When done right, it’s hard to identify when your company moves from one growth stage to another. The transition should be seamless and can seem to flow naturally as the company grows. When you’re a business leader, however, it’s clear that this evolution rarely (if ever) happens on its own. Here’s what to do when kickstarting a stagnant company.
How do you find out what is causing your company to stagnate?
Figuring out which factors are limiting your business and how to put your team in the position to solve those challenges should be a top priority as a leader. I’ve previously discussed how I personally identify the various stages of growth.
Everyone seems to have their own take on this model, but knowing where you are in your business, lifecycle can help identify the factors that may be holding your team back.
Without getting too deep, these factors generally come back to three underlying buckets: people, process and platform (or product). Growth is often slowed by the stagnation that can creep into an organization as its customers, revenue and employee count expand.
The good news is that a few specific tactics can mitigate the challenge and pull the team out of the quicksand of stagnation as you advance from one stage of growth to the next.
Identify and examine problematic areas. Some solutions can either remove the issues or fix them, giving your stagnant company a kickstart.
Audit for Stagnation
In 2013, I stepped in to lead Motus (then known as Corporate Reimbursement Services, Inc.(CRS)). I immediately realized the company was at a crossroads and needed a kickstart.
The first thing we needed to figure out was where the strengths and potential blockers were across the organization. There are many stagnation indicators:
- losing clients
- failing in the market
- declining revenues
- the vibe of the people
- the cultural tenor
- whether or not folks are energized
These factors take additional time to understand.
We took the time to have discussions with everyone on the team. Some of the team was divided into groups; others we met with one-on-one. These meetings made it possible to figure out roles and the general mood of the company.
We worked to find out if folks were energized or if they even wanted to be excited. Did they like what their roles and jobs were? I tried to figure out if people felt empowered by their work, or if they were going through the motions.
I wanted to ensure we had a team that was energized and proud to be a part of what we were building. From that baseline, it’s a matter of assessing what you learned, validating what’s going on, and taking actions where needed.
After the CRS interview process, we got everyone together and laid out what was sacrosanct to the organization. We found out the areas where people expressed frustration. We had young smart people doing stuff that should be automated.
We had processes in people’s heads, leading to single points of failure rather than organized procedures. Our technology was a UI that was plugged into a workflow, not an actual platform. We validated these hard truths and dug into what everyone was feeling.
Then, we had to take action. Tactically, we needed to focus on one thing that everyone seemed to yearn for within the company: Empowerment.
The Enemy of Stagnation: Empowerment
During your stagnation audit, you’ll still find folks who still believe they can only do what they’re tasked with and nothing more. To create a climate where everyone is empowered to pull the company forward.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to get rid of those who cannot operate in a growth environment. The most difficult to part with are your managers who don’t have the DNA to empower others.
We built-out training programs and an onboarding infrastructure to validate who possessed the demonstrated skills and knowledge to keep leveling up the business.
We were completely honest and transparent about the problems we uncovered that were symptoms of broader organizational issues. And then, we left. That is, we left it up to the various teams to go and solve those problems.
The process created a ripple of energy across the organization and put everyone in control of not only their own destiny but the fate of the company itself.
Empowering people who have never felt they’ve owned their own success is a powerful thing. With a stagnating company, you must empower the right people to succeed, but also empower them to fail and learn from their mistakes.
Model Failing the Right Way
Creating an environment where everyone knows it’s okay to screw something up will start with your leadership.
Help your team embrace the concept that failure isn’t something to shy away from. As often as I can, I tell my team, truthfully, “No one is going to make more mistakes than I will. Just by the sheer velocity of decision making, I’m going to get more things wrong than any of you will get wrong.”
This is an empowering message to hear. It means everyone knows that as an organization, we’re going to show up and put our heads down and do our very best. We aren’t timid — when we make mistakes, we make them at full speed.
To benefit from failure, you must grow and learn from the missteps. Seeing flops as a learning opportunity for everyone removes the personalization and shame normally associated with failure. We’re all human beings trying to solve problems and working together as a collective group.
Fail and fail fast, bring the issues that arise to the table and, most importantly, trust and rely on each other to get positive resolutions and outcomes.
Executives can also take actions themselves, either through being more transparent or adjusting how they utilize their time to kick their organizations out of stagnation.
But that is advice for another day.