How to Tell if Your Company has Growing Pains and What to Do Next

Written by Carol Coughlin. Posted in Business Leadership, Operations Management

It’s not always easy to keep an organization heading up the mountain of success, rather than plummeting toward dysfunction or demise.


To avoid the latter, CEOs must be able to tell the difference between typical business problems that require typical solutions, and the type that are indicative of real growing pains and, therefore, require big doses of change in order for an organization to achieve full potential.


Understanding this difference is not only critical, but also difficult.


In fact, the very nature of business prevents many CEOs from seeing signs of growing pains altogether. We can get so caught up in the daily work of the running of the company that we forget to raise our heads to see what’s really happening. Or, we can become so used to bumps in the road that even an unusually rocky period appears normal.


We fail to realize that our companies are veering off course and may even be heading toward a cliff.


Fortunately, there are several tangible signs that can help you separate the typical from the terrible.


Here’s what tends to accompany true growing pains, indicating it’s time for change in service of successful growth:


The Signs of Business Growing Pains


  • PRODUCING IS LIKE SLOGGING THROUGH MUD: Everything is taking longer and processes are falling apart with high volumes.


  • THE CEO IS NO LONGER STICKY: The owner or CEO is no longer the super glue holding operations together.


  • MARTIAL LAW IS FAILING: The company is working by exceptions, rather than rules – and even though that “used to work,” it’s clearly not.


  • YOU’RE ALWAYS SAYING SORRY: There are lots of re-dos and make-goods.


  • THE PIGGY BANK HAS LOST WEIGHT:  Cash has become tight.


  • THERE ARE NUMBERS, NOT KNOWLEDGE: Data is plentiful, but information is scarce.


So, once you recognize the signs growing pains that require real change, what should a CEO do next?


Well, before we get into what to do, we have one BIG don’t: DON’T LET GO OF CONTROL TOO SOON.


Although a key step for effective change is developing a strong leadership team to help you run the company, it’s critical not to step back too quickly. CEO’s who give up operational, financial and accounting control too fast not only sacrifice a more successful transition to the next level, but also risk embezzlement. Checks and balances must be in place, before you let go of control.


With this in mind: What should you do when it’s time for change?


There are four areas that need to be examined once you see the signs of business growing pains:


  • Look at What: At the start, organizations adopt processes to achieve a specific purpose or goal. Then, as the business grows, the purpose can shift, but processes don’t. In fact, it’s not uncommon for staff to have no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing, only that it’s what’s always been done. Look at what your organization is trying to accomplish and what it’s doing to get there. Revisiting business objectives will make it easier to determine whether or not the processes in place right now are the processes that will take you to a successful tomorrow.


  • Look at How: In addition to matching processes with purpose, it’s time to look at how your organization is working from an efficiency standpoint overall. Conduct a process review to reveal how many times products/services are being touched and reworked prior to producing revenue – and after. Lean business practices state that processes should include the minimal number of touches start to finish, and it’s likely changes will need to be made to accomplish this. When implemented correctly, a lean approach will provide increased efficiency and control. 


  • Look at Where: Next, examine where people and departments are situated. If there’s wasted space or if employees who work together waste time moving back and forth, break down or build walls so that your layout makes practical sense and enables efficiencies. You may even be able to reduce overhead if you discover your organization doesn’t need the entire space it’s using.


  • Look at Who: The final area to examine is staffing. Identity employees who’ve been outgrown by the organization or who are under performing. You might discover that you have the right people, but that they’re no longer in the right role. Or, that it’s time to let someone go. Although staffing changes can be painful, they’re often necessary for growth, so be objective. Additionally, there are circumstances when you have to, or want to, keep people who are ineffective. In these cases, it’s key to develop new roles in which these employees can make a positive contribution.



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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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