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Every small business faces similar challenges, but one of the most complex is choosing how and when to grow. For the most part, business growth is a natural process and usually a positive thing. The trick is to manage growth in a way that works for you and your people and keeps your company in alignment with its own purpose and values.
It’s very easy when undergoing periods of growth to lose sight of why you went into business in the first place, to not “see the forest for the trees” and let the day-to-day mechanics of growing your business get in the way of maintaining your corporate values and culture. When that happens, the entire dynamic of your company can shift.
Even if it happens incrementally, small changes add up. If growth happens without forethought or clear intention, one day you could look around and realize the very thing that made your company unique (in other words, differentiated you in the marketplace with employees and with customers) no longer exists.
This presents an obvious question: How do you make the decision to grow?
There’s no denying that timing is crucial when it comes to growing your business, but how can you be sure the time is right and, moreover, that the steps you take toward growth keep your company on the right path?
A good place to start is to first clearly define the reasons behind your need or decision to grow. Like many other small businesses, growth at TWT has been precipitated by our staff — a group of smart and ambitious employees who are keen to take on new challenges, develop their skills and build their careers. We hire for aptitude, ability and, most importantly, culture fit, not necessarily a particular skill or job title, so it’s incumbent upon us as an employer to provide a platform for our people to grow. We create opportunities for our staff members. We figure out what they like to do and where their strengths lie and devise ways for staff members to grow into their skill sets. As a result, our company has grown, too.
Many employers rightly identify a double-edged sword with growth achieved by growing your people: You run the inherent risk that your people will outgrow your organization. There’s a great business adage that addresses the issue perfectly.
CFO says to CEO: “What if we invest in our people and they leave us?”
CEO replies to CFO: “What if we don’t invest in our people and they stay?”
The point is clear: If you want your business to thrive and stay in step with (if not ahead of) the competition, you have to invest in those who work for you. You can’t control whether they’ll stick with you in the long run, but that’s beside the point. The bottom line is, happy employees make for happy clients, and that magical symbiotic relationship is what makes business growth possible. In the famous words of Richard Branson, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
Business owners are always walking a bit of a tightrope when growing their organizations, and not just because of the risk of staff outgrowing the company. Growth can precipitate change at the most profound level, affecting the very values upon which a business is founded. A company’s values are the foundation of its culture, so changes to the value system can cause seismic shifts within the organization.
Today’s employees are strongly motivated to work for something (or someone) they believe in. Long gone are the days when people stayed with the same employer for decades simply for the sake of collecting a paycheck. More than buying into what a company sells, employees today buy into what a company stands for. When companies deviate from their cultural values, they tend to quickly lose the faith and confidence of staff, obviously to negative effect.
It goes back to the happy employees/happy clients principle. We at TWT believe that happiness at work is the result of living our values, which include building relationships, freedom and innovation and doing what’s right. When we live our values, we make ourselves happy and our clients happy, which sets the stage for growth and success.
It’s important for business owners to conduct regular checkups on the overall health of their value system both before and during periods of growth. If your organization is operating in ways that run counter to your core values, you know somewhere along the line you’ve gone off track.
Why choose to grow your business? Because it expands your customer base, creates opportunities for your organization, heightens brand awareness and increases revenues. That said, unmitigated growth can cause cash flow problems and complicate logistics in dozens of detrimental ways. In short, done carelessly, growth can become a runaway train.
Although growth is never easy, it’s almost always necessary at some point. Companies that are stagnant can’t be competitive, and if you’re not competitive, your days in business are numbered. Of course, extraneous factors such as the economy come into play and need to be accounted for when entering a growth stage, but the key components for success through growth are internal to your company. And the good news is, you control them.
January 7, 2019 at 08:28AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs