Looking to grow? Be sure to set yourself up for the best possible success. Many businesses are working with systems that are strained at the edges (or simply operating at full capacity) and a plan for new market penetration must include a plan for operational growth. The last thing you want to do is invest heavily in marketing your company, then lose money because you don’t have the capacity to meet the new demand. You could find yourself working more for less and there is something completely wrong with that picture!
Before you launch your new campaign, invest a little time in an inventory of your company’s performance culture, systems and strategies for growth. There’s a lot that can be done very quickly to ensure that your team is prepared for the success you’re seeking. Here are five key questions to help you get started.
1) Is your team on board with your vision and values?
Rapid growth means change, and employees working in a changing environment must have a solid framework to make sound decisions in. The best framework for informed decision-making in a team is an agreed-upon mission and understood values. When your employees are clear on the mission, the primary purpose of the service your company provides, they know what the focus of every decision should be. We can see this when we look at the icons of industry. We know, for example, that a Nordstrom employee in any decision-making environment will choose the solution that is most focused on customer service. They are clear that customer service is the top priority for that organization.
Is your team clear on the highest priority in your organization? Have you given them a reason for being inspired and dedicated to their work that is above and beyond earning the next dollar? Countless studies have shown that employees are motivated and engaged by mission and purpose and leadership above and beyond their next paycheck. In a time of rapid growth you want your employees to be inspired to work hard to take your company to the next level. Still, mission alone will not provide a complete framework for decision-making. Clearly communicated values will often make the difference between success and failure.
In her book “Built on Values”, JetBlue co-founder Ann Rhoades makes a compelling case for the stability and success of values driven companies through the recession and times of significant change. Her work reinforces the work of Jim Collins in the classic management text “Built to Last.” There are a handful of companies that model successful and consistent communication of values, and it’s a list that resonates with almost anyone in the U.S. JetBlue, Costco, Nordstrom, Starbucks, Disney, Hewlett-Packard, you’ve heard the list; and I would make the case that any company, especially a privately held company, can and should clearly articulate the values of the founders.
Values are the agreement we have with each other about how we will work together. When it comes to values, there is no right or wrong, there is only what is true for you as a business owner, what you will commit to and follow through on. Don’t pick a value because it’s what you think you should care about. If a company says they value integrity and then consistently fails to follow through on promises made to employees or customers, there is a disconnect that impacts employee performance. When your true values are identified, you will quickly discover any misfits on your team who might impede your rapid growth, and as you do grow, you will attract new team members who resonate with your values and achieve the productivity you are looking for.
2) Do you have a clear picture of the roles in your company and how they will change as your company grows?
I recommend an organizational chart even for very small businesses because a multitude of roles or jobs are being filled though quite often more than one job (or two or three) is being filled by the same person. To prepare for growth it is important to identify where you have blended responsibilities that may or may not work effectively at a higher rate of production. When transaction volume is smaller it often works quite well to expand a role to cover a wider scope of work. For example, if you run a service company and you have a dispatcher who is dispatching six technicians, that person may be quite capable of handling accounts payable, up-selling service contracts, and general filing or receptionist duties. If you then run a major promotion and expand your service team to 12 technicians the dispatcher role is going to need to change in one of two ways.
One way to address the growth might be to hire a second dispatcher with the same job description as the first. This is a strategy that would commonly be used by a company that had not thought through the scope of work invested in the role. A dispatcher skill set is often more highly compensated than an accounts payable clerk or receptionist. A person who is an excellent dispatcher, good at multitasking scheduling, considering geographic and time constraints, and organizing technicians in that environment may not be the best salesperson. If an owner is prepared and has looked at the dispatcher role to discover that it actually covers Dispatch, Accounts Payable, Reception and Sales a growth plan might look very different from hiring a second dispatcher.
In this scenario a growth plan might budget for hiring an administrative clerk to handle reception duties and accounts payable data entry. It might also look at cross-training other sales team members to up selling or promoting service contracts. The dispatcher then could handle the growth in technicians and be focused on one critical scope of work and task. The administrative clerk would be brought on board at a much lower price point, and sales would be allocated to those with the best skill set for that particular work.
An easy way to look at roles and how they are combined is to develop your organizational chart (see sample here), separating roles as you think they would be structured to meet the demands of growth. Then color code the chart to show where one person is currently covering more than one role. An added benefit to this exercise is that you will quickly be able to see if you have anyone working in a role that has been cobbled together over time that is contrary to your highest productivity. You want to be sure everyone is working smart and in their right roles before testing the system with planned and rapid growth.
