Are You Ready to Scale Up Your Strategic Growth Part II: It Depends On How You Answer These 3 Questions

Written by Carol Coughlin. Posted in Operations Management

Ready, set…wait. When you start a business, the fast pace can be overwhelming – and intoxicating. You get used to running here, sprinting there. You hurry because you have to strike while the iron’s hot, make hay while the sun shines, gather ye rosebuds while ye may, and carpe diem. Stopping for a figurative moment is difficult, especially if you feel you’re on a sure growth trajectory. But it’s necessary so that you can assess your growth strategies and whether or not you are ready to scale up.

So, are you?

1. Are Your Processes Standardized and Easily Replicated?

You are ready to scale up if:

You have repeatable processes. You need processes that are standard and can be replicated. So, say you handle 5 invoices now. If you wake up and have to handle 50 invoices tomorrow, you’ll do it with the same process you have today. Likewise, your process for contract management is the same whether you have 5 clients or 50; your method of handling calls in a call center is the same for 5 customers as it is for 50. You get the idea! If your business has solid processes that can be easily multiplied, you get a checkmark in this category.

You are NOT ready to scale if:

You have a variety of ad hoc processes. Do you have customized processes for different business activities? Or is the process for, say, invoicing, different for different clients? Is it different month-to-month or bookkeeper-to-bookkeeper?  You are not scalable if you have a bunch of individualized or unique procedures. 

Get Ready: Strengthen process uniformity and repetitiveness. As Aristotle taught, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Scalability, like excellence, depends on habit, on repetition of solid processes.

Start with the people on the front lines, those who actually work with and in the particular process every day. Oftentimes, they know more about how it works than their managers. Get them involved in the process so you can make sure their tasks are repeatable and standard. You’d be amazed at what you can accomplish when things work as they should every time!

2. Is Your Business Past the Troubleshooting Stage and in a Stage of Proactivity?

You are ready to scale if:

Things are going well! You spend time growing your business and proactively planning strategies to take it to the next level. Your people and processes work smoothly towards those goals. At the same time, you work continually to improve your processes, asking, “How can we make that more efficient? Can we have fewer people touching it? How can we ensure it’s leaner and more conducive to scaling up?”

You are NOT ready to scale if:

You’re constantly troubleshooting. Things are not going well! Or if they are, for the moment, it’s because you scrambled frantically all day to solve problems. You spend more time putting out fires than working on strategic growth. You can’t focus on continual improvement because you are too busy with continual fixing.  

Get Ready: Fix the stuff that doesn’t work. Sounds too simple, doesn’t it? But to scale up, you have to fix that which is slowing you down or impeding growth. One of the best practices is to view breakdowns as an opportunity to figure out how to improve. Instead of finger-pointing, step back and ask, “What can we do to make this process more effective and efficient?”

3. Does Your Success Depend on the Whole Team Rather Than a Hero Employee?

You are ready to scale if:

You document and share processes. The steps and processes that yield results are clearly documented so employees can repeat them. You don’t have any “secret recipes,” or processes that revolve around one particular person.

You are NOT ready to scale if:

Processes are “hero-powered.” A brilliant chef can create a stunning meal – but what about the next chef who is asked to prepare the same food? It’s a chancy situation; he’s probably going to turn out something much different. Hero-powered processes tie up expertise and knowledge with one individual. What happens when he or she calls in sick or leaves? That knowledge, those recipes, go with her.

Get Ready: When you develop these standardized processes with the input of employees, document them. Intellectual capital or procedural knowledge can’t be tied up with any one person; it has to be shared among appropriate employees. That way, they can repeat the steps necessary to produce optimal results every time, even when the volume of customers or of work is increased.

If the iron is not as hot as you thought or the day is not quite ready to seize, take steps to ensure your processes are documented, standard, and repeatable. Foster an environment of continual improvement and remember the mantra, “How can I make this process more efficient and effective?” When you tackle these issues now, you can position yourself for greater success when you scale up. 

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Carol Coughlin

Carol Coughlin founded BottomLine Growth Strategies, Inc., in 2006 as a way for small and medium-sized businesses to access the same high-level financial and operational expertise that gives large companies a distinct advantage. Using her own extensive corporate experience and willingness to sit in the hot seat as a catalyst, Carol helps BottomLine Growth clients climb to the summit of their success.
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