3 signs your small business is no longer ... small
Monday, November 16, 2015
Across industries — from design firms to doctor's offices, accounting teams to nonprofits — there is a tipping point small organizations reach where something has to change. The company starts to outgrow its original framework and requires something new to operate.
It is critical for leaders to recognize these signs to get ahead of the curve or else operational issues will take on an increasingly large and draining role in their work.
So how do you avoid getting sucked into running your business instead of leading it? There are some obvious signs things need to change — like physically outgrowing your space because of new equipment, services and/or employees. But this type of change is not always obvious and not always about physical growth.
Many times the telltale sign of change is an increased sophistication in operations. This can happen over a longer stretch of time as the team grows more efficient and effective, and therefore it is often harder to spot. Yet, for the continued success of the organization and the sanity of its employees, it is incumbent upon leaders to identify the need and take action.
Here are three hints your organization is no longer a mom-and-pop shop:
1. Early employees are struggling with new processes or methods. Those first employees are like the canary in the coal mine. Often they are the first to signal things have changed faster than they can handle. If the office manager that seemed perfect when you started is always overwhelmed and never comes up with ideas to help increase efficiency, it could be a sign you are at a tipping point.
2. You have a compelling urge to start writing down processes or policies. Whether something has happened and now your attorney strongly urges you to get a handbook or you just feel it is time to start putting in a dress code, codifying work hours or memorializing all the benefits you offer, wanting to implement structure is often a sure sign of growth.
3. Original team-building activities no longer work well. Taking the whole team to lunch, beer and pizza on Fridays or staff meetings in the conference room used to be fun, but now it is an accident waiting to happen. While this may seem obvious, there is an urge — especially among the entrepreneurial set — to try to continue casual bonding to keep the original culture alive. If it starts feeling like a logistical struggle to do so, it might be time to rethink your organization's framework.
So what can you do?
First, fight the urge to control everything. It may have been easy at first, but at some point delegating work and trusting others will save your sanity and your firm.
Second, do not keep original employees out of guilt. They may have been exactly what you needed at one time, but if they are no longer keeping up, you can no longer afford to spend a disproportionate amount of time helping them. Yes, it is good to be loyal and to invest in employees, but it is neither good nor fair to other employees to continue to support someone who is holding the group back.
And finally, while it is never good to throw the baby out with the bathwater, it is important to rethink old practices. In other words, you may love getting everyone together for beer and happy hours once a month, but at some point it is OK to outgrow these practices. The critical thing is to replace them with new activities that make more sense for your organization.
Bottom line: Read the writing on the wall. Stop spending your time running your organization and get back to what you do best.
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