Tell me if this rings a bell.
When you started the business, you would give anything to make the next sale, and you did. You said yes, yes, yes, and eventually bit-by-bit, day-by-day your sales went up. A little while after that, the bank account started growing as well.
You kept saying yes, and the sales started coming easier. For the first time, there was a sense of momentum. And that momentum built and built and built. You expanded your product (or service) offering. You fine-tuned your marketing. You added staff. You may have even added new locations. You nailed down your pricing. And the whole machine moved forward. Your business was growing. It was a lot of fun, and you hoped it would never end.
But then, one day, you wake up and finally admit to yourself something is wrong. Well, not just one thing, a lot of things. For the first time in a long time, you being to notice that something is systemically wrong with the business. Sales have slowed. Profits have slowed even more. Things are changing internally too. There are more disagreements, maybe even divisions. The ball is dropping between departments, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
If it sounds familiar, it’s because the same thing happens to every single successful organization. Why? What is it that causes all these problems?
Successful businesses invariably hit a wall when the success they’ve enjoyed leads them to become increasingly complex. At some point, and that point varies from business to business, complexity builds up to the point that it overcomes the business’s ability to execute.
The problem is, to continue growing successfully, you have to deal with the issue of complexity. In the short term, you can take a step or two back and re-circle the wagons. The business will recover, you’ll get your mojo back, but that same inevitable wall lingers in the future. If you’re successful enough, you’ll find yourself back in that same uncomfortable and confusing territory.
It’s a natural law of business growth and development. Success ALWAYS leads to complexity and complexity, if left unaddressed, ALWAYS kills success.
So what is the answer?
If success is killing your growth, should you not be as successful? While that is certainly an option. For many, that would be like throwing in the towel and admitting defeat.
Let’s take less success off the table and talk about how to harness complexity and reach even higher levels of success than before. You have to step for a moment into the confusing world where up feels like down and left is on the right. What do I mean? Read on.
Slow down so you can speed up
The first thing you need to realize is you are going to need to slow down in the short run so you can speed up in the long term. Specifically, you need to slow down the decision train. Usually, at this point, leaders are making decisions way faster and way more often than they could ever hope actually to execute.
To overcome the complexity that has built up over the years, you need to start limiting your decision making to only those decisions on which you are 100% able to execute. Then you have to leave the team alone and let them perform.
It’s a hard habit to change, but it is worth it. With the extra time to solve problems once and for all, rather than just put a bandage on it, your team will start to build up capacity, momentum, and efficiency. Stick with it long enough, and your time-to-execute will drop dramatically. You’ll begin executing with ease, and the growth will be there for the taking!
Submit to structure so you can create freedom
Submitting to structure is hardest for you Visionary types (I know, I just used two of your least favorite words in the same sentence). You started the company (or joined it early on) because of the freedom and autonomy available to you. But by now, in a sober moment, you’d probably admit you’ve not been free in a long time. Your inbox is out of control, your voice mailbox is full, and all you’ve done this week (and last week) is put out fires. None of your new ideas have been fully implemented, and most of them died the moment they left your mouth.
There is a way out, but it’s counter-intuitive. We often see structure and freedom as antonyms. However, once complexity builds up, the only way you can resolve it is through systems and processes. This transition requires more structure than what you are used to, but when in balance, it will give you and your team a stable starting point to execute on your new innovative ideas.
Stop pursuing success so you can start creating success
The goal at this point is no longer to make your speed boat faster. What you need to do is build a cruise ship and a fast one at that. The change in form is every bit as dramatic in your business. Those systems and processes I mentioned in the last point have to become equally as important and prominent as the “can do, get it done” attitude that brought you this far.
You’re going to have to start saying no to good ideas, even good sales, so you can create space for the great ones. You have to acknowledge your resources and capacities and work within them. It means you’re going to have to spend time working on the business, not just in the business.
With some practice and a little time, you’ll start finding great freedom in saying no to the right things. You’ll start enjoying coming to work again because your unofficial job description of chief firefighter will be long gone. You’ll find new creative capacity, you begin to dream anew and come up with great new ideas, and you’ll have a company that can execute on those great ideas with great success.
If you can make the bold moves to slow some things down and to implement quality systems and processes, I guarantee the sun will shine a little brighter, and your days are going to be a lot happier. And more than anything, you’ll have built a company that can scale to whatever size you desire and the market will allow!