Does this sound familiar? Your business hits a plateau. Everyone involved, including you, has comfortable routines and habits. You try to grow, but your business seems resistant. You invest in marketing/sales and attract some new customers, but then you can’t keep up with the demand. Quality levels slip and a few customers are disappointed. Employee morale goes down as people just feel pushed to do more and more. You start to wonder if it’s worth trying to grow because it will just take more of your time, more money than you have, and more people than you wanted to worry about. Everyone slips back into their old routines, but you have lost some money, energy, enthusiasm, and faith in the future.
If this scenario sounds familiar, your business has probably grown beyond your initial vision, but it may not have a clear vision to replace the old one. The business may have reached the limit of incremental growth.
Before you spend more money, it may be time to ask yourself and your key employees some important questions. Why do you want to grow your business beyond its current size? Why would your employees want to work in a larger company? What type of customers would you like to attract in the future? How do you want those customers to view your company in the years to come? To serve those customers and provide the level of service they will expect, what size will your company need to be? What skills and systems would your business need to have in order to serve those customers? Would your business need to be organized in a different way?
A vision of the next “set point” for the business is often needed before investment in growth will truly pay off. Maybe the optimum size for your business is several times larger than its current size. If so, that’s all right. The change does not have to take place all at once. In fact, many successful plans feature three phases for growth to the next “set point.” Achieving interim steps toward the next “set point” feels very different than just working harder for no clear reason or goal.
It’s important to find enjoyable ways to convey the vision of the firm’s next “set point.” Goal-oriented phrases that include dates can be useful. For example, “By the year 2014, we will be seen as the leader in _______,” or “In the next three years, we will have become the best in _______.” People are motivated by accomplishment, being affiliated with people who are doing something great, and/or having an increased sense of control/power. So, it helps to use descriptive phrases that convey how success would feel. For example, “By 2014, we will deserve top honors for our capacity to install the most complex systems.”
Some people get excited when they think about the new skills they will have in the future or the complex challenges they will be able to face. The clearer the new vision, the easier it is to spell out what will be needed to transform your company of today into your company of the future.
Once key people can describe the goal state, it’s time to spell out how the transformation is going to take place. What will be the major strategies? In marketing, which target markets will be the focus of your thinking? Which products and services will lead the way? How will you be approaching price? (Gucci or Kmart?) What will your positioning be? (Leader? Follower? Challenger? Niche?) What will the primary messages of your marketing communication programs? In management, how will your company of the future be structured? Will new people be overseeing marketing? (Sales? Operations? Finance?) How will employees be trained? What internal systems and procedures will be important? What will the incentive/compensation program be like? What will the capacity of the company be? In finance, how much of the growth will be financed by reinvesting profits? Incurring debt? How will payment terms and cash flow be managed? How will capital investment funds be allocated?
One way to create a three phase growth plan is to answer these questions with the last phase in mind and then work backwards from that goal to spell out the three stages needed to transition from today’s situation to the “end state.” As your company grows, there will still be more work to do, but you’ll increase the likelihood that the right systems and right people with the right skills will be in place when the increased demand hits.