When people think of companies that exemplify how business should be done, you never hear about the companies who make up the vast majority of the economy: small and mid-size organizations. We continue to want everyone to be Google, Southwest Airlines, or Zappos. When you work in a small organization, seeing all these examples likely gives you angst — not encouragement.
We all want business to be agile and able to react to the changing landscape of the economy. Small and mid-size businesses do this every day because it’s natural to them. They really don’t have a choice, because the distance from their product and/or service to their end user is short and attainable. Having this short connection, however, also brings about a significant level of risk and concern. You could even call it “fear.”
Small businesses see these fears play out on a regular basis. These types of fears can easily take up massive amounts of time, effort and energy. Taking on these fears can become all-consuming. If this happens, failure may set in, as getting caught in a maelstrom of concerns can halt or hinder progress.
What are the biggest concerns small businesses are dealing with? Like most things, they come in threes: the SRS (Sustainability, Regulations, and Scalability). And by understanding them, you can turn them from your biggest fears into your biggest opportunities.
Entrepreneurs and smaller organizations usually start with two great driving forces: 1) an idea/concept that fills a gap in the market and 2) a founder or small group of individuals burning with passion. There’s incredible energy, focus and the willingness to take risks. They tend to hire folks who also are willing to live on the edge of existence because they want to be part of this new endeavor. The fear is, will it last? What happens when obstacles come? What happens when the people who were geeked about making a difference get jaded or disheartened?
In a large organization, these things also occur, but they can be hidden because there are so many employees. It may honestly even go unnoticed. The key to sustainability for a small business is to have employee passion as an ongoing, strategic goal. This is greater than a vision or mission. It takes the effort of a group of people to continue to encourage, rally and challenge the troops. You can designate them as the “keepers of the flame.” Having this identified and practiced will keep things moving and vibrant.
This is more than the endless regulations that are placed upon businesses. Those are a struggle within themselves, but they aren’t the only ones to watch for. When small businesses start, rules are assumed and understood, but they aren’t that formal. As a company grows, there is a sense that things are starting to feel out of control and therefore, they need to be regulated. The challenge of this myth of chaos is that more rules will lead to more control. More control will lead to more stability and conformity. The reality is that they lead to dissension and people yearning for the culture that used to exist.
Structure is needed in companies, regardless of size. The question is – do you need regulations or parameters? I believe that parameters work every time. Give people the boundaries where they can, and expected to, perform and more often than not, they will. Give people guidance and direction. It will continue the fantastic culture you started with originally. Allow it to ebb, flow and evolve and you’ll continue to succeed.
People constantly cite following “best practices” of others. Mimicry is an option, but it never translates from large organizations to small ones. When you look at a 10-level compensation structure when you actually have three levels, you can’t make the programs work. As a small business, you enjoy not being “big,” but you continue to look at gigantic firms and try to make their systems fit yours. It becomes a point of endless frustration and wasted efforts.
Small organizations should remember that they started with “next practices” because what they did had not existed in the past. They came to the market with a unique proposition and not some copied product or service. The leadership of the company needs to not lose sight of the creativity that drove them when they began. This isn’t a call for you to continue to do things as you always have. It is, however, critical to not try to scale up and down. It is much more effective to stay on top of what other companies are doing, then create what works for you.
So, remember the SRS’s. These areas are ones you face every day. You have the opportunity to turn them from fears to opportunities. Once you make this switch, you can transform them from your biggest fears into your biggest drivers.
By Steve Browne