An old coaching maxim asserts there’s a big difference between the will to win and the will to do what it takes to win. It’s something I often remind small business owners who share their desire to grow into mid-sized businesses. While the prospect of growth, of breaking away from the pack and becoming one of the big boys is certainly enticing, it isn’t accomplished without serious soul-searching and some difficult decisions.

Several years ago I wrote an article titled, Becoming an Entrepreneurial Organization. In it, I made the case that for an entrepreneurial business to grow into an entrepreneurial organization, five critical changes need to take place.

Five Changes to Grow Your Business

#1 Operational

Operationally, there has to be a shift from heroic efforts to heroic processes. Heroic efforts – while emotionally appealing – aren’t scalable or efficient. At some point a business needs to institute, and provide training and support for, well-designed, repeatable processes that are scalable.

#2 Deliver Value

In delivering value to the market, businesses must evolve from one-hit-wonders to hit-making-machines. Over time, one-hit-wonders get copied, leap-frogged or made obsolete. To survive and grow, businesses must create or find new sources of value.

#3 Performance Management

In growing companies, ambiguity around reporting, roles and responsibilities can start to create chaos. Fundamental people practices are needed to transition from performance mayhem to performance management.

#4 Manage Cash

Small businesses that endure are adept at managing cash. However, to become a mid-sized company an owner must adjust her thinking from simply watching the cash to wagering the cash. At some point there will be major expenditures – systems, facilities and the like – without which the business can’t grow.

#5 Leadership Team

Finally, and most difficult of all, an owner must be able to let go so that the oversight of the business expands from a leadership icon to a leadership team. One person isn’t scalable. That’s why a team of highly capable people is needed to oversee and transform the business.

Managing the Emotional

What I’ve learned over time is that the struggle for most business owners isn’t conceptual, it’s emotional. It’s letting go of existing practices – that have served so well and feel so right – to allow new and necessary practices to take root. It’s accepting the discomfort that comes with change. The apprehension that comes with risk. It’s easy when there’s nothing to lose. The psychology changes when there is something to lose. And that something isn’t just financial. It’s identity. It’s self-image and self-esteem. What happens if we’re not successful? How will I view myself and feel about myself if we’re not successful?

When we feel emotionally threatened, rational defense mechanisms kick in.

Put in place processes? That feels so corporate. We’re fast-moving and nimble, we don’t need processes.

New products? We’ve got the best product in our space. We just need to sell more of it.

Defined roles and responsibilities? We need our people to be flexible. Why would we handcuff them?

Spend money on fancy I.T. systems? Those things are nothing but a headache. And we’ve got a good handle on how well we’re performing.

Not have control over every part of my business? Nobody knows this business like I do. And there’s no way anybody cares about this business as much as I do.

This is the first battle that must be won if a business owner is to grow their business. Every business owner gets attached to the current way. And why not? It’s what made them successful. They feel good about it. Why would they risk messing with a winning formula?

Good question. Here’s the good answer: Because what made your business successful in the past could kill it in the future. Different practices and different capabilities are needed for businesses at different stages. A successful mid-sized business isn’t simply a successful small business 10 times larger. It’s a business that has evolved to meet the unique demands and opportunities that come with growth.

Yes, as a business owner you want to grow your business. But are you willing to do what it takes to grow your business?

Make it happen.


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