Written by Carlann Fergusson, Owner of Propel Forward LLC.
You read about it in the papers all the time. A successful entrepreneur is asked to step aside and let a CEO with more operational experience continue to grow the business. This move is neither a statement that the entrepreneur’s brilliance has diminished nor a statement that the leader didn’t try hard enough. Instead, it is often a reflection that the entrepreneur kept their sight fixed on the same levers it took to start the business instead of a broadening their perspective as the business grew and became more complex.
If founders want to remain with their company through the next big growth cycle they will need to prepare themselves for this leader-shift. The good news is the entrepreneur can capitalize on the strengths that made them a great entrepreneur. Those innate skills of picking up changing patterns and synthesizing information from numerous data points to identify future market needs, can be applied inward to their business to see the patterns and data points that tell them where they need to change their leadership strategy.
Common Growth Symptoms:
Here are five common symptoms they can look for:
- The team is questioning the future direction of the company. There may be staff members who are pitching new markets or new products that may or may not align with the original start-up vision.
- The culture of the company is shifting on its own. The addition of employees is creating a culture different from the start up culture. Longer-term employees are complaining that the culture is not the same.
- People are unaware of what others in the company do. Conflicts may arise from duplication of roles or from gaps where no one is taking responsibility.
- Informal communication is no longer working effectively. People tend to have different interpretations of the reasons behind key decisions or are not informed of key changes.
- Managers spend the majority of time in tactical execution with little or no time for strategic activities. There may be routine staff meetings but meetings to monitor and address strategic initiatives that cut across groups are missing.
When patterns like these emerge in the organization, it is time to integrate a broader executive perspective and focus on building internal capability. The leader’s initial product vision, informal organizational structure and minimal process flows served the company well in start-up and in the initial phases of growth. Now, however, a broader vision of the company is needed and more formal organizational structures and processes are required to reduce the chaos of continued growth. Many entrepreneurial leaders erroneously assume that taking a more formal approach to strategic planning, process flow and systems is equivalent to adding bureaucracy. Instead think of it as expanding those initial steps you took to define your business to match the expansion of the business you have built. If done correctly and with a focus towards maintaining the company’s entrepreneurial spirit, bureaucracy will not result.
Where to Start:
To begin to build capability the leader starts with the first executive task cycle step of setting direction and strategic planning. The first step will be on setting a broader vision for the company that will serve as the foundation to everything else. Culture, organizational structure, and process flow should all align to the future vision. The strategies, actions and company success measures should likewise align to that vision. Meeting structures should ensure success to this future vision and not create unproductive rehashing of status updates.
Creating the vision, culture and strategies doesn’t have to equate with an expensive, tedious multi-day offsite meeting. The vision is not about wordsmithing a statement. It is ideas that connect to your passion and to your team’s passion resulting in a mosaic that drives energy towards a common outcome and incredible results. The process should fit your style and your company.
Valuing a corporate style of leadership as well as an entrepreneurial style can be difficult for the founder of a business. For some entrepreneurs the shift is too much of a departure from their own passion and they step aside to a Chairperson’s role or exit to focus on creating another start up. For other entrepreneurs it is an exciting challenge of continuous learning and change. Whichever path you choose, make certain it aligns with your personal vision.
Carlann Fergusson is owner of Propel Forward LLC (www.propelforward.com). Propel Forward LLC provides consulting, coaching and learning solutions on vision, strategy, organizational design, culture and leader capability. Carlann Fergusson has twenty-five years of experience with global Fortune 500 companies, privately owned businesses, state and federal governments, and non-profits. She brings proven diagnostic skills and keen insights to deliver a solution tied to your desired business results.