How many times have you wondered ‘how do I grow my company?’ If you are like most start-ups or regional SMEs I suspect it is numerous.
At our first Innovation Week conference in 2004, after a prolonged search, I found a speaker willing to talk about business growth. His thesis for business growth ‘shameless self-promotion’ was hardly satisfying.
In 2008 when I started as the Director of the Centre for Research & Innovation (CRI) at Grande Prairie Regional College, I was still asking the question. But this time it was personal – ‘how do I grow this organization?’ and it was pertinent. I wanted to take an approach that would work for our clients.
Now after 6 years at the CRI; many years of searching for a simple explanation and gathering insights and embracing techniques that worked for others; and achieving #1 in Canada for applied research growth for Community Colleges; I still don’t have a definitive answer.
In hindsight, this is the approach that worked for me. I offer this hoping it will also work for you.
Pieces: You must know what pieces are needed to make it work, if you are going to grow an organization. What do you need to produce the results you desire? While this may seem obvious for most of the pieces (i.e. space to work, production equipment, employees, marketing staff) it is critical that you have all of the pieces. You cannot grow into a strong organization with pieces missing or not functioning well.
Keep in mind that operating systems are big part of the needed pieces. The systems needed for a 150 employee company cannot be the same as the systems that were used when there were 5 or even 50 people. Put systems in place that match the company size that you want to become. 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 your growth will be constrained to that level.
Fit: the pieces must fit together. How well the pieces fit and work together will either contribute to or constrain growth. Be intentional about organizational structure and choose what fits best (i.e. network vs. hierarchical). Be intentional about structuring along function (production, market, business systems) or along value chain. Without conscious decisions, you may end up creating ‘silos’, or chaos, or both.
Focus: on what do you focus your energy? Are you spinning not knowing what to do next? Are you focusing on the tasks at hand just to get through the day or are you focused on your strategic priorities? Are you clear about when you are “making money, spending money or saving money” to quote a former farm business owner and neighbor. Are you focused on outcomes or going through the motions? And yes it does matter how you do things.
Matter: How you do things is critical, is important, and can be significant – essentially the definition of matter. Obviously, the quality of work you do or the products you produce matters. And we have heard for decades that it matters where you locate (location, location, location).
But it also matters how resources are allocated: How much money you spend on infrastructure vs operations; what you pay for your money; whether you start small and expand only after there is no more room, or if you over build at the start.
It matters who you hire (skills, experience, attitudes, fit) and who you promote (or overlook). It matters how you treat your staff – think coaching or discipline. It matters how creative and productive your staff are. It matters how much responsibility you give them (or don’t give them) – think WestJet vs. Air Canada. And so it matters what their priorities are – because they better fit with your companies priorities. It also matters what you tolerate – bad behavior or practice will not only prevent the company from growing, it can destroy it.
I also realized that some of these things are easy to overlook when I was ‘up to my neck in alligators’. Some were too hard to do – either because I didn’t have the skills that I needed (or thought I needed) or because I didn’t have the energy to tackle it right then. Finally, I realized none of this is possible without action.
While there is much more to be said about organizing and operating your business for growth, I was seeking the essence of what worked for me. What simple thoughts could I bring to the forefront of my mind that I could share with my staff, as we went about our day-to-day work. These three things are what I kept coming back to – focus fit and the pieces. And yes it does matter how you do things, how you manage your energy, and yes you must act – procrastinators need not apply.
So … focus on the pieces ensuring they fit together. Remember: you must take action and it does matter how you do things. And if you manage your energy (so you have the energy to do the critical things when needed) I think you can’t help but create the practices and systems needed to grow.
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