Growth presents a number of challenges, starting with change. Change, as we like to say, comes to all of us whether we want it or not. Opportunities change, clients’ needs change, laws and regulations change, technology changes. If you don’t keep up, others will pass you by. So our challenge is to try to manage change to get positive results and grow.
First and foremost is to assemble a team who is ready to grow with you. No one can do it alone and you need a team that is flexible, adaptable, and able to think outside the box. The team must also be able to handle their existing responsibilities because the most important is to focus on existing operations and clients – while clients may be happy to be with a growing company, they are much more concerned with the service they are receiving today. It must remain at a very high level; it is easy to lose focus with the excitement or tasks of growth plans, so we must pay special attention to keeping our people focused on satisfying clients every day.
Second, you need to plan the growth. As with every business, we have learned that identifying our core business, and what we have done successfully in the past, is crucial. Change should expand and grow from that in a “common sense” manner. We have focused on administrative staffing, i.e., back office processes that every organization requires, whether public, non-profit and commercial. So in moving to light industrial and skilled manufacturing, we try not to stray too far into areas we won’t understand or can’t execute well.
Similarly, with geography, we have learned that clients value and require hands-on touches, and management of our projects requires someone to see and interact with our people. While there have been many innovations in staffing software, and social media is very important, we can never forget we are a “people” business. So when we consider new opportunities, we always evaluate how we can physically get to sites, making use of public and private transportation. For example, several of our offices are directly and easily accessible to public transportation or to major roadways. This helps us visit the clients, makes it easier to manage, and helps the temporary employees.
Third, you need to sell the plan internally. So we try to help our people visualize the change we are seeking and the end goal. Paint it in vivid detail so you can communicate the plan to your team. We use basic “pie charts” to show where we are and where want to be. The pie charts show our current customer diversification in terms of types of customer, types of staffing and geography. The picture supplies the color and texture for the team to dream about and use to self-direct.
We have learned that communication is never perfect and never enough. This is all about mutual respect. We try and try again to communicate our concepts to everyone in the company, and explain their roles. We hold frequent short management “stand up” meetings over the phone to check where we are on key projects. The goal is to avoid surprises, hold everyone accountable, and avoid doing duplicative work.
Throughout the process, we try to benchmark our progress and have accountable milestones. We candidly confront our mistakes or failures and try to turn them into learning experiences and successes for the future.
Finally, we recognize that nearly every change requires learning new procedures and skills and requiring different behaviors on the part of our people. None of that is easy, and patience, coaching, and openness to learning are key. Simply opening a new office to meet a new client’s needs requires attention to staffing and scheduling details, internet access, furniture, equipment and a host of other issues that seem completely unrelated to our business — but without these details there would be no business. Someone has to do them, and do them well. Prepare for the expected change, anticipate some surprise, and know that you are in for a lot of work. Then you can launch your growth.