I once had a consultation with the owner and CEO of a small but steadily growing business. She was rightly proud of the results the company was achieving and the culture that had grown amongst its 16 team members. Our conversation shifted from what was working well to what the owner envisioned, as the company continued to hire and onboard new people.
Her reaction was surprising and, yet, typical.
“There is so much going on right now,” she said. “I simply do not have time to think about the norms and systems that will need to be in place when we are twice the size. Right now our team members are fine picking up the expectations for time management, production expectations, customer interface, and expectations of professionalism from their colleagues. There is no need for any type of system or protocol for that.”
One Day the Dynamics Will Change
As we spoke further, we delved into the need for records of meetings. What would happen if a team member wasn’t present for a key piece of information or to learn about a new expectation? The CEO’s answer was in keeping with her previous sentiments. She claimed that intentionality in such areas was unnecessary and that all information would get shared as team members worked together.
She was not wrong. In a company of only 16, it’s still possible to manage most important items on the fly. But, as a business steadily grows, what once worked in regards to systems and organization will almost certainly prove to become inadequate.
Reaction vs. Intentionality
Thinking ahead and planning for eventualities is a leadership responsibility. When compared with urgent matters, these actions might seem far less important. But, there’s nothing more frightening for a business owner than to realize their capacity to deliver for their customers has been diminished through inattention.
When a company grows from, say 16 to 64 people, there’s no way the onboarding of new team members can be left to osmosis. Core values, operating norms, expectations around time, and customer and client interactions will all be diluted if the processes for establishing and supporting them are not solidified.
When you think about these challenges long before they become an emergency, it allows you to meaningfully engage with current team members and gather information on what is currently working and what is falling short of expectations. Creating a collective process to establish protocols around the enculturation of new team members brings your current team closer together. It also encourages them to be clearer in their own commitments.
Ultimately, your job as a leader is to:
- Create protocols around hiring and onboarding new team members
- Implement a customer relations management (CRM) system
- Integrate financial, accounting, and billing systems
- Make organizational improvements that allow the business to grow seamlessly without crashing
- Introduce system-level improvements before they become a crisis
Planning for What Happens Next
“So, what happens next?” This is one of the best phrases a leader can hear from their team, when that team is engaged in the shared process of visioning for the future. An engaged team that shares ownership of business outcomes is one of the most powerful assets a CEO can have at their disposal.
Yet, the same question asked in the midst of a crisis can shake team members’ confidence in their leader. When your lack of preparation leads your team to a place of uncertainty, you stand a strong chance of lessening or losing the trust required for future progress.
Many great business ideas have collapsed due to a lack of leadership and an organizational infrastructure incapable of handling the question of what happens next. Even businesses that were once mainstays of the economy have recently perished due to their inability to look forward and change as needed. Those who once enjoyed strong brand loyalty, then lost it due to inattention or poor planning, most often never recover.
The motto of the U.S. Coast Guard is Semper Paratus, meaning “always prepared.” Leaders of small and growing enterprises must also consider these words. If you don’t prioritize planning for the future, the pressures of day-to-day work will consume all your allotted time and more. A wise leader keeps their eyes pointed forward.
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Tim, with his extensive background in education and management, is a great part of our Fired Up! team dedicated to inspiring teams and leaders. At Fired Up!, our work is dedicated to harnessing the power of culture to equip leaders, build amazing teams, and align operation practices to engage organizations and drive breakthrough results.