No Process, No Scale

The objective of every business, besides making a healthy profit, is growth. Almost every business owner or executive entertains ambitions of world domination, admitted or not. Some leaders find themselves positions for beautiful serendipity: the world discovers their product or service and demand for it explodes. The business, perforce, grows because it must. That’s all very well and good, but most business growth doesn’t happen that way. Most business growth occurs through deliberate intention and effort.

Growth itself can cause problems. Rapid growth that outstrips management’s ability to… er… manage it can cause a business to crash and burn. Likewise, failure to intentionally grow the business can starve it of needed revenue, especially if income relies heavily upon one or two clients and one of those all-important clients transfers it business elsewhere or discontinues operation. Rather than bumble around or fall victim to unprecedented good fortune, business leaders must learn to manage growth.

And that means developing processes.

The beauty of process is that it affords your business the capability and infrastructure to grow with the increase in work and all the administrative hassles that attend increased income and personnel management. Writing on the subject, William Bakhos notes that some businesses are inherently more difficult to scale up than others: for instance, a sole practitioner. For such a business, “You are your product, brand and service all rolled into one. If you are your business, then there is a point where you run out of scalable options since you cannot create more hours in the day.”

Business growth requires planning, which poses its own problem. As Bakhos notes, “small business owners typically don’t have the luxury of sitting back and planning a thorough expansion strategy with members of the board. Most are working 12 hour days, multi-tasking and trying to keep costs low while also wanting to grow their business in a sustainable way.”

Developing a process for scaling business growth in a manner that can be managed and sustained requires identifying what you (and your team) spend most of your time doing. What are you working on? How much time do you spend on administrative tasks? Sales tasks? Marketing? Human resources management? Are you actually doing the work your business exists to do, or do you have a different, more indirect role? An analysis of time spent doing what will help you understand what needs more attention and what needs to be streamlined so you have the time to do what you should be doing.

If you find yourself spending too much time performing tasks that don’t align with your role in the company, then offloading the misaligned workload onto a colleague so you can focus on what you’re supposed to be doing isn’t necessarily the correct answer. That colleague may already be devoting the “proper” amount of time (and effort) to his or her assigned role and not have the capacity to undertake the added workload. Even a basic analysis such as that will identify whether more personnel should be hired to accommodate the workload in any particular area of the company. Just as important, shifting your misaligned workload to someone unprepared or unsuited to the work will also fail.

Once analysis of who’s doing what and why and whether they should be doing it is complete, be sure to identify those areas of the business that actually exist. This differs from merely defining titles and roles and expecting those roles to fit the actual jobs. Be clear and honest. For instance, don’t assign “receptionist” to an employee if everyone is responsible for answering the phone. This analysis of service will help you define the core operations of your business, which could be campaign management, reporting, marketing, client relationships, production, project management, etc. You may find that some projects require work that overlaps sectors, which then requires that multiple people from those various sectors–not a single person–be pulled into completing those projects. Further process development will then codify and streamline which person from which department does what and when to keep the progress rolling in an efficient and timely manner that also maintains the desired standard of quality.

Finally, determine the action needed. This may entail automation of routine tasks or the exploitation of software to manage activity or enable personnel perform their work more accurately and with less drudgery. Adoption of a robust process will help to ensure the appropriate assignment of resources to the correct people.

The development of feasible processes differs for every business; but no business sustains growth without them.