Why Growing Small Firms Is So Painful

Why Growing Small Firms Is So Painful

Getting your company off the ground to a sustainable place should be the hardest part of starting a company, right? That’s what many think, and yet the growing pains and problems that occur within larger organizations go unaddressed until it’s too late. Rick was a recent guest on XeniumHR's Human Resources for Small Business podcast, hosted by Brandon Laws and they discuss the common issues companies experience when they grow from 10 employees to 20 employees and beyond, and how they can lay the groundwork for a successful organization – no matter its ultimate size.

What College Never Taught Me About Business

What College Never Taught Me About Business

June has been a busy month in our household with two graduations to celebrate; our oldest from college and our youngest from high school. As much as my wife and I are excited for the future that lay ahead of them, it is not without apprehension.

I have laid awake at night wondering if they are adequately prepared to enter the workforce and be the self-sustaining, contributing members of society we hope they’ll be. Regardless, I found myself writing a top ten list the other day of what twenty-eight years in business and adult life has taught me, with the thought that it will be needed soon.

Accountability Begins With Culture

Accountability Begins With Culture

“They just need to be more accountable!” my client railed, bemoaning the continued mediocre results from his sales team.

“Accountable for what?” I asked, though I knew the answer.

“For what?” he sputtered. “How about for results for starters! How difficult can it be to just go out and do your job?” he asked, shaking his head.

Managing The Gap


“You were wrong,” Phil stated confidently. “How so?” I asked, though I could tell where the conversation was going. I had worked with Phil and his team several years ago. With a couple dozen employees and ten million in sales, we implemented a strategic alignment of the business; a process of creating the foundational vision, mission and values along with the strategic processes to achieve the business objectives.

“Our growth," he continued. "We are achieving what we set out to do, but it hasn’t happened like you said it would.”

I don’t ever recall telling him how it would happen, but I wasn’t going to argue the point.

“When we put our plan together for how we would get there, we calculated it would take a double digit growth rate, year over year. We were on track the first couple of years, then the economy dumped and our sales went flat. Then we had a down year. We all took a pay cut to avoid laying off anyone.”

“Good for you Phil. Sounds like to you did the right thing.”

“Yeah, but my point is the goals and metrics became so unbelievable that I finally stopped sharing them. They became meaningless.”

Screen shot 2013-04-12 at 10.44.08 AMIt was at this point that it took everything in my power to keep from telling Phil this is where he missed the opportunity—in managing the gap between the goal and the current performance.

“So, what did you do?”

“I told them to just focus on their job and I’ll worry about where the business is going.”

Phil’s reaction is an all too familiar refrain I hear from many businesses owners. When things are going as planned managing the business is easy. The truth is however, we are learning much less when business is going as planned than when it isn’t.  It’s not easy to do, especially when everyone is looking to you for answers. Rather than bailing on the process as Phil did however, there are some simple steps you can take to stay the course, as follows:

  1. Have a defined goal – As simple as it sounds, many leaders fail to clarify what the target is yet they expect the organization to perform as if they should know, or worse, as if it doesn’t matter. Don’t kid yourself…it matters!
  2. You don’t have to know all the answers – The sooner you stop acting like a problem solver, the better. Become a solution promoter, viewing problems as an opportunity to involve employees in the problem solving process.
  3. Seek small, successive wins – One of the biggest temptations when things aren’t going as planned is to look for big win. While understandable, it is not a recipe for success. Stay the course and seek small but measureable successes. A popular refrain of a friend and sales mentor, Jerry Vieira of QMP Associates is, “succeeding in business comes from doing a thousand small things right.”
  4. Be patient and persistent – Edison once said, “most people don’t realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” You are likely closer to success than you think.
  5. Don’t miss the larger moment – Whether you recognize it or not, you are modeling how to lead through challenging times. How you choose to act today will likely become the standard for the team tomorrow.

Yes, Phil is experiencing success. The larger problem he hasn’t recognized however is it is largely on his back. It is arguable whether the team has learned anything other than to keep their heads down and not ask questions. While it may have worked for Phil this time, he’s done little to prepare for tomorrows challenge. Either Phil can start working with his team to become part of the solution, or he’d better make sure he has his A-game on. It’s not a matter of if the next challenge comes, but when.

Take the time to start working with your team to manage the gap and you will create a foundation for performance that will pay off when it really matters.

Game-changer: Taking your team where few tread...

Full disclosure…I don’t like doing hard work for the sake of hard work. Especially when it involves doing the same thing over and over (aka the definition of insanity!). Accordingly, when it comes to my client work and even administrative activities within my business, I am constantly on the lookout for game-changers. Game-changer  noun   /ˈɡeɪmˌtʃeindʒr/  Something that radically changes a situation.

Technology is full of game-changers. Look at what the PC was to the typewriter. Or the CD to LP records, and then the MP3 to CD’s. All are game-changers than have radically changed the rules to the game.

