The seven most common problems that could be holding your business back
You’re the CEO of a fast-moving business. All the stars are aligned. You have a strong strategy, white space in your market, and a great value proposition. In fact, your business has started to grow exponentially. Yet there are problems. Cracks are beginning to show, and you’re unsure how to fix them.
We see this time and again in the businesses we coach. Big problems hit our CEO clients, and they need our help. Sometimes, they’re easy to identify. But often, when we start working with a CEO, they struggle to articulate their difficulties.
That’s why I refuse to send a proposal until we’ve identified the problem. I want every new client to understand that their investment in our coaching will reward them with a 10x return on our fee. And they won’t value our input until they know exactly what it’s worth.
These conversations are revealing. Specific themes emerge over and over again. We also work through exercises like Stinky Fish and Brutal Truths that give us unique insights into the issues holding fast-growing businesses back. So what are these common difficulties?
1. Lack of Alignment
I hear this so often; it’s first on the list. New clients tell me, ‘I feel like we’re all pulling in different directions.’ People are solving problems in their silos but not as a team. This is evident in our kick-off meetings when working on a Target Operating Model (TOM). Get six or seven Executives in the room and ask them to tell you how their company makes money. You’ll get completely different opinions. And there you have it. A definite lack of alignment!
Some conversations haven’t taken place. People will always assume that everyone thinks the same as them. It’s completely natural. Who knew before Brexit that a sizeable proportion of the British population thought that leaving the EU was a good idea? I know I didn’t. Or that some people would respond well to being told to wear a mask during COVID? Especially when I thought it was a huge imposition and refused point-blank!
Often there’s a whole continuum in a business. Are you technology first or customer first? From a cultural perspective, are you more Theory X or Theory Y? Do you think the next country your business should expand into is Poland or Germany? You won’t get alignment unless you can identify a series of questions and thrash out the pros and cons. Your teams need a mechanism for identifying these critical issues and then wrestling them to the ground.
2. No long-term goals
Another classic. When businesses are scaling fast, it’s easy to lose track of the longer-term picture. There may be a general notion, but have you worked out how long it will take to double the size of your business? With most of our clients, we work on a three-year horizon. I go around the room and ask the Executive Team to write on a post-it note their predictions. What do they think the revenue, profit and number of customers and employees will be in three years? The CEO goes last. Once again, opinions vary widely. There’s been no previous discussion of longer-term goals.
Opinions are divergent because every team member will have different assumptions about how the business operates and how it will scale. Once we’ve coached them through this, the Executive Team will have achievable goals to share with the rest of the staff. These are updated every quarter, so the company has a forward-looking view of the world broken down into 36 months and 12 quarters.
3. Lack of clear ownership
Who’s responsible for what? Another common confusion amongst employees. This is why we work on the TOM early in the client relationship. We’re trying to establish clear accountability for every function and activity in the business. The CEO will have come from a specific background and often has their fingers in that pie. So is the Sales Director really the owner of Sales? Usually, there’s folklore on who owns what. If you’re growing into a sizeable business, there’s only one full-time role for the CEO – Chief Executive Officer. They need to relinquish any control of a functional area.
If there’s no clarity on the executive level accountability, this will carry through to the whole organisation. It needs to be fixed. As well as the TOM, make sure every employee has a scorecard. Look for a single number you can track, which will act as a helpful barometer, telling you when you need more people in the role. We suggest identifying three to five KPIs that serve as metrics that you can track daily so that, by 5pm, your team member knows they’ve had a good day.
4. Customer contact is suffering
As businesses get bigger, customer contact can start to slip. Only the other day, I was talking to a CEO client who’d visited a customer that had recently churned. The client was new in his CEO post and wanted to understand the reasons for the loss. The customer said, ‘We’ve been with you for twenty years, and you’re the first senior person to visit us.’ It should never be this way.
When I’m coaching an Executive Team, I tell them I expect every one of them to talk to a customer weekly. And I mean everyone. This is part of the Rockefeller Habits framework. As I say this, I can see the marketing, HR and finance people twitch. They’ve never spoken to customers before. But, unless the whole team understands implicitly who their customers are and the problem they’re solving for them, how can they run the company? They think they don’t need to know. It blows my mind!
My other recommendation? Bring in Net Promoter System. And don’t settle for an average score. Aim to be a company that offers genuine customer value.
5. You don’t have the right people on the team
This is a big one. Every member of your Executive Team needs to be an A-Player. If you have doubts, you need to fix this quickly. I find it’s less of a problem for CEOs who’ve run fast-growing businesses before. They understand the value of hiring fewer, better people. But problems start when there’s a small business mentality, looking at everything through a cost lens rather than making data-driven decisions.
Understand that it will be easier to run your business if you have fewer, higher-paid people that are A-Players. This has to be the aim. We recommend clients do talent assessments of every team member in their business and track their percentage of A-Players. This has to increase.
6. Lack of a cohesive culture
Culture is everything. It will profoundly influence your success or otherwise. Too often, fast-growing businesses underestimate its importance. Your culture is a team of teams. It’s not top-down; it’s bottom-up. And you need to be deliberate about creating and measuring it.
Put a culture canvas in place and design a meeting charter. It will likely be the first time your leadership team has collaborated on a document laying out how you work together. You’re designing your culture for strategic output. Once you’ve done this, it will flow through the whole organisation and change people’s experience working in your business.
7. No attention to employee engagement
Employee engagement is fundamental to a successful business. Yet it’s so often overlooked. We recommend measuring it using a tracking platform such as Friday Pulse. You want to encourage a culture of happiness and gratitude and employee suggestions on how things can improve. Friday Pulse enables this and gives you essential information on engagement levels broken down by team.
If you’re a fast-growing business, some of your managers will be good at telling you they need more resources. Others will bury themselves in the task and get burned out. So you can work out where teams are under pressure, put in resources or swap managers out. As you scale, different parts of your business will come under pressure at other times.
One of our clients recently completed a significant transformation. They had several hundred employees and swapped out 40% of their workforce over twelve months. Because they had the data at the team level from Friday Pulse, it helped them manage the process, making it less disruptive. It’s great to see our advice working so well!
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