When a business gears up for growth and the inevitable changes this brings, everyone looks to the top for direction. This is especially true – and difficult - for SMEs.
Since failure to manage growth effectively can be detrimental to a business, the process must be carefully planned and controlled and the bucks stops with the business leader to ensure that everyone involved in the organisation is properly geared up for change.
But don't assume that the management framework that steered the business through difficult times will do the same during a spell of business growth. It is essential to identify the framework - and the people - who should take on the key roles needed to manage the business growth.
Performance management tools and exercises can often help in this process. A performance management matrix is a simple but highly effective tool that allows you to assign key tasks associated with the anticipated growth to members of the top team.
Individuals can then be given prime responsibility for achieving their goal or project with a clearly defined role and set of objectives.
An effective leader will also have a clear understanding of what needs to happen to ensure that additional demands for products or services can be met. Overtrading has been the downfall of many firms that were not properly prepared for rapid growth.
To get this understanding, the leader has to step away from the day-to-day running of the business and see the bigger picture.
Planning for growth requires a multi disciplinary approach, a review of every single aspect of the business - marketing, the web, production - and its impact on others. This will bring cohesion. As well as preparing the business for immediate growth, it allows future strategic planning elements to be put in place.
Most critically, the impact of business growth will affect everyone within the organisation, so good communication is vital.
Change can be perceived by the workforce as something to be feared or avoided. As a leader you must keep a handle on what is happening more generally within the business; are people embracing the idea of growth or anxious about it?
Remember too that leadership behaviours are replicated throughout the organisation; if the chief executive appears stressed or starts bullying in order to get things done, the workforce will be affected.
With new consultation regulations introduced at the beginning of April, companies are also be legally obliged to inform and consult with their employees on any significant changes to the business.
But why settle for compliance? Take the opportunity to bring open communication into the organisation; ask people what they think is needed to be better prepared for growth and what they think the impact will be on the business. Be prepared both to ask questions and provide answers.
A genuinely open culture will boost staff morale and confidence and offset some of the uncertainty surrounding a business process that can seem overwhelming.
The changes brought about by business growth can impact on productivity, and also on staff retention. In a tight labour market people will be looking out for jobs. What incentives can you offer to safeguard against losing your best people, and also to attract the calibre of recruits likely to be needed for a growing business?
Training and development opportunities rank particularly high among the benefits most valued by employees, so ensure that you have the right training and development programmes in place.
In preparing a company for growth business leaders will have even less time than usual, so this has to be managed even more carefully. Avoid becoming weighed down by the measuring and tracking of all the business parameters. Focus on the mission critical elements.
There are whole range of business tools that can be used to monitor and manage the growth process. Different types of business will rely on different indices. However on a more general level, I believe that coaching before and during a spell of business growth can bring the greatest clarity. A good coach can help a leader develop the insight they need to make the right decisions, and uncover any blind spots.
It is also important to learn from the experiences of your peers. There is enormous value to be gained from asking a chief executive who experienced dramatic or prolonged business growth what they did in a similar situation.
Networking is another valuable tool. In gearing up for growth leaders should be deploying all their networking skills in formal and informal settings. Take advantage of the leading edge thinking of others and tap into the latest management thinking on growth strategies.
Business leaders also need to gear up for growth on a personal level. They have a moral obligation to stay sharp, reduce stress levels, and boost their energy for their own optimum performance, and that of the workforce.
Being properly prepared for growth at a personal and organisational level will help ensure that a rapid surge in business demand doesn't lead to overload.