When you first decided to start your own company, you most likely did a lot of research using various outlets such as reading books on becoming an entrepreneur, taking a few classes about starting your own company, talking to other successful entrepreneurs, etc. Now that your company is established and you are growing, you are probably concerned with one question, “How do I stay on top of my growing company?”
When I first started at The Alternative Board, the company was experiencing pressure to stay on top of being in high demand. I was chosen and brought in to take control over company operations and capitalize on the business growth. By following industry best practices and doing a little “housekeeping,” the company prevented a potential downfall and is now able to handle a thriving environment.
There are many lessons I’ve learned and employed to get TAB where it is today. As your company is experiencing high growth, keep these five lessons in mind:
- Keep track of your budget. Never let go of the concept and importance of strong budgeting. Without the process of checks and balances, you could find yourself being very wasteful on where you spend your money. This most often happens during periods of strong growth, when you make more extreme financial decisions because you are bringing in more money.
- Know your competitors. What are you doing that differentiates your company from your competitors? You need to make sure your value proposition provides a strong value to your clients while continuing to contribute to your company. Stay on top of what your competitors are doing. Are they currently doing something you never considered, or are they doing something you know your company could do better? Do you need to enhance any of the products you offer to clients, or do you have the resources to develop new products? Consider their mistakes as well—how can you learn from your competitors’ mistakes so your company can avoid making them?
- Always market. Evaluate your marketing plan on a regular basis. Often times you are gaining a lot of growth due to an integrated mix of marketing tactics, but there may be some tactics that may be wasteful or less effective. Stay on top of what is working and what is not. By having key performance metrics, you will be able to measure the specific tactics that are showing results.
- Communicate with and reward your employees. Reward your staff for helping to bring about this time of strong growth. Make sure they are well aware of how vital their daily contributions are to the company’s success. Also, make sure you are communicating with your staff about how they feel during this growing period. Are they comfortable with handling a larger workload? Are they feeling overwhelmed or stressed out? How does your team feel about existing in rapid growth—do they enjoy it as much as you do? What can you do to help them with the additional stress that inevitably comes along with strong growth?
- Resist the urge to become complacent. When you are experiencing times of strong growth and things are going very well, it is easy to let yourself or your top executives sit back and become “fat and happy.” Once you start believing your own press, it’s easy to start spiraling down in the opposite direction. Your journey to the top never stops growing. Just because your company is doing well right now doesn’t mean it always will.
Jason Zickerman is CEO of The Alternative Board (TAB), the world’s largest franchise system providing advisory board and executive coaching services to business owners, presidents and CEOs.
Fast Company had a fascinating series of articles on Ed Catmull this month. Catmull is the not-particularly-well-known president of Pixar. He has just put out a book called Creativity Inc. which deals with the topic of managing a creative company. Fast Company said Creativity Inc “just might be the most thoughtful management book ever”. Catmull’s track record of success has demonstrated that he knows something about management. Each of Pixar’s fourteen films has debuted at the top of the box office charts. What an amazing track record of success!
Naturally, any business leader would want to know what the secret is to Catmull’s success. In Creativity Inc, he makes it pretty clear. It’s something he calls the Brain Trust. This is a group of advisors from within Pixar – and now at Disney Animation – that are assembled as advisors on every project. He calls it our primary delivery system for straight talk.
“Our decision is made better when we can draw on the collective knowledge and unvarnished opinions of the group. Candor is the key to collaborating effectively.”
What is Catmull’s role in the Brain Trust? He says that “I see my primary role as making sure that the compact upon which the meetings are based is protected and upheld.” At TAB, we find this role to be critical. We call it facilitation. Without this role, you can certainly have a bunch of smart people trying to help each other achieve more. But without someone who manages the compact between the group – confidentiality, fairness, openness, ensuring no one person dominates, and indeed candor – the group just won’t reach its peak potential.
What are some other reasons why Pixar’s Brain Trust has led to an almost unbelievable stretch of blockbusters?
- When Pixar took over Disney, Disney did not have a Brain Trust. “…the deep identification a founder can have with his company is like the identification that a director has with the film he is trying to make. It’s extraordinary to pull yourself out of that equation.” We see exactly this. The other board members – other business owners – provide perspective that the business owner is just to close to see. This is invaluable.
- The movie director does not have to take the advice of the Brain Trust. This complements the candor. It is another part of the compact. The attendees do not have to accept or act on every piece of advice. But the compact does require that members consider the input with an open mind.
- The Brain Trust includes notes to get to the root cause of the issue. We call these clarifying questions. One of the key roles for the facilitator is first ensure that the problem and the underlying cause are very clear. First diagnose, then prescribe.
Catmull’s experience with the Brain Trust is exactly why we established Peer Boards for business owners. Business owners have lots of other people willing to give them advice. They get input from family but that advice is shrouded in emotion. A few businesses have particularly bold employees who will give the owner their straight opinion. They may have great advice but until they walk in the owner’s shoes, their advice can only go so far. Consultants, bankers, lawyers? Sure, they have a lot to offer. But many times they have a vested interest in the outcome of their advice.
As one of our members portrayed the value of a Brain Trust: “Camaraderie that is bound in trust and the astute advice and wisdom from other board members….. is priceless.”
Who do you turn to for the truth about your business? Leave your comments below, or tweet us @TAB_boards!