Life was great. I was experiencing explosive growth. It felt like we were on a rocket going to the moon! Everything felt great. Then one day, the problems started happening. A couple of balls fell through the cracks. That's ok. That's the price of growth, we said. We picked up the dropped balls, apologized to the customers and continued our merry path of growth.
Then one day, it just seemed like we had too many balls falling through the cracks. Oh… and the cracks no longer felt like cracks. They felt like gaping holes! My team that seemed so reliable previously was suddenly making so many mistakes. How did this happen? How did we get here? It felt like we got here suddenly. But actually, we got here slowly, one dropped ball at a time, until we could no longer handle all the dropped and bouncing balls. Execution deteriorates slowly, then suddenly one day, we reach a critical point, and it feels like everything around us is broken.
I have seen this movie before many times. The same movie, just with different actors in different companies. I have even experienced this pain myself in my first company, as we rocketed to 151 on the Inc500 list. Growth brings its own wonderful challenges. Growth challenges us to stretch, to improve our capabilities, all while our day jobs get ever so increasingly challenging. If the team does not find ways and make time to improve their capabilities and leadership, the company will outgrow the team. The CEO then has to make a very difficult choice. "Do I replace the team that got us here? Or, do I slow down and find a way to make it happen with them?" That's what I call a Tough-Tough decision.
The hockey great Wayne Gretsky is famous for saying, "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has already been." Most companies do not prepare their people to skate to where the puck is going to be. Instead of playing hockey, they are too busy playing soccer… running after the ball!
Here are 3 leading indicators that you need to work on skating to where the puck is going to be before the pain comes:
- You are spending more and more time at work. Yet, the work continues to pile.
- Key people are asked to take on more and more every month without improvement in processes or without additional team members.
- Your profit (net margin) starts to decrease, even though your other costs have stayed the same, and you are not sure why profit has dipped a little.
The above are all signs that execution is beginning to go from great back to good because our people are getting stretched. Time to fix your cracks. Abraham Lincoln said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." It's time to sharpen your axe. It's time to figure out how to skate to where the puck is going to be! Here are 4 steps to skate to where the puck is going to be:
- Begin with the end in mind. Write down what your future organization should look like in 3 years:
- What are the key roles?
- What are the results expected for each role? How should we measure success?
- What are the skills and competencies needed for each role?
- Tip: Do not put down names in the key roles or you will be limited by what the person can do. Instead, think about the skills and competencies you need for each role, not what you currently have in your team.
- If you consider current team members, write down the competencies and skills that they currently have.
- Map internal team member skills to the competencies needed for each role. What are the gaps?
- What is the action plan to fill the gaps? Who, what and when?
- Ask each team member if they are looking forward to their new roles?
- Are they committed to grow and stretch?
- Validate their commitment by asking them to provide a written personal growth plan for themselves. Keep it to one page. Ask them for key actions (who, what, when) and how they will go about closing competency gaps.
- This is the hardest part. You need to track and measure progress in order to know if your team members are on track. How will you measure milestones going forward? How will you know that each team member is on track?
- Discuss these growth plans weekly and monthly. Are your team members on track? If you are not, what ideas do we have to help them make the right adjustments to get back on track?
Nobody wants to replace team members. No team member wants to be replaced. I don't think any of your team members would come to work for you and say, "Hey, I totally expect the company to out grow me in 3 years, and therefore, I totally expect you to replace me. It's cool, dude." No, I don't think so!
Please share with us your experiences. How are you doing helping your executive team and other team members grow? What are your plans to skate to where the puck is going to be?