Stuck. Tapped out. Stagnating. Frustrated. Leveling off. These are some of the words I’ve heard business owners and leaders use to describe their situations when their companies’ growth has slowed or even stopped, despite their best efforts.
In most cases this is good news, because if there was growth before, then hitting some sort of ceiling is simply a growing pain. And the ability to bust through that ceiling is directly proportional to a leadership team’s ability to grasp and execute five important leadership disciplines, which come from the book Traction by Gino Wickman: Simplify, Delegate, Predict, Systemize, and Structure. Here’s how you do it.
As an organization grows it naturally gets more complex—there’s more information, more moving parts, more people, more departments. In a former life I helped start up a new manufacturing facility where the entire leadership team was comprised of engineers (myself included). Man, how we liked to complexify things! I think some people tend to overcomplicate things because somehow it makes them feel smart.
Author Dan Sullivan sums it up best: “No further progress and growth is possible for an organization until a new state of simplicity is created.” Less is more. Simple is better. Resist the urge to bolt on more sexy bells and whistles to processes, systems, communications, and the like, and instead be ever-vigilant and intentional about keeping things as uncomplicated and clear-cut as possible.
We’ve all heard the truism made popular by Marshall Goldsmith’s 2007 book: “What got you here won’t get you there.” By hanging on to all the tiny details, leaders actually hold their companies back. When leaders learn to let go of the details so that they can operate at their best and highest use to the organization, that personal growth translates into company growth.
A good place to start is with a fierce and honest inventory of all the tasks that you think are your job, and ask yourself three questions about each one you list:
- Am I the only one who can do this?
- Am I the only one who should do this?
- Why is that?
Review your list and start assigning all the tasks that you’ve outgrown to someone else. A business owner may think that writing proposals, approving invoices, and handling customer complaints are strategic priorities worthy of a chief executive’s attention… in most cases, they’re just not. As a recovering perfectionist, I know first-hand that perfectionism can be a real barrier to happiness; allow the 80% solutions to be just fine.
Leaders of successful companies have an informed opinion about the future. They’re strong in both long- and short-term planning and predicting, where long term is 90 days and beyond, while short term is inside of 90 days.
To do this, leadership teams have to know where the organization is going and how they expect to get there. Long-term predicting starts with clear far-future pictures (10-year, three-year, one-year) and working your way back to the present. This tells us what we have to accomplish in the next 90 days to stay on track with those pictures.
Short-term predicting is the ability to tackle and solve all the issues and challenges that come at us daily and weekly and actually make them go away forever. Not solving pesky issues and sweeping them under the rug with band-aids and workarounds actually hurts much more than it helps: the little nagging things that aren’t dealt with today will often propagate themselves into bigger, hairier monster-problems that will be more difficult to fix in the long term.
In my experience the leadership teams that are best at predicting are those who have a regular (a.k.a. sacred) cadence to their meetings, in which they follow a proven process for clearly identifying and effectively solving (forever!) their daily and weekly issues.
Systemize goes hand in hand with Simplify. There are just a handful of core processes that make any organization function – marketing, HR, accounting, sales, and so on. By documenting and simplifying the six to ten core processes or procedures that make up your company’s “way” of doing business, you’ll begin to create consistency across the company. The more you can clarify your key processes and hone them, the more you’ll be running your business instead of it running you.
Remember, less is more, so focus on the 20% of your processes that make up 80% of your results. The tricky part here is training and managing everyone involved to follow the processes as they are documented, with no exceptions. The secret is to keep them high level and basic. Think bullets and checklists, not 100-page procedure manuals. Bonus: With solid processes in place and followed by all, it becomes super-easy for leaders to let go of things they’re hesitant to delegate.
Many businesses become stuck because of how they’re structured. Some have org charts that are either so loose or so complex that they’re useless. Instead of having a set-up that reduces complexity and creates accountability, they’re designed around people personalities, egos, and sometimes even fear.
Leaders should take a step back, view the organization from afar and above, and determine the structure that’s required for the organization to get to the next level. It’s essential to remove everyone’s names from every box and get the structure right first. Focus on functions, their processes, and their expected outcomes. As a result you’ll be crystal clear about all the positions in the company and what each one is accountable for.
Only with this clarity should you then start assigning people’s names to each position. If a person is no longer a fit for a position, don’t change the org chart! This process helps you put the best person possible into each role. Usually it also highlights areas where you’ve been tolerating mediocrity, mediocrity that has likely been holding the company back.
The U.S. Small Business Administration notes that about 50% of small businesses fail in their first five years. Many organizations fail because they’re unable to get through their growing pains. Mastering and sticking to these five leadership disciplines is the prescription to go from flatlining to growing, profitably and sustainably.