A Leap of Faith

The phrase leap of faith came to mind recently on my walk along the canal path, a canal boat called leap of faith gently passed me by as I headed for my train to work. I’ve heard this phrase used frequently in business and often about start-ups, e.g. when someone takes that first step from whatever work they had before into founding a business; this is right, it is a leap of faith. However, I’m interested in this post to consider the future ‘leaps of faith’ we make as business leaders.

In our company we get to talk one-to-one with business leaders and these sessions often reveal fears, worries or concerns that leaders have. Our role is to work with that leader and leave them in a place where they have a plan to move beyond the concerns and can see the steps to success. One frequent fear for founders is that their company is getting too successful and as a consequence they worry about keeping pace with the business.

One young tech-entrepreneur shared this week that they realised after a few years that running a company they founded that had grown to nearly 200 people was boring. They did not want to develop it, they wanted to start another; so, they made a leap of faith and handed over to a CEO and developed a spin-off company from scratch once again. That was brave, leaving financial security yes but also recognising their limits and then pursuing their passion accordingly before they damaged their first business.

Another entrepreneur shared in the middle of a leadership course that she realised she must change to be the right type of leader her company now needed. She was nervous, uncertain and worried she could not do it in that moment but she saw that her business had changed and so she needed to stop being the ‘start-up’ leader and be a leader who had the skills to build a business and a management team around her.

Running a business is rarely a destination, it is a constantly evolving journey. Humans are a species that likes habit and routine; therefore, a leader can find it comfortable to rely on the skill-set that got them to where  they are now and no more. The thinking that a business needs to stay successful next year, is not necessarily what it needed last year. A courageous leader frequently re-assesses their strengths and weaknesses and how they set new goals to evolve. By definition the leader will have to initiate this change for themselves – no grown up is going to drop by and order it!

So, my takeaway question is:

When was the last time you took an objective look at your skills, knowledge, experience or influence on your business and set yourself the target to change once more?

If you want an idea on how to do this give me a call and I will share some tools we’d recommend. Supporting leaders to change is something my colleagues and I enjoy doing and sharing ways to achieve success if part of our reason for operating.

Have fun in your leap of faith and enjoy setting yourself a new challenge today!

5 Ways to Stop Your Growing Organisation Becoming Chaotic

Last week I spent several hours with a group of brilliant business leaders who want to scale their companies on another cohort of our Inspiring Business Leaders series. We delved into the leadership they need to grow their businesses and explored how to generate high performing teams in a context of constant change. They left the session with tools to assess their own leadership skill set, ways to motivate teams and an approach to measure success.

Although many topics were explored in the seminar, one that was most revealing came when we mapped the organisational structures in the room. Everyone could draw (albeit some more neatly than others!) their current organisational map. However, thinking ahead 2 or 3 years and drafting how the people in a business should connect was much harder. Running a company of 10 or 20 people is busy; but leading a fast growing business or 50, 80 or 100 will be very, very messy without a plan. Success, in the case of these entrepreneurs really could ‘kill’ their business.

So, we shared 5 ways to get control of these impending changes and stop organic development or employing ad hoc roles that will unbalance a fast scaling business.

  1. Know your purpose. Have your purpose written down in a succinct, clear manner so everything you do can reference it maybe even add your core values. Without this guide, your memory of the reasons you state now will fade as you become busier and events will shape your business, as your decisions will not be made to a consistent plan.

  2. Remove yourself from the mix. If you are the founder or leader now, try mapping the future of the business without your name in the chart. This way it forces you to think through your role and responsibilities and divide them up. It can also stop you building a business that just amplifies your weaknesses!

  3. Draw, draw it again and then re-draw some more! An organisational map is not the only plan you will need but by writing it down and putting pen to paper the thoughts in your head become clearer and also you can share this plan with others and continually refine it.

  4. Chose a scale. If you do not have business plan with targets choose a multiplier, e.g. in 3 years time the business will have 10 times more customers. Then you can consider what functions are needed as specialisms or what teams you do / do not need in a future business to serve that demand.

  5. What does it mean for you? When a future organisational map is drawn look at the difference to how it is now and consider the skills, knowledge and experience you role needs to develop in. If you are a leader, you need to set a plan for your own development so you change with the business and do not hold it back. What training, what experiences, what change do you need to make to be ready for the ‘new’ shape to your business?

If you have begun to map the future you can then set the plans to transition from your current state of business to the desired state. You have a barometer to judge the decisions the business leadership make as opportunity and challenge come your way in the next few years.

