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Understanding The Stages Of Business Growth

Friday 23 January, 2009
Recognising the different stages of your company's growth and adapting your own leadership skills to what is required, will pay off in spades as you face the myriad of challenges that lay in wait for anyone who runs a successful company.

Knowledge is power. As a business owner, you know the impact on your revenues when you can think ahead of your customers. You know that if you can help them solve a problem, you have won their business - and if you keep solving their problems, they will continue to work with you.

Understanding how to solve your own problems as a business owner is also powerful and a necessity when the economy is reeking havoc with our businesses. That ability is expanded when you recognise that there are different stages of growth your company moves through as it grows, and your knowledge of how to react to those different stages of growth keeps a company profitable even during the worst of times.

  • Start-up

    Let's say you have been in business a few years, you are still refining your products and/or services, still honing in on your market and you have up to 20 employees. There is still a family-like atmosphere, people tend to be generalists and making money, generating a profit is your top goal.

    You, as the leader, make all the decisions, you've just started delegating authority to a few key employees and you are the main driver of all sales. Cash flow management and hiring quality people are your top two challenges because your plan is to grow, and you are starting to recognise that you'll have to start hiring more specialists, people that have a specific skill to address your customer's needs.
  • Ramp-up

    As you ramp-up for growth, you start to feel the level of activity increase. There are more projects to manage, there are more customers to serve, you are starting to implement more systems and processes to manage your growth.

    As a leader of a company in these early stages of growth, your leadership skills must include being a strong visionary. You must be able to inspire your team and be instrumental in working with them to help them grow so they can keep up with the demands of the company.

    Many companies never move beyond these first stages of growth. They are happy to stay small and flexible or perhaps the leader recognises that they really don't have the skills to take the company further.
  • Small-medium

    Once you have made it through these first two stages of growth, the requirements on you, the leader, become more intense. As a company grows in size up to 57 employees, a leader now finds themselves managing a much more complex organisation. Focus for that leader must shift to creating and implementing systems that can be replicated, no longer just relying on people to determine the steps in how work gets done.

    Without the ability to implement a strong project management process, a company will become mired in its own growth, creating confusion among employees and discontent with customers who now see problems where none existed when the company was smaller. Take too long in getting these critical systems in place at this stage of your company's growth and you may be creating a ceiling of growth that you won't outgrow.

    A leader running a company at this stage of growth must also start letting go of different aspects of the company that has been their main playground.

    Responsibilities held tight as the company grew, such as making all the decisions, hiring all the people, making all the sales, holding relationships with every client, and maintaining control on the financial's, have to start being delegated. Letting go to let the company grow is critical.

    A leader needs to bring different leadership skills to the table in order to make this critical transition. Skills such as being a good coach and becoming more transparent to appear more human, while difficult for most leaders, will help motivate upcoming leaders to acquire these same skills. And a leader that is lacking in skills will look around and find others with complementary skills and bring them on board to help make it through to the next stage of growth.
  • Medium-large

    As you break the 100 employee mark, life becomes ever more complex and now the challenges for the leader running a company with up to 160 employees will force that leader to become an exceptional manager. More than 60% of a leader's time in these later stages of growth will center around managing people.

    Top challenges include improving sales and maintaining staff buy-in. You are now an organisation that can compete on a much broader level than ever before and your ability as a leader to prepare the company to gain a competitive edge will depend on tapping into the intelligence of your organisation on a daily basis.

    Your communication skills and your ability to inspire people to excel are what will make your company move from good to great. With your focus on your people, your company will soar to new successes.

    You will focus your energy on maintaining relationships with your top ten clients and keep looking for new opportunities, new markets and new products to develop to keep the company vital. This transition from a CEO-centric organisation to an Enterprise-centric organisation will have taken several years, but when done correctly and with intention, the results speak for themselves.
  • Large

    The last stage of growth takes an entrepreneurial company up to 500 employees. When a company moves beyond 500 employees some very different dynamics take shape.

    What once acted like a speed boat, moving nimbly over the waves and turning sharply to avoid problems now moves more like a large cruise liner. Comfortable and capable, the cruise liner creates a large wake and maintains a steady speed. The ability to turn away suddenly from trouble is a challenge, requiring sentries looking further afield to avoid having to act quickly.

    As the CEO of a company with up to 500 employees it's your visionary skills that will serve you best. Your ability to recognise the dangers of complacency and of relying on your past successes, will keep your company fresh and attentive to your customer's needs.

    Your job is to work hard to light fires of inspiration among your staff and to challenge the status quo.

As you move your company through the various challenges that exist for each stage of growth, your ability to adapt to what your company needs will serve you well.

Your vision will be shared among your leadership team and every staff member will know the value they bring to the company. They will also be acutely aware of how they impact the company's bottom line. You will have built a strong, capable company that no longer depends on just your personal skills, knowledge or energy.

Author Credits

Laurie Taylor. If you are looking for other ways to engage your employees, visit http://www.igniteyourbiz.com/training-programs/your-people.shtml. Make this the year you tap into the intelligence of each and every employee.
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