If you and your company have made it past the start-up stage, congratulations! You've poured a lot of time, resources, and lots of yourself into getting the company this far. But, here's a secret that is generally only know by entrepreneurs who have been in the game for years: it's only just begun.
Well, maybe it's not much of a secret, but it's the truth. Your Herculean efforts to get your business off the ground were impressive, but that's nothing compared to the new challenges that lie ahead, the people and financing you're going to need, and the changes that will be required if you want to grow .
During the fast pace and myriad distractions of start-up, it is easy to overlook some of the fundamentals your company will need in order to be ready for growth . But now that you've achieved some degree of success, take a "time out" and assess the strength of your foundation. Make sure that your company has a foundation that will support growth.
Here are five big issues you should consider during your "time out" if you want your company to be able to evolve and grow to the next stage of development. .
Assess your company's culture and make sure it reflects your values. Values can range from ethical philosophies ("Treat all customers fairly") to desired behaviors ("Show up on time") to core beliefs ("Have fun with what you do"). If you haven't yet, take time to write down your own values and apply them to your company's mission and goals. As a leader, you set an example to everyone in your organization. Once you've set a clear message and communicated it, assess what parts of your company (such as people, policies, systems) aren't functioning in accordance with your values. First, over-communicate your values, and then be prepared to follow-up with actions that demonstrate you are serious about the culture and values.
Assess your people. You may have already identified some poor performers, but maybe you thought that a "warm body" was better than no body during the craziness of start-up. Not so! Replacing the poor performers is a no brainer, but also take the time to review people's fit with your values. If you have someone who is unethical or has a bad attitude, they may be worse than the bumbler who is incapable of doing the job. Negative people are like a virus in the organization. Replace them before they do long-term damage.
Go beyond your review of the individuals in your company. Assess your top team as a group, and the individuals on the team in terms of their ability to share your leadership requirements. Not everyone is able to move to the next stage - and if you don't have the right team in place, your company won't be able to continue moving forward. Who is your next generation of leaders? Create org charts for the next couple of years, with a forecast of significant growth. Where do the members of your team fit? If you don't have people who can be promoted to fill these leadership roles, you need to start training and mentoring your best people, and begin to look for some new people to hire.
Develop a plan for the future. Don't rely on your original strategic plan to work forever. And, if you got this far without a formal plan, stop pressing your luck! Take stock of your company's strengths, resources, and opportunities and chart a clear course. Learn from the lessons of the past, but remember, the past is history. Your plan should acknowledge obstacles, but it should focus on the resources you have available to you now, and develop a path to take you to your desired future. Set concrete goals and communicate the plan, goals and objectives clearly so everyone in the company understands where the company is going. A company where everyone is working together, achieving clear goals, and rewarded for high performance is an awesome company.
Your Leader (yes, that means you!)
Here's a tricky one. Your leadership has guided you to the level of success you've achieved. It may come as a rude awakening that you now need to change, yes change - your roles, responsibilities and your approach to management. If you have made it past start-up, you are likely to be maxed out. Will you be able to handle a company that's double the current size? (Here's a quick check: if you are already working 12 hours a day or more, the answer is no!) Concentrate on the things you do best, and guide your team to take on some of the roles you currently handle. During the "time out", review your own leadership and delegation skills. Do you have the requisite leadership skills to lead high growth? If not, join a program that will develop your leadership skills, get a coach, or step aside and think seriously about finding someone else who can lead your company through its next stage of development.
Do you understand and practice smart delegation? It's much easier to delegate when you have people you trust and have vetted to whom you can delegate. Your company requires your best leadership skills.. Setting goals, setting the course and focusing everyone in the same direction are key requirements for long-term, sustained growth.
You have a lot of work ahead of you. But during your "time out", take time to recognize all the things you have done right! And don't be shy about celebrating your success. You have a lot to be proud of. Then communicate your appreciation - as well as your vision, your values, goals and future challenges to all your employees And enjoy the ride! There's nothing more fun than taking a company from start-up through growth.
Dr. Jana Matthews
Dr. Jana Matthews, founder and CEO of Boulder Quantum Ventures, is an expert on entrepreneurial leadership and business growth. Based in Boulder, CO, she works with founding entrepreneurs, CEOs, corporate executives and top teams to unlock their company's growth potential. In addition, Matthews consults with foundations, government agencies and corporations that help entrepreneurs.
She has written six books, including the first two books in the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership series (co-authored with Katherine Catlin): Leading at the Speed of Growth: The Journey from Entrepreneur to CEO, and Building the Awesome Organization: Six Components that Drive Growth. For more information, check out www.boulderquantumventures.com.
Jana Matthews Founder and CEO Boulder Quantum Ventures