Years ago while I was developing The Innovation Network and working with innovators who were wanting to grow their business, I didn’t have an answer to their simple question: How do I grow my company?
In fact when we held our first Innovation Week conference in 2004 I did an extensive search across Canada for a speaker. There were few recommendations and even fewer willing to talk about the subject. At the end of the presentation we did have, it seemed that ‘shameless self-promotion’ was the speaker’s key message. I knew there must be more to this than that.
When I came back to the Peace Country in 2008 as the Director of the Centre for Research & Innovation (CRI) at Grande Prairie Regional College, I found myself still thinking about the question. But this time it was personal – How do I grow this organization?
After 5 years at the CRI, I now have an answer – not the answer but an answer to both questions.
When I started in September 2008, the CRI consisted of one part-time administrative assistant, one very part-time retired instructor on contract and one Dean trying to manage its development off the side of his desk. When our current team met for its quarterly retreat last week, 15 people dedicated to developing applied research and innovation services in the Peace Country attended.
While my experience has been within this and other organizations, I am convinced that these insights apply equally to any start-up and or small business wanting to grow.
Quite simply, it’s about the pieces, about fit, and yes it matters how you do things. While these three insights may be key you must also first be clear about what you why your company exists (purpose) and you must stay flexible (more about these last two at the end).
The pieces: If you are going to grow an organization, you must know what pieces are needed to make it work. What do you need in order to produce the results you desire? While this may seem obvious for most of the pieces (i.e. space to work, required equipment, employees) what is critical is that you need all of the pieces. You cannot grow into a strong organization with pieces missing or not functioning well. And don’t overlook that systems are part of the needed pieces.
The systems needed for a 150 employee company are not the same as when there were 15. Put the systems in place that are at least functional for the number of people you wish to employ. I contend that if you are still using the same human resource, financial and or contract management systems as when you were in start-up or a very small company, that you will remain that
way – constrained as a start-up or very small company. I also recommend that you develop more robust systems than your immediate need so that you can grow into that capacity. I believe it is definitely worth the time, expense and effort.
The fit: How you put the pieces together is critical. Literally, how you fit them together will either contribute or constrain growth. Be intentional about organizational structure (network vs. hierarchical; by function or along value chain), management (is it ‘the boss’ or ‘the management team’) and culture.
While it may seem inconceivable at start-up that you would end up creating ‘silos’, that will happen unless conscious decisions are not made otherwise. It only takes a few people working in physical or functional isolation for processes to start to erode.
It matters: I have come to realize that, quite simply, it matters. It does matter who you hire and who you promote (or overlook). It does matter how creative and productive your staff are, what their priorities are and how focused they are. It does matter how risks are taken, to what and how resources are allocated, and how decisively you act.
It does matter what you tolerate – because bad behavior or practice can not only prevent the company from growing, but can destroy it. And most definitely, it does matter how you treat your clients or customers, the quality of work you do or the products you produce for them, and how you treat them when they are not happy with your work or products.
The book ends: what makes all this work is first being clear about your purpose and what you want to build. It is also critical that everyone knows why the organization exists (vision), what its mission is and that there is passion for both.
Once you have determined what the pieces are, have put them in place and have things working, you must remain flexible and do not ossify too quickly. You must balance being making the changes that are needed for growth not making too many changes and never allowing things to settle.
Timely and astute decision making is recommended. Why? Because you will never get it right the first time and you must allow your company to grow into itself.
There is much more to be said about growth, but that will have to wait for another day.