I was having a conversation with a company founder recently, who shared with me that when he established the business, he brought in a number of his friends who were technically very good. But over time, as the company’s clients got bigger and their needs got more complex, the group of friends he’d brought aboard…couldn’t keep up with the growth. It made for a very difficult, awkward situation.
Many times with new leaders, we’ll see trust issues in that there is not only a lack of it but that they also feel they have to do so much of the work themselves. However, in the case of this particular leader, the trust and relationships were strong. He fully trusted his people to perform because they were made to shine for the early phases of the company – but not for its evolution. He couldn’t see the pitfalls of this short-term thinking until it was almost too late.
In another instance, a leader had a solid group of people working for him on an e-commerce platform to build the company. However, in time, he came to realize that this platform could only grow so much as it was and he had to step up to a more robust platform to handle client demand.
Unfortunately, some people who understood the old platform really weren’t willing to learn the new one and some couldn’t learn it fast enough to keep up with client needs. So once again, we see the scenario of a leader realizing he had a workforce that his company had outgrown. As you can imagine, there was a great deal of turnover and other accompanying issues that rose to the surface.
So what got each of these leaders through it and avoid the collapse of their respective companies?
They had a very clear vision of what they wanted to do to get to the next level – and they didn’t let their loyalty get in the way of their potential momentum.
Such clarity and drive proved huge for transitioning to the workforce they needed during a challenging period of growth. They knew who to look for in terms of qualifications and cultural fit for where the company was going. So as they made each hire, they had an eye very much on the future, even more so than an ideal fit for today. This enabled them to bring in the right partners and transition them smoothly.
When you say things such as “I don’t have the people I can delegate this to” or “I don’t have the time to train people because we’re so busy,” you’re setting yourself up for a vicious cycle. You get busier and busier, but the people you have on hand aren’t being trained – or, if they don’t have the capacity to learn (or worse, the willingness to add new skills), you aren’t actively look for talent to add to your arsenal.
Consequently, all may look fine and good on the balance sheet for now, but it’s going to come to a head when you can’t reach the next stage of growth because you haven’t planned for such change. That’s where companies can plateau or even start going backwards.
Starting now, clarify what the next 6 months, a year, and 3 years will look like for your company. It involves you taking a hard, unbiased view of the people who brought you to the dance and asking if they are the ones to take you “home” to the next exciting chapter of your business. Yes, you want to be loyal – but to an extent. Can those with you today maintain a role and make a meaningful contribution to your business tomorrow? Or are you really just keeping some dead weight around due to sentimentality?
The business world is full of stories of partners who started out of a garage or small office with big dreams. But as time went on, things changed. Visions and missions changed. Products or services changed. Opportunities the founders never expected rose to the surface. As these situations presented themselves, the people who started the company found their paths diverging.
It’s happened before and it’s going to happen many times over again. When it does, that fork in the road doesn’t always have to consist of raised voices, legal battles and burned bridges. The more that leaders communicate with their management team about where they see the company heading, the opportunities to consider, the potential threats from competitors and other matters that lie ahead, the more the leadership can feel like it’s on the same page. Even if some people who built the company leave, it’s not like they can’t see the change coming, so they can still go their own way.
Transitions can have bumps, no matter how much we plan for them. But the pace of your momentum as a leader may very well be defined by how many people are able to come along with you for this next stage and share your passion for the future versus how many you keep around to reminisce about the “good old days” that your company has outgrown.
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