If you have been reading my blog posts over the past several weeks, maybe you trying to figure out which cause of a stubborn plateau your company is experiencing. Good. Don’t skip that step because the underlying cause of the plateau influences what will be needed to BLAST PAST it.
Are you dealing with risk aversion, fear of lost control, or long term tolerance of a significant problem/limitation? Those causes have some shared elements. The primary decision maker(s) may have been burned in the past and have become more skeptical with the passage of time. The memory of putting their home(s) on the line during the early years of the business may be a bit too vivid. The owner(s) may be living with the consequences of promise(s) made several years ago when the situation was very different than it is today. Or the owner(s) may have a whole lot less money saved for their retirement than they had anticipated, so they are not in the position to take risks any more.
It can be so tempting for younger, future focused, ambitious team members to conclude that business growth simply isn’t possible as long as the company is still led by people who fear change… even if there are understandable reasons behind those fears. When the younger team members become increasingly pessimistic about their own future(s), they make career decisions that solidify the plateau. If/when bright young people leave to work at more growth oriented companies, the business is left with old ideas, followers, and fewer options for succession. Ironically, the risk of training employees to become competitors increases when ambitious young team members remain employed by a risk adverse company. And when bright young people stay with the fear driven company but give up on their career ambitions, productivity drops and the plateau can quickly turn into a freefall.
Breaking past a stubborn plateau that developed from owners’ fears involves revisiting the purpose of the business and finding ways to express respect for everyone involved. Usually, these symptoms develop when the company really was an incorporated career for the owner(s). The company was a way for the owner(s) to be paid to do what they liked to do. Maybe increasing the value of the business wasn’t ever the primary goal.
When we are brought in to help with fear-induced plateaus, it has been important to evaluate how much longer the current owners want to work. It has been important to at least imagine the business with a change of ownership/leadership to gauge the company’s resilience and potential value. And it’s been crucial to get a good sense of how much team members care about the business, the owners and their accomplishments, and remaining in the industry.
A few years ago, I was particularly impressed with one of our clients. The majority shareholder had been privately talking to prospective buyers. At least he spoke up and shared that fact with their President who brought us in to lead strategic planning. The process focused on the long term growth opportunities for younger team members while remembering the shorter term obligation to take care of the Founder. They needed to hire an assistant for the Controller and some steps were tricky because no one could openly talk about each of the offers. Wonderfully, a handful of great team members bought the business and the majority owner remained involved … just not in the same role. The legacy of the business was celebrated AND the next generation of leaders ambitiously embraced new vision, mission, and growth goals. Despite the lingering period of uncertainty around them, the company is doing just fine.
Known as The Growth Strategist®, Aldonna Ambler built and grew a suite of companies to help midsized B2B companies achieve accelerated growth with sustained profitability® A Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), Ambler has addressed over 2000 audiences and hosted a syndicated online talk show about growth strategies for 9 years. As a growth financing intermediary, Ambler raised over $1 Bil dollars for midsized companies. The winner of over 2 dozen prestigious national and statewide "entrepreneur of the year" awards, Ambler is available to speak about “profitable growth during any economy” and/or serve on the board of a growth-oriented privately-held company.