If your business is in Whitewater, you may not have the language, but you certainly know how it feels.
For the first time in a long time, the growth seems to be slowing. Executing on decisions feels more like struggling through a muddy swamp than the perpetual march forward you used to have. Things seem complicated and confusing. What was once a well-oiled machine is slowly, painfully grinding to a halt.
At first, you think it is only a few isolated incidents. However, those isolated events turn into trends, and you come face to face with the inevitability that is Whitewater. There are three possible outcomes.
1. You wonder if you really have what it takes
Many owners consider selling. The business isn’t growing as it should. It isn’t as fun as it used to be, and you start to question whether you’ve done your part and taken it as far as you can. You may also wonder if this is the team that will take you to the next level. The answer to both of these concerns is yes and no.
Nine times out of 10, Whitewater is not a question of competence; it is a question of construct. You (singular) can’t get through Whitewater into the pinnacle phase of your business’ capacity to scale, Predictable Success, by doing what you’ve always done. Your management style will likely need to change from decision-maker to visionary leader.
However, you (singular) can lead your team into a new form of decision making that leverages the combined strength of your whole team and lets you share the burden of moving the entire organization into Predictable Success.
The same is true for your team. More often than not, your team’s competence is not in the way. However, your culture probably is. In particular, the “heroes” of your business need give way to systems and processes that ensure repeatable, high-quality execution. This can be exceptionally difficult for some, and it is not uncommon for a business to lose some of its key players simply because they are not willing to make the switch.
Let me assure you, you and most (though hopefully all) of your leaders can get to Predictable Success given the right roadmap and the right commitment to change and growth.
2. You decide to go back to the way things were
Fill in the blank: “Things were so much simpler before _______.” Once your business hits Whitewater, it seems like EVERYTHING becomes complicated and unclear. It is natural to look backward to the last time things weren’t so complicated and to want that again.
Sometimes a step back into Fun is 100% the right decision to make.
The problem is, we often only take a half step back. We undo that one big complicating decision, and things get back to normal. Then, eventually, but inevitably, we find ourselves back in this same position. The complexity sneaks back in, and we find ourselves dropping the ball all over again.
Because we didn’t make the decision not to scale. Stepping back to Fun is perfect if you are willing to slow your growth indefinitely. If you want to grow, the price of Predictable Success is to make the difficult changes necessary to get through Whitewater.
3. You decide that the reward is worth it and push ahead
The road through Whitewater isn’t an easy one, and those organizations that can endure it and make it through to the other side find that is was worth it. In Predictable Success, when you put your foot on the gas, the organization moves forward. You are no longer growing; you are scaling. Impact, revenue, and profitability all leap forward.
In Predictable Success, there is a grace in the organization you thought you had in Fun, but now realize it was only a shadow of what you can now accomplish. There is high alignment across the organization. Your culture reaches a new depth of meaning, having stood the test of time. And, there is energy, enthusiasm, balance, poise, and execution. It’s a remarkable time with impressive results.
How do you get through Whitewater?
Assuming you’ve made the decision to move forward, given up any hope of going back, and are ready to do what it takes, what do you do?
If we zoom out, we can see that the major growing pains with the organization are two-fold. The way you made decisions in the past won’t work anymore, and the way you executed on those decisions won’t work anymore.
Decision making needs to become an organization-wide endeavor, not merely the will of the most senior executive. (MSE). To do this, you need to develop a strong leadership team with a balance of Visionary, Operator AND Processor voices. Real data must replace anecdotes and stories. Commitment to decisions must be unwavering. And individuals throughout the organization need clarity on what is happening, where the organization is going, how they need to respond, and who they need to work more closely with to see the organization succeed.
Decision-making will invariably slow down. It’s painful, but it’s necessary, as it allows time and space needed for you to build the muscles to execute consistently and effectively. The good news is with time, the ability to make decisions, and the ability to implement those decisions will increase and speed up.
You can make the best decisions ever, but it doesn’t mean a thing until you get it done. We all know this, but Whitewater is proof that we haven’t quite figured it out yet. The complication is this. In the early stages, those who make the decisions are primarily responsible for executing them as well. While the organization grows, new (and appropriate) layers are added, and eventually, the decision-makers are a separate group from the decision doers. How decisions are made and executed needs to change. Tactical decisions need to be pushed lower in the organization. Leadership needs to focus on mission, vision, values, goals, and strategy and then communicate over-communicate them to those who will be seeing out the actual execution.
To make better decisions and to better execute on those decisions and to ultimately get out of Whitewater, you need the right systems and processes. With those systems and processes in place, decision making and execution will start to improve, and you’ll find yourself in Predictable Success!
If you need help navigating these waters, we’re just a call or click away!