gaps between communication and action sets your company culture and positively impacts growth potential.
The Balanced Scorecard links goals and measures across four functional focuses of business. Bringing them together increases communication by adding structure to the way everyone in a company works together, and to what their mission is. The more intangible a company’s assets, the more necessary it is to know what and how to use technology and relationships.
Competitors change, sometimes under the radar.
When a worker’s job fundamentally changes due to societal and technological advancements, how we do business changes.
Just in the last hundred years, work no longer exists in a variety of settings, including: bowling ally pin setting, VCR repair, and video stores. There are many more jobs that are changing quickly; with major modification, these positions don’t look like they did over fifty years ago: secretaries; sewing machine operators; agricultural workers; word processors/typists; street vendors; and electronic equipment assemblers.
Fear can get in the way of growth. Especially when our business either has been or will be subject to disruption in the future. Clues exist within the ability to think differently and closely watch what’s happening with regard to technology use and innovation. Clues to know what to do, how to adapt growth strategy are all around us. To collect and use information relevant information the company is a challenge. It seems hard because of the sheer amount of information and uncertainty about the type of details that are really relevant. Even then there’s more … allocating the resources necessary to implement a way to collect and use the data. Once we overcome that hurdle, we have our own internal data to mine.
The way we can look at technology changes within our industry, and the industries our customers are in will give us clues to anticipate change.
When I started my career the internet was a novelty and dial-up was still prevalent. A tool and a toy, that has become fundamental to business in the last twenty-plus years – every company relies on technology and the internet. Technologies that companies made to improve computer usage are now fully integrated into our devices, like compressing files (maybe you remember the software Winzip); playing music (the freeware called WinAmp); and we can even fax from our email and securely sign documents. In addition, the newspaper, radio, music, and automotive industries also experienced great upheaval.
Executive soft skills that make or break growth.
There are many soft skills necessary to effectively lead and make decisions for an organization. We will dig into four here: discipline, accountability, responsibility, and anticipation.
- Discipline in business is a body of knowledge gained from experience and learning, as well as a practice of consistency.
- Accountability is our acceptance that our actions can result in unexpected outcomes which we embrace.
- Responsibly is owning the outcomes, whatever they are, for the decisions we make.
- Anticipation is the practice of being present, aware, and taking time to process what’s happened – as well as what’s possible – to make decisions.
To break through business growth plateaus, the critical factor is our willingness to be open and practice our soft skills daily until they become habits. To continue practicing awareness to find assumptions and shortcuts that our brains are famous for making is constant work.
How you do you creates a unique means to incorporate these four soft skills in a way that is true to you and what you value. When you know what we (i.e. workers and customers) value, you know how to show up in different situations. With so many moving pieces, you are both leading part of the symphony, and you are being led by customer expectations and the set growth strategy.
How well you practice, integrate and are aware of these four soft skills will impact the success of your company.
Where is my tipping point to break through a business plateau?
Instant gratification is not part of the answer. Low hanging fruit, aka easy revenue, is not part of the answer. Both are short term. Both are Band–Aids, not solutions. Which of these five insights will you apply to weak and underperforming areas of your business? Even when more than one fits what you are observing within your organization, pick one. The decision will provide a path and offer what to analyze, evaluate … and will lead to more decisions.
Sometimes the decisions will be hard – letting go of a pet projects, changing who is taking on each role, and possibly deep internal shake-ups. Sticking with the decision is the most important piece. When you made the decision, you weighed what must change and the underlying reasons. As each piece of your symphony shifts, you are reaching the milestone associated with each reason why change must occur within your company.
It’s okay if your symphony sounds like fourth graders just beginning to learn how to play their instrument, and how to play together. This is part of organizational learning. This is strengthening how you work together, your culture. There will always be adjustments in how you work together to achieve your growth goals. The symphony never ends – rather, it evolves through time when performed in different venues by different musicians. As does your business.