How to avoid the roadblocks to growth that have challenged countless companies? It’s an issue that’s given every CEO more than a few sleepless nights.
In 25 years as a business owner, MB founder and CEO Steve Klein has helped hundreds of clients achieve their sales goals and boost their bottom lines. In that time, he’s learned a lot about why successful companies consistently hit their growth targets and unsuccessful firms don’t. In Klein’s view, here are the eight biggest obstacles to growing a business, and what companies can do to overcome them:
Lack of a Simple, Achievable Growth Objective
Too many companies are content to drift along with no clear direction, Klein says. Consequently, their employees lack a sense of purpose and don’t feel invested in their work. “The company can’t even tell you, ‘We want to grow 10 per cent this year.’ Teams without an objective are teams with no context; they don’t have a foundation for success.”
A company must clearly articulate its goals to its staff, he says, adding that those goals must be simple and easy to understand, yet still challenging enough to inspire a workforce to strive for more. SMART Goals, for example, are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Klein suggests holding regular retreats, podcasts, or webinars, where employees and management get together to discuss the business’s short- and long-term objectives, and what each person can do to help make them happen.
Too often, the CEO knows what his or her objectives are – but everyone else in the company is in the dark. “The people doing the work, they’ve got no idea what the CEO’s goals are because he or she hasn’t communicated them. Most of us are terrible at communicating our goals,” Klein says.
His advice? Make sure your staff know exactly what you want the company to achieve. Klein is a big fan of the Scudamore huddle – a short, intense, daily meeting popularized by 1-800-GOT-JUNK founder Brian Scudamore. The entire workforce attends, “huddling up” for seven minutes each day to discuss company news, share sales numbers and other metrics, and get up to speed on where the business is heading. Klein loves this style of meetings because it helps reinforce big-picture goals and keep employees on track in their day-to-day work life. “They’re really effective at building a consensus around what you’re hoping to accomplish,” he says.
Failing to Measure Progress
It’s hard to know how much further you need to go to reach your goals if you don’t know how far you’ve come. Whether it’s via an old-school whiteboard or through cutting-edge software that’s constantly streaming key sales data on a digital dashboard, every company must have a clear way to inform employees where it stands in relation to its goals and the competition. “Whatever it is, you must have a system to communicate your key performance indicators (KPIs) and progress to your staff,” Klein says. “It has to be constant.” He offers the Weight Watchers analogy: people in the program are regularly asked to track their weight as a way of gauging their progress; businesses that want to say lean and competitive must take a similarly simple and consistent approach to measuring progress.
Lack of a Reward System
A regular paycheque is nice, but it’s only human for employees to want recognition for their hard work, beyond a bank deposit. In the past, Klein has found creative ways to reward employees for their achievements – ranging from gift certificates for spa days, to tickets for hockey games, to giving them sides of beef. It’s a great way to inspire loyalty and make your staff feel appreciated, he says. “It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but it should be fun, a little bit different and show some thought.” Even something as simple as a handwritten thank-you card goes a long way in a society where such gestures of appreciation are increasingly rare, Klein adds. Challenge your HR department to come up with a creative rewards program and then fund it fully; workers are much more inclined to go the extra mile if their efforts are being recognized. “They know what the prize is all about – what the feeling is and what the reward is going to be,” Klein says. Success is a team effort. Without that, your company objectives are often an empty goal.
Not Having a Detailed Business Plan
CEOs need to ensure they’re working from a coherent playbook for long-term growth with a plan that’s robust and can adjust to the demands of an ever-changing market, Klein explains, but many companies never take the time to research and create such a blueprint, let alone follow through with project management. If you’re not sure about how to put together an effective growth plan, consult a mentor or trusted adviser. “You can’t just rehash yesterday’s marketing and advertising. You need to recognize that the world is changing fast and you need to be agile. Most people don’t get this.
“You’ve got to get somebody with some growth expertise on your team.” Your business plan needs to include knowing exactly how to manage your cash flow – one of the biggest reasons the vast majority of start-ups fail is because they run out of money. “You have to have a plan to grow, and you have to set aside funds to pay for that effort,” Klein says. To expect your business to grow and not be willing to fund growth is completely unrealistic.
No Guts, No Glory
Successful entrepreneurs recognize when they need to reinvent their business model – but more importantly, Klein says, they have the courage to do it. As a cautionary tale, he points to the taxi industry, which failed to anticipate and adapt to the arrival of ride-hailing services such as Uber and was totally upended as a result. “If you don’t want to improve your business model, you’re going to be dead,” he says. “You’ve got to have guts. You’ve got to invent new ways to improve your customer experience and be different from what else is out there.”
Overlooking the Power of Reviews
Whether it’s via Google reviews, platforms such as Net Promoter Score or other digital avenues, collecting customer feedback is more important than ever. In a world obsessed with social media, where even just a few bad reviews can kill a business, all customer input – good and bad – must be taken seriously.
“If you’re not focused on how you’re doing as far as customer experience goes, you need to get your head in the game, because online reviews are a major force in today’s business environment,” Klein says. “They are the first way your company is going to be evaluated by prospects, and how business is drawn to you or scared off.” MB, for example, aims to add five new Google reviews a month, with the target of becoming the most-reviewed marketing agency in the country. “We’re already the most-reviewed marketing agency in our city,” Klein says. “I’m proud of that. You’ve got to survey your customers and get reviews.” Yet a lot of business owners are so focused on taking care of day-to-day affairs that they fail to grasp the big-picture importance of consumer ratings and their ability to influence the marketplace, he adds. “Most people don’t see the forest for the trees.”
Lack of ‘Can-Do Attitude’
Complacency can destroy a company that’s content to rest on its laurels and figures good is good enough, Klein notes. A die-hard Senators fan, he looks no further than one of that NHL club’s new young guns for an example of how a little grit and determination can go a long way for any organization, whether it’s a pro sports franchise or a software manufacturer. “We can all learn a little bit from Brady Tkachuk,” he says, referring to the Senators’ feisty rookie forward who immediately endeared himself to fans and teammates early in the season for his willingness to do whatever it takes to drive the net and score. “You’ve got to go to work in the morning with a can-do attitude. I always say to clients, are you hungry for success or are you steeped in the status quo? Do you want a better tomorrow or not? You’ve got to want success. You need to have growth-obsessed people on your team.”