Your organization is a boat… and like any boat on the water, you’re going to encounter waves that will take your boat through some ups and downs.
You’ll be riding high on a wave of growth one month and down in the ebbs the next.
Most leaders understand this cycle of growth, but many are unable to overcome it — their business or organization tossed around until it is left with irreparable damage.
Maybe they hit a huge high, but are unable to sustain the growth, ending up in a wide, deepening low that becomes difficult to come out of.
Some business don’t even make it to the top of the peak; stumbling out of the blocks and getting swallowed by the wave almost immediately.
No matter the effect, the cause for being unable to sustain growth through natural ebbs and flows comes down to one key organizational trait: capacity.
You see, you don’t take a dingy out into the ocean and expect it to take on large waves -- that would be foolish. Maybe it stays intact at first and maybe a skilled boatsman can survive some larger ones, but eventually, the waves get bigger and they don't stop coming and your ship starts to take on water or is broken apart by the pressure.
Why do we do this with our businesses? We throw our teams at waves of growth without preparing them for the impending storm. It takes a large ship that has been prepared and readied to withstand the sustained pressure, ups and downs, and even the weight of the number of people on board to get through.
We need to prepare our teams in the same way -- building our capacity to take on the waves of growth and the weight of more clients and employees before we move into deeper waters.
If you're like us, however, you've had to learn this the hard way at times. Just recently, we were riding a larger wave of growth than we had ever been on before. Man, it's fun when you're on that wave… it's exciting! However, exciting can soon turn into worry and worry to regret when you realize that you're not ready to take it on.
We realized pretty quickly that our boat wasn't quite ready for this new wave of growth so we took a step back and started preparing for the next cycle. Here's 5 tips to help your business when you realize that you're growing faster than your business, organization, or team can handle…
1. Prioritize and fix the immediate issues
It's really hard to do anything when your boat is taking on water. You've gotta start bailing first, then plug the holes, and then start addressing other issues.
When we realized we had some holes in our process, we prioritized what was the biggest, most critical issues and fixed those immediately. We may not have even got it right for the long-term… we just wanted to plug holes so we didn't sink.
Also, don't get caught in the trap of pointing fingers or making rash decisions. This is one of the most critical mistakes teams make when their organization starts failing. "Who's fault is it?" isn't a relevant question if you're all underwater. Work together to address immediate issues and then you can make adjustments to your team later.
2. Stop all marketing
You've heard the old adage, "You only get one chance at a first impression." Well, especially in business life, this is true.
Some people might tell you that you can't afford to stop growing, even when you're going through rough times… and that is somewhat true… you can't afford to stop growing… your capacity!
Your marketing, on the other hand, can and should pause to make time for your capacity to build.
If not, your next sale might turn in to the straw that broke the camel's back. Or, even worse, it may turn in to a poor experience for the client that ultimately leads to a bad review and further loss down the road.
At Lemonade Stand have a virtually flawless online reputation and we aim to do everything we can to keep it that way… even if that means sacrificing some short-term sales goals for long-term relationships with clients that love us and advocate for us.
Now, does that mean you should completely stop taking on new clients? Not necessarily. If the right client comes comes in, don't turn them away. They're good clients and the right fit your business… you want them! But don't go seeking out new sales, especially at the bottom of the sales funnel (i.e. spending money on AdWords) when you're struggling to take care of the current clients you have today.
3. Stop hiring
This one might hurt… Don't hire someone to fix your problems.
When you're growing too fast, the first reaction leaders often have is to try and find new people that will fill in their team's gaps. After all, we can afford it now… you're going to NEED someone eventually anyway. However, hiring out of need is a surefire way to get in to even deeper troubles.
But wait… don't you need to grow your capacity? How can you grow your capacity to serve more people if you don't have more people on your team to serve them?
If your boat was taking on water, would you ever consider adding another person to the boat? Of course not… that's crazy! So, why would you do that with your organization?Don't hire someone to fix your problems. - @JohnRowa Click To Tweet
When you're going through growing pains, you've gotta take a step back and assess your current team's capacity and how to grow it. Adding someone to the mix will often just pass responsibility and accountability on to that new person, putting them in an ill-fit position to succeed and deprives your current team the opportunity to actually grow and become better.
Plus, every manager who's ever hired someone will tell you a story about how they "rushed to hire" someone they probably shouldn't. Trust me, we've been there. Filling from a position of need instead of a process-driven hire that tests a candidate's skills, culture fit, and values is how you end up with regret and lose even more money.
So, don't make the quick decision to hire someone. Slow your hiring process down (or stop it) and take your time to find the RIGHT person that is the right fit rather than the wrong person that fills a temporary need.
4. Start training your team and build leaders
Now that you're not seeking out new sales or hiring new people, you're going to need to continue moving forward. You need to start building and growing your team's internal capacity or your growth will continue to stagnate.
A well-respected leader once told me that while growth and capacity can move independently from one another at times, capacity has the ability to pull growth up or down with it.
So, imagine growth and capacity as two waves. If capacity moves up, growth will be eventually pulled up with it. And if capacity moves down, growth might stay up near the peak for a while, but it'll eventually be snapped back down to meet capacity at the bottom.
If you ever wondered how much your current team can handle, just look at how many customers and revenue you have… that's how much. Growth follows capacity.
When we realized we didn't have the capacity in our current state to grow any more, we started training our current team to get better. We began meeting regularly, yet efficiently, to discuss what everyone was doing so we could build accountability. We began training team members weekly with lunch & learns. And we started intentionally building leaders within our agency to help us get to the next level.
It's going to take time, effort, and a lot of failures, but training your team and growing leaders is the best way to build long-term capacity within your personnel.Ever wondered how much your current team can handle? Answer: How many clients do you have? - @JohnRowa Click To Tweet
5. Become processes-driven
While training is a great way to build capacity within individual team members, processes are a great way to build organizational capacity. It doesn't matter how good each of your team is if they aren't working collectively within a process to drive growth.
A well-defined processes for your organization will build accountability within your team. If everyone knows what part they play, how it all works together, and what they must deliver on, it forces everyone to stay accountable to the process and ultimately each other.
Without good processes in place, you can't expect every one on your team to "do it right" because their version of right is probably a lot different than yours. When there's no clear-cut definition for what is right, what is wrong, and how to do things, each team member's subjectivity comes in to play. Or, even worse, their weakness take hold and begin to affect the performance of the team.A well-defined processes will build accountability within your team. - @JohnRowa Click To Tweet
For example, if you have a member of a team that is very talented but isn't very strong in their organization, you better have processes in place for them to do the right things in the order or else they'll begin to jump around anywhere and everything. Their capacity to do things right doesn't even come in to play because their lack of capacity to do things in the right order takes over.
A good process that keeps things organized and well-structured for your entire team will empower your team members to succeed and, in the end, help your entire team's capacity to grow.
Capacity is the single greatest factor for driving growth in your business. If you have the capacity, the growth will follow. But if you're growing faster than your capacity can handle, then slow down and start building your team and processes before the storm become too much to recover from.