Picture it. Some of you absolutely can because you have passed through this tunnel. Some see it coming. Some are just entering or are in the middle of the tunnel. The tunnel is the evolution and growth of your business. Not everyone that goes in will come out the other end.
You probably didn’t start your business alone. You likely had someone that was an important partner that went through the trials and tribulations of start up with you. (Let’s say this wasn’t a spouse but might have been another member of family…or not). Together you faced what had to be done, worked ungodly hours, had many sleepless nights and lived frugally for longer than maybe you had anticipated. Some things took off; other things crashed and burned. You started over. Gradually you got some lift and began to add some staff because this was getting too big for just the two of you or the few of you to handle anymore.
Your business grew and morphed as a result of many factors – competitor behavior, market changes and customer expectations. As you discussed these external pressures, you found that you and some of those who had been with you from the beginning had different visions of the companies purpose, about what’s needed, about how to best address these things, about who is best to handle them. You began to see that maybe what is needed to get to the next level, the skills, energy, knowledge, flexibility – whatever it is – wasn’t found among some of those of the ‘founding group’ or in that one person that had been with you from the beginning.
Of the many tough issues I have worked through with clients, this has to be the toughest one. This is the one where they are highly resistant to counsel and emotional but where there has to be a reckoning with hard facts. The business must accelerate but it’s clear that there are some very dear people who aren’t going to make it to the next level, that can’t make that next climb. They have reached their limits.
I have come to recognize that this is probably the most painful and difficult thing founders have to address but they imperil their business when they don’t. I’ve seen many dysfunctional reactions and, while I understand their reasons (sentimental, loyalty), the things they do or don’t do rarely do more than prolong the pain.
What are some of those dysfunctional things?
The most common of these is creating new positions that no one understands and which often ends up in redundancies which result in conflicts which results in internal unrest. Another is to just have someone else do all the work for the individual but continue the individual in the role, totally demoralizing the ‘support person’ and onlookers who have been asking for new software or money to attend a conference or seminar or a new hire with specifically needed skills to address current realities. Those requests get turned down. Complaining starts that sounds like ‘but they can afford to keep ____on at big bucks for nothing’. Or there is loss of respect for you as the leader as you tolerate mistakes and the ‘don’t-get-it-ness’ of the founding but floundering. You dismiss criticism, make excuses, cover. That’s a great way to lose key and needed people who just up and quit in frustration.
If this is ringing a bell, it’s important that you don’t practice avoidance in hopes things will just work out. This is the time for you to work with someone to map out the strategy and plan to help you through this tunnel, something some clients have described as one of their most difficult ownership responsibilities involving some of the toughest conversations Some have lost relationships when, after covering and dodging, things came to heated conversation and abrupt partings – some accompanied by legal challenges. Done well, addressed timely, you can prevent those things from happening, preserve relationships and keep your business moving in the right direction.