If this challenge seems to new for you, reach out to someone more experienced or to an appropriate consultant to help. Clients often tell us that their problem was solved because they had the right people with them to explore an issue and set a plan to change.

Finally, what do you do to map the future of your business? Have you found an effective way to visualize the future? I’d welcome your views and insight in the comments section below or contact me direct on @berneeclarke.

Emotionally Balanced Founders

On a very icy, cold and early Janaury morning I joined a networking group called @startups_mcr to share some of the things I have learnt and observed about balancing the emotional pressure of starting a business. This is a huge subject, so I shared a little that I had noted in my nine years of business ownership but also through supporting countless clients through the problems they’ve encountered in running and growing their own enterprises.

Why is the issue of our emotions so important in starting a business?

  • Founders throw their heart and soul into a business. They often refer to it as their ‘baby’ and are keenly attached to it. So, when the business goes through ups and downs (and this can be multiple ups and downs in just one day!) so does the owner. Unchecked this can damage our emotional state and knock us off balance.

  • For me business is essentially a competitive environment (even when done ethically and with values). Customers choose a supplier and why they do that can have nothing to do with a business being ‘good’, it can be for many other factors such as price, personality, colours, feelings, timings, and so on. Indeed, external forces can destroy sound businesses or disrupt their model (think of what happened to all the suppliers to the large contractor Carillon last year) through no fault of the owner. That means good businesses, and good business owners, will experience unfairness during their entrepreneurial adventures.

  • And the statistics tells us that only 4 in every 10 start-ups make it to their 5th birthday [for the record Know+Do is about to turn 9]. Most also stay very small, e.g. 65k of the 100k businesses in Greater Manchester employ less than 5 people; meaning the owners / founders are mostly intimately involved in the everyday delivery of their businesses and the strategy, they are working hard and jugging many duties.

So, I summarised how to consider all this through the 6 S’s of balance:

  1. Self. Do not measure yourself against others or take their yardstick for success. Know your own measure, understand yourself and recognise your abilities and weaknesses. If you don’t do this others will create the terms by which they define your success and this will change with the trends, fashions and the fancies of others.

  2. Share. I started a business with a colleague (@rammers02) and valued greatly how we complement each other in skill sets, personality and expectations. When one of us is facing a challenge the other is most likely to be found seeking how to turn it into an opportunity. So, I recommend finding those with whom you can share your business journey. And not just at a cursory level but sharing deeply and with knowledge. A mentor can offer this, as could others starting out on a similar path. Sharing with those who can empathise and not just sympathise helps greatly.

  3. Smile. In amongst all the problems of your business venture should be fun. You need to want to give everything to it and if it does not make you smile to think of the business then something is out of balance. Setting core values can help with this, they allow you to apply clear thinking and set standards that satisfy you from the outset. Looking for the joy in your work gives you a reward.

  4. Sleep. Get enough sleep! Busy as you will be, sleep gives you clear thinking and gives your mind time to process the day. Skip on sleep for too long and you will make bad deals. Even the then Director of the FBI, James Comey, promoted sleep to all his employees (see his story in the book, ‘A Higher Loyalty’). Sufficient rest reduces your chances of making mistakes.

  5. Self-Worth. If the business is everything in your life you will be tied far too closely to the company for your own good, and that of your colleagues. If your identity does not extend beyond the company you will one day find yourself lacking in self-worth and unable to find the objective view when you need; as what happens to the business will literally be happening to you at the same time. I’d recommend seeking out and investing in things that make you interesting and give you validation, such as skills, knowledge, experience, love, satisfaction, belief, hobbies or friendships.

  6. Skin. A founder has ‘skin in the game’, you are taking a risk with your reputation, your time and probably your money. That little bit of fear or worry can be healthy, it stops you settling for less and getting too comfortable. It forces you to think about improvement and change, to always be striving for the next deal even when you’ve just secured one today. It can mark you as different to an employee and is, when kept in check, a motivating force.

These are just my starting points for the discussion; each founder’s experience is intensely personal. You will have your own views dependent upon your experience and situation. I’d be interested to know how other kept their balance in the early start-up phase. What worked for you and why? Let me know in the comments section below or contact me on bernard@knowanddo.com / @berneeclarke

How Scale-Up Leaders Can Flourish

I attended an event to promote the support of scale-up businesses, those that are experiences year-on-year high growth. The speakers were leaders from local businesses that are managing rapid growth and it was fascinating to hear about their respective journeys, challenges and mind-set. As they spoke they shared four key qualities they’ve needed by fast-growth leaders.