As a passionate leader you believe you have the energy and fortitude to accomplish great objectives: revenue growth, expansion, new products, and more jobs. But as your company grows you are most likely finding that the operations and day-to-day management tasks overwhelm and bury your team. Each consecutive step towards growth becomes harder as the “machine” that is your company becomes more entrenched in day-to-day firefighting.
What is a Growth Plateau?
StratCraft calls this tapering off of grwoth a “growth plateau” and its main characteristics are (1) the executives and upper management feel stressed out and overwhelmed (2) adding people is not increasing revenue but appears to be adding complexity (3) margins begin to be eroded even if revenue is going up.
How can you and your team overcome this plateau and continue the trajectory of growth even while ensuring the expanded scope of operations is well maintained and runs smoothly?
To understand the growth plateau, we must first understand the difference between tactics and strategy.
Tactics involves dealing with the day-to-day operations. The daily management, the daily maintenance, the daily execution of marketing, sales, design, manufacturing, accounting, and delivery activities. When you’re focused on tactics, you’re either proactively setting tasks based on a thoughtful strategy that directs your priorities or you’re reacting to the situation-of-the-day by executing whatever you’re most comfortable with.
Strategy is about looking at the bigger picture of what needs to be done to reach the desired objectives. It’s about developing unique and thoughtful approaches to how you and your company will change to be able to grow to the next stage. Strategy builds the bridge from the objective to the priorities that you and your team should use to guide the tactics.
The growth plateau occurs because the previous strategy is no longer effective at getting you to your objective. More often though, the team hits a plateau when there is no strategy, and the tactics prevail.
If you don’t set the strategy for how your company will change in order to grow, then the circumstances of growth will change your company in whatever way they will.
To be consistently strategic and make effective progress towards your objectives you need to adopt and maintain strategy practices in your own work and in the work of your team. If you can make strategy a habit in your leadership, you will be more successful in unlocking business growth.
8 Habits to Unlock Your Business Growth
1. Focus on Goals
Keep your team focused on the company goals and use them to set priorities and cut distractions.
Have the objectives posted and visible in a shared system, in a written and shared plan or even on a whiteboard or poster.
Make the list of strategies short and clear: 5-10 items total, 2-3 per manager.
Evaluate which activities support the strategy and goal, and ruthlessly cut the activities that do not.
Make it acceptable to discuss whether certain tactics support the objectives but once decisions are made, make sure they are acted upon quickly.
2. Establish Priorities
Deliberately cut activities that are not supporting the goals and have priority focused conversations on a regular basis.
Prioritizing is not a set-it and forget-it process. Priorities shift as circumstances evolve. Make it your habit to review them critically and to write them down.
It’s easy to get distracted not only by the pleasant work in business but also by seemingly important “problems” that crop up everywhere. Discuss these with your team openly and sort out – are these new items are big deal or small deals urgent or not? and which, if any goals do they support. Move on from problems that are not important, urgent, and in the way of your goals.
3. Refer to Processes
Be a role model by creating a company workflow and impart the importance of building processes as a part of a manager’s responsibility.
Role model this by creating a process for the “workflow of the company” and show how it flows at the highest level of the business.
Repeatability will make it easier for others to follow up or take over work if needed. This will unlock scalability in your team and make it easier to hire and onboard new people.
Designing processes is an art and a science – invite your team to participate in setting up processes and use each other’s strengths to make them sensible and clear.
4. Utilize Knowledge Systems
Ensure that information (files, standards, processes) is easy to access and navigate so that all employees have the information and resources they need to succeed.
McKinsey reported that up to 20% of an employee’s time is spent searching for files or trying to track down co-workers to help them with a specific question. What a frustrating experience!
Use software and systems to have searchable databases and continuity of information. It is better to have one and to change it later than to lose information and productivity because you’re not using systems at all.
Don’t let any manager make themselves “indispensable” by hoarding information and creating a silo. Reward sharing and transparency.
5. Practice Transparency
Establishing open, regular dialogue between team members is key for unlocking business growth. Reward transparency to ensure everyone feels comfortable sharing ideas, successes, and failures freely.
Plan how your team members will communicate with you and each other about progress on strategy.
Use regularly scheduled meeting or a written report to build a habit of sharing forecasts, asking for help, and brainstorming solutions to challenges.
Learn about the communication styles and preferences of your team members and create opportunities for them to lead discussions in a way that uses their strengths.
Demonstrate that bringing up challenges (and even problems) has benefits to the team by reacting with purpose and allocating resources to solve them.
6. Recognize Progress and Effort
Building a company is hard work and you and your team will inevitably face setbacks. Use those moments to reward your team and recognize their contributions.
Sometimes setbacks will slow down progress. Sometimes a strategy change is required to overcome the challenge and your team must pivot. Take the time to synthesize the progress that’s been made and to recognize if particularly difficult challenges were overcome.
Gratitude goes a long way in motivating a team. Be sure to deliberately practice gratitude to help your team maintain momentum.
7. Reward Personal Growth
For your company to evolve, your leadership team must evolve to support it but personal change takes tremendous humility and effort.
Personal growth and changing habits are the most challenging aspect of strategy execution because of the energy and mental presence required. Encouragement, gratitude, and recognition will go a long way in helping your team grow.
Use 1:1s to uncover how the company goals and their personal growth goals align.
Offer executive coaching to your leaders – many will jump at the opportunity to get additional training, support in difficult decision making, and the additional accountability that comes with having a coach. Numerous studies have shown that coaching has 6X or more ROI for each leader, and that organization using coaching consistently outperforms their competitors. (Corinna 2022)
Reward people who are keeping the goals front and center to their work. Build incentives for both short term and long-term growth objectives into your compensation and benefits.
8. Learn from Every Outcome
Strategy and planning are muscles that you build through time. Early on, learn from approaches that don’t work and adjust.
Being strategic isn’t about knowing the one true path, its about charting a course based on your best ideas and testing it out with purpose and focus until it yields results.
If your results are not on target to achieve your goals, you have learned something. Adjust your strategy based on what you’ve learned and try again.
As companies grow, they may hit a plateau that can limit their ability to reach the next level of growth. Strategy and planning can unlock your team's ability to overcome the plateau by ensuring that your team is focused on the right goals and objectives and makes daily strides towards them.
Developing habits that promote focus and prioritization, transparency and learning will help your team focus their energy on the most important tasks needed to make your company scale.
Through effective communication, written and defined goals, strategies, priorities, and processes everyone involved will understand what needs to be accomplished. With the right guidance from management, your team will be able to execute a strategy to drive growth and move forward towards long-term objectives. Fostering these 8 habits will transform your team from tactical operations to strategic execution and help you overcome the challenges that come with growth. Doing so will lead your company towards scalability and prosperity.
Article was originally printed on the Acorn Oak Women's Executive Network Blog