Most business owners have learned to grow their businesses using the “Entrepreneurial zone” style of management. However, without noticing, maybe they are actually stuck in the “In-between zone”!
Some of the descriptive terms that apply to the “Entrepreneurial” style include words like – “passion”, “zeal”, “zest”, “enthusiasm”, “knock down brick walls”, “make things happen”. Above all else those business owners have learned to become great “plate spinners”. Their problem is that as the business grows – eventually they will reach a point where – if they add just one more “spinning plate” another one will start to wobble and come crashing down.
It is at this point that your business has reached the dreaded “In-between-zone”. You have left your old comfort zone – the “Entrepreneurial zone” – but you have not yet reached the “Properly managed zone”. You can no longer rely on being like “Tom Brady in the huddle” to communicate to the team. The “In-between-zone” is a dangerous place because if you don’t make the right moves now your business growth will stall. Worse still you may be headed towards the “Turn around zone”!
So how can you tell where you are today? There is one very easy test you can do (if you dare!). Unless you own a very large business you really are not big enough to have more than (say) 5 key strategic priorities at any one time (in truth 3 is probably more realistic). So, lets get your key management team in a room. Lets assume that there are 5 in that team including yourself. Now give everybody a blank piece of paper and a pencil. No talking – no conferring. Just ask everybody to write down what they consider to be the top 5 strategic priorities for the business over the next (say) 1-3 years.
When everybody has finished – write all their separate answers down on a blank flip chart page. At the end of the exercise, if you have only 5 things in total written on that flip chart (or even 6-7) – congratulations, you are in the “Properly managed zone” where your team is totally in tune with your business vision and plan.
However, at the opposite end of the spectrum – at worst you might have 25 different things written on the flip chart (5 people each with 5 different points of view). This is the “nightmare scenario” – but is probably unlikely. Much more likely is that you will find 10+ items written on your flip chart. You are firmly positioned in the “In-between-zone”!
The above situation is exactly why those “In-between-zone” businesses are always starting new projects and new initiatives – but never finish any of the initiatives that they start. Sound familiar?
If you are not brave enough to carry out the above test (not many business owners actually dare to carry it out in my experience) – here are a few of the warning signs that you may recognize.
Starting from the top – do you hear yourself thinking:
“We are lacking direction” or “have no clarity of vision”. If you don’t know where you are going then it will be very hard to get there! Nobody drives their car without knowing where they are going – but you would be amazed how many business owners do just that (more accurately they drive from “week to week” or “month to month” rather than looking far enough ahead – say 1-3 years).
“Good management, but they are not trained to manage”. Most management at “Entrepreneurial” businesses started by being “good at something” on the job (like selling, or operations). Very rarely do they have actual experience of management. Consequently it is often difficult for them (without help) to make the transition to the “Properly managed zone”.
“Great people, but they don’t always pull together as a team”. This usually comes down to either a poor culture or poor communication from the top. We may see a “blame culture” (it’s a “dog eat dog world”) rather than a “navy seal culture” (team focus on mission). There is often a leadership style based on “talk & tell” (20th Century) rather than “communicate & collaborate” (21st Century).
“We grow sales, but we seem to be increasingly inefficient”. This usually arises because the business does not have the necessary processes or data measurement. Basically they have out-grown what previously worked well – and the business owner is beginning to drop some of those “spinning plates”!
“We start lots of initiatives, but we never seem to see things through”. The business owner has not clarified their vision or key objectives and the team are not “bought in”. See the test outlined above.
“We need an injection of new skills”. You have got through the “Entrepreneurial zone” by a few people (mainly the business owner) being able to turn their hand to a number of tasks (more “plate spinning”). As the business gets bigger and more complex, you begin to need specialist skills – typically in areas like finance, marketing, IT, specialist aspects of operations.
“We have a lack of clarity and consistency in our sales message”. This one doesn’t get a very high “nod factor” from most business owners I meet (i.e. they don’t readily admit to it) – but it is probably one of their biggest problems. I often see businesses whose sales message falls into the category of “saying what you expect them to say” – rather than what their customers truly “value”. Also, everybody in the business seems to say something slightly different to potential new customers. Basically the team are not “on script”. This is because there is no script – everybody “wings it” – because that is what they leant from the entrepreneurial owner once upon a time.
“We seem to do too much for the money we charge”. This one usually gets a very high agreement factor – particularly from service business owners. In fact it comes about because of the lack of clarity in the sales message (see above). Its too complicated to outline easily in a short blog – but its a massively important symptom of a business stuck in the “In-between-zone”. You need help!
The above is by no means an exhaustive list of the warning signs. However, if you found yourself “nodding” at at least a couple of the above then chances are your business is in the “In-between-zone”.
The big message is that you need to do something different if your business is going to make it to the “Properly managed zone”.
So “Don’t stagn8″ in the “In-between zone”. Make the necessary changes before it is too late!
For more information, contact Paul Latham.