3) Are your people working with role definitions that clearly show what results they are accountable for and what authority they have to achieve those results?
I intentionally use the term role definition as an alternative to job descriptions. Job descriptions will look like an assembly of tasks and “things to do”, and don’t motivate creative bright people to think through how best they can achieve an end result. A job description that tells a person exactly what they are to do each day is nothing more than a checklist of activities to be performed in exchange for a paycheck. With a job description of this type the highest level of engagement you can expect from an employee is “Yes sir (or ma’am) I did the list today”. A role definition on the other hand will engage employees in thinking through how best they can accomplish a result that is meaningful to the bottom line.
Let’s look at a receptionist role for example. A job description might say “answer telephones promptly”, where a role definition might read “provide telephone clients with a positive customer service experience of XYZ company.” Especially if you’re working with Generation Y employees, and most small businesses today are hiring this generation to grow their companies, this type of role definition is an important strategy for success. Generation Y has a reputation for asking why, because they have been raised to believe that they are an important part of the team and they want to contribute meaningfully to any environment that they are in. When you provide them with the role definition that holds them accountable to specific results and give them flexibility to achieve that result you’ll invite creative contribution and begin to measure meaningful things.
No company has the resources to spare to micromanage tasks, to figure out how to articulate every smallest detail in a quickly changing environment in order to be sure that no important step is missed in getting the results you’re looking for. In today’s day and age as quickly as you set a procedure in place someone will update a software platform or the external environment will change and new steps will need to be taken to accomplish the goal. To be successful, especially in a time of rapid expansion, you want and need your employees to own the final outcome and work diligently to discover the very best way to achieve that outcome each and every day. And of course, they will need to have a certain level of authority in order to achieve those results.
I’ve found that establishing authority in the role definition itself gives the employee an enhanced feeling of ownership in their role and a foundation for success. As you can see in the example here, authorities need not be extensive but they must be appropriate to achieve the result the employee is responsible for. After all, there’s nothing worse than being held accountable for a result that you don’t have the authority to achieve!
4) Is your supervisory team trained and trusted to support your current and expanding staff?
One of the things we often do in business (and it seems to make perfect sense at the time) is to promote people who are good at a role to a supervisory position. Unfortunately, just because a person is a good mechanic does not mean that they are good supervisor of mechanics. Before you launch your expansion program, you will want to consider the skill-sets, training and leadership philosophy that your current or future supervisors understand. In a time of rapid growth, employees must be able to rely on their supervisors for access to resources and assistance when they are overwhelmed.
If you have not yet grown to the point where you have a layer of supervision in your organization this preparation is especially important, because you may not yet have the experience of delegating authority to supervisors and trusting them to get the results you are looking for. I’ve been talking quite a bit about delegating accountability and authority to roles. With your current supervisory team, or your anticipated future supervisory team, much can be accomplished by having a clear conversation around the expectations of supervision.
To support growth, supervisors must understand that their job is largely allocating resources or renegotiating deliverables. An employee whose workload is growing rapidly must know who they are to go to when they realize that they’re not going to be able to achieve their objectives. Supervisors who encourage their direct reports to be scan the horizon and share information as early as possible will keep you ahead of the curve. Direct reports will request additional support or ask the supervisor to prioritize within the scope of work on their plate. This basic building block of supervision will provide a foundation for meeting the demands of rapid growth.
5) Do you know when you can afford to expand your team to meet the demands of growth?
So far, you have communicated mission and values, developed your organizational chart, established roles to motivate your team to success, and identified and reinforced supervisory skills of current and future leaders. My clients have often found that these tools open capacity and create an opportunity for growth without additional staffing requirements; depending on how far and how fast you want to grow you may not need to expand your team for quite some time. But you should be prepared for when the time comes.
You have an idea about what roles you expect will be the next additions to your team. Take the time before you launch your growth strategy to confirm current pay scales for the positions you expect to fill. Determine the weekly or monthly volume increase that will be required to justify that investment, and you will have identified your trigger point, not to automatically hire, but to consider whether hiring is required. When you reach that trigger point, check in with your staff. Is the team strained with growth, or are they confidently handling the expansion? You will know that you have the ability to expand the team if necessary and can continue to check in to discover when the time will be right.
Your next level of success is yours for the taking. With a high quality product or service and the right marketing team, you can and will drive sales, and this simple checklist will give you the confidence and tools to build the foundation that will support that next level of success!
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