By Paul Latham
You are a high growth firm and you have identified the need to develop your people beyond their technical capabilities. How and where do you start?
The first thing to recognize is that as a high growth firm your business will most likely be located today in a place that we call the “In-Between-Zone”. In other words your business has transitioned beyond the purely “Entrepreneurial-Zone” phase – but has not yet reached the “Properly-Managed-Zone”. In fact that’s where we find most small growing businesses with annual revenues between $1m and (say) $20m.
That means that – as the original entrepreneur – you can no longer manage like “Tom Brady in the huddle” – and more to the point you really don’t want your young management team to be copying and developing your bad management habits.
A big problem is that for many years your aspiring management team will have been closely watching you in action and you are quite likely their only (or at least a major) role model.
That’s not good! Let’s think about how you work. As an entrepreneur, you are really good at “spinning a number of plates” – so that means your style is:
- You don’t prepare in advance for management meetings – you don’t need to because you are an entrepreneur and you can “wing it” – obviously!
- You don’t thoroughly brainstorm all the various possible actions – because as an entrepreneur you intuitively know what will work best and can work it out in your head while your watching
- You don’t properly test ideas in advance of implementing them (see “entrepreneurs intuition” above).
You see the pattern? Basically you behave like a typical “entrepreneur” – because that is what you are! This is the result.
What happens at most “In-Between-Zone” businesses is that all the following steps happen in the same meeting – more or less simultaneously. It is like watching a “stream of consciousness”:
Your meeting identifies a problem. The team will discuss it for maybe 5 minutes (maximum) – somebody (probably the entrepreneur) suggests a couple of ideas, and one of those ideas seems like it has some merit and is seized upon by the group. There is no discussion around any other possible ideas. The team immediately “zero in” on the first idea. The team quickly moves on to discussing how to implement that idea (in a very unstructured way). The meeting quickly becomes bogged down in detail (and we all lose focus). We end the meeting thinking we have solved the problem (loosely). We leave the meeting – but in fact nobody “owns the problem”. We meet up again in X days / weeks / months and we discover that actually nothing has happened in the interim. We repeat the above pattern at that next meeting!
Sound familiar? Yes you are definitely in the “In-Between-Zone”! How can you educate and develop your team to build better growth plans?
This presents a problem. Your team is young and they are developing their management and leadership skills.
Moreover, the team will not be populated by “entrepreneurial types” – or they would already be running their own growing businesses.
More importantly, you have plans to really grow your business. “Plate-spinning” is not the style you want to see in your management team.
You want to develop a “Properly Managed Business” where the team is all pulling together in the same direction (towards your clearly articulated business growth vision). You certainly do not want to develop a “gang of entrepreneurial types” all trying to copy your “wing it” style.
So how can we educate and develop them properly (so they don’t follow your poor example)?
A good place to start is to think about implementing a standard framework for building plans – and in so doing start building good team and management habits. In other words – let’s develop a standard planning process – “this is the way we do it here”.
Let’s start by agreeing a standard framework for an action plan (any action plan). It looks like the illustration below and has 4 distinct quadrants.
The key element here is to recognize that any potential action plan always involves 2 BIG VARIABLES:
- How much VALUE the potential action might bring (ranging from high to low): – where ‘value’ is based around concepts like – growing profits, building competitive advantage, business value growth
- How much EFFORT the potential action might involve (ranging from high to low): – where ‘effort’ is based around concepts like – time, cost, hassle etc.
In the illustration above – the planning quadrant you always want to avoid is located bottom right – these ideas have LOW VALUE + HIGH EFFORT – we call that “working on the chain gang”.
All of the other quadrants have business merit (they are just different). Later this week we’ll take you through what they are and how to get there.