Growing a business is hard.
Entrepreneurs get started in business with a great idea and the energy to bring it to reality, and then grow the business based on their hard work and hopefully the hard work of a growing team of exceptional team players around them.
But at some point the outcomes of that raw desire and entrepreneurial energy start to peak and then turn downward as the organization grows and the coordination of all of those exceptional players starts to become more difficult.
What created success as a start-up organization in terms of agility, organic collaboration, and energy-driven execution starts to falter as the number of clients, the scale of the opportunities, and the complexity of the organization rises.
Some entrepreneurs still manage to continue to grow, adding more strong team players to manage the increasing complexity and leveraging their culture to draw top talent to a dynamic and exciting work place. Which works… for a while longer.
At some point if an organization is going to continue on its growth trajectory, however, structure and process will need to happen.
Structure and process are sometimes seen as negatives in an entrepreneurial or start-up culture. They are perceived as the enemy of the culture or the agility that has brought success in the past. They are perceived to:
- Slow things down
- Create administrative overhead
- Create politics
- Complicate execution
In my experience all of those concerns are unfounded, and in fact are completely the opposite of what can happen if structure and process are implemented in a way that is oriented to the size and maturity of an organization.
The reality is that processes can be good or bad… and outcomes can be good or bad.
While there isn’t a direct connection between good and bad outcomes with good and bad process in the short term, over the long term and in growing small and medium sized businesses there is a definite connection in the long term.
“Individual decisions can be badly thought through, and yet be successful, or exceedingly well thought through, but be unsuccessful, because the recognized possibility of failure in fact occurs. But over time, more thoughtful decision-making will lead to better overall results, and more thoughtful decision making can be encouraged by evaluating decisions on how well they were made rather than on outcome.”
The simplest answer to starting your journey toward scalability in your business is to leverage the simplifying power of Framework Thinking.
I would define framework thinking as the act of visually simplifying a structure or process to create alignment around a common understanding.
In business and in life we often find that when presented with a situation individuals often see and interpret things very differently which results in different levels of understanding, different approaches, and different solutions to what is seemlingly the same problem. By leveraging visual frameworks we can draw people out of the details of a situation to align them to the context, which allows for a common foundation of understanding before you start to work through the details.
Simple visual frameworks can very quickly add the basic structure that is needed to start the journey to maturity for a growing organization. By drawing the capabilities and components of an organization in a simple map or articulating a common process or approach through a visual map you can quickly align your organization around a common understanding and drive discussion about gaps and overlaps that might exist.
There is no “magic framework” but I have found that almost any business organization, process, key capability, or approach can be boiled up to a simple common view that can quickly be understood by the leaders. Whether it is an organizational capability map, a process approach, an account management or innovation framework, or a talent management approach a simple picture is often the best way to build a foundation for maturity.
Framework Leads, Process and Structure Follow
A framework doesn’t eliminate the need to document processes and structures in more detail (but only the appropriate level of detail for the maturity and scale of the organization), but it does provide the foundation required to start that detailed work. Starting with the process and structure documentation you will quickly find that the lack of top level alignment creates churn and ultimately delivers the negative results that people often associate with process (speed, overhead, politics, complexity).
With a framework in place you can avoid many of the pitfalls and create the understanding needed to scale.
Take some time to think about your own organization and consider the questions:
- Do our meetings create clear action plans and owners and ultimately real results, or do we simply have great discussions which don’t drive action or value to the organization?
- Are our initiatives and projects loosely organized which generally deliver acceptable results and outcomes, but often lack documentation and create sustainability and operational challenges along the way?
- If I look at three people doing the same job in my organization are they approaching their work in a similar way or are they mostly just “winging it” to get the results we desire?
- Do I have a clear understanding of the health and performance of my business or am I generally poking and prodding through ad hoc requests to solve the “fire of the day”?
If any of that sounds familiar it might be time to consider breaking things down to a framework foundation.
Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.