The question that comes to mind then is what is the game-changer for your business? As business owners, we are always keen for the next new tool or gadget that increases productivity or reduces cost. But how often do we look for the game-changers that exist within our business right now? I contend there is game-changer lurking in your business that most of you have not fully recognized or leveraged. It lies with your team.

I observe many teams in action and I am continually amazed at the raw potential that lay un-tapped because most companies are infected with SOS (shiny object syndrome). With SOS, companies continue to invest in the latest tools, machines, and whizbangs to increase profitability, all the while ignoring the proverbial low hanging fruit right in front of them—the performance of the team. The real irony here is most new technology fails to deliver because of the team. Don’t get me wrong here. Good tools for the business are important, however often they come at the cost of ignoring the opportunities with the team.

Now, before you question too harshly the effectiveness of yours, let me also be clear that the performance of the team is directly attributed to the effectiveness of the team’s leader. The results the teams are achieving, good, bad or indifferent, are symptomatic of the leadership, not soley the team. Ultimately, to leverage the potential of the team it requires a healthy introspection by the leader in terms of what they are, or are not doing to challenge for higher performance, and then doing something about it. In reality, it is not easy, hence why the shiny-object-syndrome is more often the path of least resistance.

While the scenarios we encounter are widely diverse, there are repeated themes in leadership and teams. Following are some of the common symptoms of team performance in organizations, along with their underlying root causes:

Type 1 – “Fails the bus test”: Symptoms include high turnover and repeated quality and delivery problems. When asked, “how does your role support the mission?” the employees frequently answer, “what mission?” Root cause – Command-and-control micro-managing leadership.

Type 2 – “Unguided missiles”: Symptoms include departments operating in silos. Turf wars and infighting among personalities are the norm. Performance is capable, yet unpredictable. Root cause – Overly passive/checked-out leadership.

Type 3 – “Contenders”: Symptoms include high frustration by top performers doing the majority of the work while underperformance by others is perpetually tolerated. Little accountability among each other and time is wasted through repeated triangulated conversations. Root cause – Leadership has a Messiah complex—they think they can save anyone.

Type 4 – “Game-changers”: Symptoms include open and honest team conversations about their performance and who needs help, exhibits true collaboration (willingness to give up turf for the sake of the objective), and assumes team responsibility for helping those who are struggling while willing to call it out. Root cause – Leader has struck a balance between challenging the team for best performance while expecting no less than shared ownership for each other’s contribution.

While the remedies for the first three categories are different for each, the common thread is making the investment in your team a strategic priority. It begins with ensuring the right people are “on the bus” (right people as in hiring for fit rather than just skills), and then providing them the leadership that challenges the team to operate at a game-changing level. This my friends, is the true game-changer for your business and in the long run, will produce as high a return as that fancy new whizbang you eyed at the last trade show.

The Monday Minute: Practicing Selflessness

Are you finding yourself challenged in your leadership role in way you never imagined? Take heart, you are not alone.

All leaders at one point or another will be challenge beyond their ability to deal with the adversity.

The good news is there are proven methods how to overcome these challenges and we can learn from them. Watch this video on how successful leaders deal with these challenges.

The Monday Minute: What got you here won't get you there

This week’s topic is on strategic alignment of the organization. Strategic alignment refers to the degree in which the Vision, Leadership, Strategy and Operations of the business are working inter-dependently to a common outcome.

What I have observed over the years is as companies grow and mature, there are critical times in their development in which one or more of these key elements get out of sorts with the other – whether it’s by becoming silo’d, or fighting head to head with the key drivers, the result is un-needed drag on the organization. It’s like driving down the freeway with the parking brake on.

Check out the video to see what steps you can begin taking to ensure strategic alignment in your business.

The Monday Minute: One-on-ones that work

I regularly hear excuses from leaders why they don’t have routine 1/1’s with their team members. Excuses such as, “We talk all the time. They know where I stand,” or, “If there is an issue, they know where to find me,” or my favorite bad excuse, “They already know what I expect. We don't need to meet.”

The truth is, if we don’t intentionally set aside time to talk about core issues of performance and expectations, then we really have very little idea what they believe the expectations are.

Watch this video to learn how to implement a simple and effective method for meaningful one-on-ones that work!

The Monday Minute: 20 days to success

If you’ve had any time in the leadership saddle at all, you’ve probably figured out that to be an effective leader, you have to constantly be learning new skills, and unlearning the bad habits you picked up along the way!

We approach either of these the same way, by repetition. Repetition is how we develop mental muscle memory, so whether it is a new habit you are trying to learn, or a bad habit you are trying to change, watch this video for some straightforward steps on how make the learning stick!

The Monday Minute: Performance Feedback Part 2 - The Three P's

The other half of effective performance feedback is receiving feedback, but it's not always easy to do. When we hear feedback we disagree with, we can often get defensive. So, how do we encourage our employees to bring issues forward? By practicing the three P's! Watch this weeks Monday Minute on how to create an environment that invites feedback for improvement.