Removing barriers to growth in your business

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Man pointing to image to the right

"Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain,
but all the happiness and growth occurs
while you're climbing it."

... Andy Rooney

Understand ... and deal with ... what is holding you back from growing

If you are not running a lifestyle company then you need to constantly grow your business to survive. Not uncontrolled growth for the sake of growth, but intelligent growth that reflects market trends and build on your company's strengths.

The market is growing. Your competitors are growing. If you are not, the prospect for your future is inevitable shrinkage.

Another way of saying this is

Direction ChoicesThe greatest thing in this world is
not so much where we stand
as in what direction we are moving.
... Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

So what can you do to grow your company? And what kind of growth do you want? Growth in a specific area of your business? Faster growth overall? More efficient growth?

When many people think about what they need to do to grow their company, their first thoughts go to new products, improved marketing, better sales and pipeline management and other outbound activities.

But if you thought your biggest impediment to growth came from external factors like competition, technology advancements, customer expectations, ... , you may be right, but odds are there are internal restrictions being placed on your company that exceed the external constraints.

According to research by Bain & Company, 85% of executives say that the greatest barriers to achieving their growth objectives lie inside their own four walls.

Most of these barriers resulted from complexity and bureaucracy that had accumulated as these leaders scaled up their businesses In the largest companies, this rises to 94%.

How true is this of your organization?

And what are you doing / can you do to unshackle your company from the restrictions that are self-imposed?

According to (from which came the Bain & Company figures above) there are 5 ways that internal issues can constrain growth:

  • Stick man in mazeSpeed
    Speed to recognize the need to change, interpret how, decide on what, and react.
  • Motive
    Small, young companies are a meritocracy; larger organizations have job descriptions, compensation plans, ... that create different motivations
  • Time
    Time used for "Overhead" activities like meetings, reviews, approvals, ...
  • Decision Making
    How are decisions made and who is involved? Is it all necessary?
  • Information Flow
    In small companies everyone knows customers, projects, ... . Larger organizations create "need to know" silos and require higher-level (less-informed) people to make decisions.

Any of this sound familiar to you?

Stick man manager overshadow workerThe internal focus continues with an article at , where it supports the internal sources and adds a hybrid issue that has both internal and external elements:

  • The inability of the CEO to let go
  • Being a cheapskate
  • Not adjusting to unforgiving market dynamics

Another perspective, one that supports the idea of internal constraints being a significant potential impediment to growth but also adds some external flavour to the mix is from , where they present the 12 most common barriers to sustainable growth which include issue of perceived value by your customers:Value key

  • Misread Market Dynamics
  • Weak or unclear Value Proposition/Brand Promise
  • Inattention to the Transformation of Customer Behavior
  • Insufficient Pipeline

and others.

Try doing an internet search for "business barriers to growth" and you'll find these and many more, similar articles.

So what is it in your company? Are you getting in the way of your own success?

How do you know if you, or other internal issues, are impeding growth in your company?

And if you discover the issues are internal, potentially including you personally, what can you do about it?

It all starts with awareness. So what can you monitor your business and determine if internal issues are impeding growth?

Internal metrics; Are you seeing any of:

  • An increase in the number of employees without a proportionate increase in revenues and profits?
    To see if this is happening, start having, as part of your monthly reports, some stats that talk about Revenue per Employee, Profits per Employee
  • A pattern of people coming to you needing you to solve their problem / approve their activity?
    Next time someone comes to you asking you what they should do, turn it back to them and ask them questions like "What have you tried so far?", "Who have you involved in trying to find a solution?", "What do you think the best thing to do would be?". Yes, I know, you could just do it and get it done faster (this time) but work with them and see how they work through the problem. If they can learn how to solve problems themselves, they will eventually be able to grow the business without needing to wait for you to tell them what to do. This may be hard on your ego initially, as you are needed less and less, but it is better for the business and actually better for you as well, allowing you to spend time working "on" the business, instead of working "in" the business. A good leader once told me about a time when an employee told him he was the bottleneck in the company. He had thought his office was the "solution provider, the sun from which good things emanate", but he realized that perspective was preventing his employees, his company, and him personally from evolving and growing.
  • Increased employee turnover - especially amongst the employees you have identified as the keepers in your organization.
    Employees know when a company has internal issues and the best employees know it will hurt their growth and their reputation, so they try - for a while - to make things better, but eventually, when the leader seems oblivious to or unable to fix the issues, they find greener pastures.
  • A growing sense of "It's not working."?
    Intuition, or "gut" is a very valuable indicator, when you know what "normal" feels like. You may not know what is not working or why, but you know things used to happen faster, with less hassle, and you want to get back to that level of efficiency. Start probing, asking questions, and dig until you can figure out what is holding your company back - even if the answer is you.

External indicators:

  • Do you monitor your customer support calls?
    We all hear that message "This call is being recorded for training purposes.". Well, actually record the calls and listen to a random selection of them. Or better yet, get on the phone once in a while and take the calls yourself.
  • Arrows pointing to centreIs customer response time climbing? Does it take longer to get orders filled and product out the door? To resolve customer issues?
    It is easy to assign the cause of this to a more complex product or to a wider array of products but that is only one possible solution. Don't settle for the easy answer. Dig.
  • Are you losing customers: new prospective customers and especially customers who have been with you for a while?
    Find out why. And don't accept the initial, polite answers you get. Most people do not want to cause offense and will sanitize their answer to the "What's not working?" question, but if you tell them you know something is wrong and you would really appreciate their help in figuring it out, they may give you real insights.
  • Do you have benchmarks that you review on a regular basis, both internal and against external standards?
    Most industry associations consolidate industry data to help companies compare themselves and build competitive strength. There are (good and bad) consultants who can assess your situation and give you feedback on how you perform relative to other, similar companies.

If you do find internal issues that are holding your company back, what do you do?

Well, for starters, you do NOT go back into your office and invent some new, improved way of doing things. You get the people who actually do the work to help you create better processes, procedures, policies (that even you must follow) and metrics.

It can start with a process map of the way things are right now: How are things done today? What are the touch points? Where are the activities that take time?

Then you can create a process map of how things can operate to make the results more efficient and more effective, keeping the customer in mind at all times.

Crowd thinking with leaderGive your employees permission to suggest improvements to how things are done. You can even set goals for the number of improvement suggestions per employee. And establish a procedure to transparently evaluate all suggestions with the understanding that you will act on the best suggestions that you can afford to implement. Have the employees that design the new system be the ones who do the work, with the objective of improving results as defined in the initial suggestion.

Ensure future hires are people who will be self-directed-learners so they will not only want to do the job they are doing well, but they will also want to constantly improve the results.

Network with your peers and outside experts who can help you see things you might not see without a fresh perspective.

It all starts with awareness.

So make sure you are observing your business with an eye to constant improvement - and establish a culture where everyone in the company is doing the same thing.


"Growth demands
a temporary surrender of security."

... Gail Sheehy
New York Times Bestselling Author

Posted in General Leadership, Team Alignment, Uncategorized.

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