The Argument for Preemptive Measures

You don’t need a sales tool, you’re the only sales person. You don’t need formal HR policies, you don’t even have an HR department. You’re the boss! You don’t have to really watch what you say. You only have one engineer, she can document in whatever way works best for her.

We have heard every one of these phrases, and more like them. It makes us cry a little on the inside.

A major stumbling block of any business is change. Once people get used to something, breaking old habits and building new ones can be exceedingly difficult. This is just ingrained human nature, so don’t think for a second that management is immune to this hurdle. Everyone gets into a groove, then when your organization begins to grow policies and tools are forced to evolve. This process leaves older, valuable employees in a difficult spot. Everyone needs to adapt to the new systems, and all too often things go a bit sideways. In the perfect world all relevant information would be seamlessly transferred to new tools, all employees would perfectly remember new policies, and culture would scale flawlessly. The real world, however, very rarely mirrors this. Tribal knowledge gets lost in the shuffle, valuable employees resent new structures and either leave or poison the environment, and management forgets that the larger the organization grows the more amplified their attitude.

It’s simple to see these outcomes, but how can you avoid them? The truth is, it’s very rare that an organization can completely avoid these growing pains. However, you can definitely take steps to lessen their impact. Lets look at how!

 

Tools:

While you may not need a formal marketing tool while you only have 5 customers, set one up anyway. While a sales tool isn’t necessary when there is only one sales guy, set one up anyway. At 200 contacts you can just track leads on a spreadsheet, but set up a CRM anyway. If you're focused on growth the best thing you can do is prepare for that growth.

One of the most frequent arguments we hear about implementing tools before they’re needed is cost. It’s true, with 25 accounts you may not be able to afford SalesForce. However, the Cadillac of tools isn’t the only option! Pipedrive (at just $12 per user per month) is a fantastic option for a CRM and sales tracker in one. Down the road, as your business grows, you may need more features than they offer, but moving from one CRM to another is much easier than moving from no CRM. MailChimp is free for your first 2000 contacts! Agile CRM is an all-in-one and costs nothing for your first 10 users! Companies have heard the cry and adjusted pricing structures to allow small business to get into their product for little to no upfront cost. If you like the tool and want it to scale with you, cost is directly proportional to business growth.

It may feel a little ridiculous having a dedicated marketing tool to send out 25 emails a month, but when that number grows to 250 or 2500 you’ll be glad that you have a tool you’re familiar with.

 

Policies:

Ask almost any organization on the planet why they have a particular HR policy and you’ll probably get a story. “We use a mobile device manager on company phones because of that one time Bob let his kid stream Netflix on their cross country road trip and had a $900 phone bill.” Or “We created our NDA after a sales guy left, started private consulting, and stole 7 of our accounts.” Or “We only fire people at the end of the day because of that one guy in accounting who freaked out in front of the entire office.” Ask policies outside of HR and you’ll get similar, if a bit less entertaining, tales. “We CC finance on all estimates because if the customer replies with approval they see it right away.” Or “Marketing sends campaign testers to sales before they go out, just incase we’re running a special that may undercut a deal they’re working on.” You get the idea.

So, how can you possibly be expected to see the future? While you can’t avoid every misstep with preemptive policy creation, you can definitely avoid the bigger ones. Think through your processes and identify any organic policies that already exist. Maybe marketing already runs their campaigns past sales. However, what happens if you get a new person in that department? Document the organic policies that are working already. Include them in training materials. Make sure good habits stick.

Also, you are not the first organization on the planet. Business have come an gone before you. A fair amount of policy is just well documented common sense. (See examples above.) Try to flesh out as much policy as you can, before you need it. Then, when situations arise (and they will) you have a baseline for action. You may find that you need some tweaking down the line, but adjusting policy when you need to is much simpler than creating it.

 

Culture:

This one is probably the most difficult to imagine at scale. If you’ve seen the news lately, you’ll know that even incredibly successful companies struggle with this. Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, created a fantastically profitable business almost overnight. The passion required for that feat, however, is beginning to be his downfall. When every sale matters, and you’re operating in a small, close knit team, it’s not the end of the world to get overly aggressive. If you’re discussing your new office location with your team of 5 over beer and someone makes a lewd comment about the waitress nobody is going to freak out. When you have your first office holiday party and everyone is a little tipsy nobody really cares that the boss stayed home with a hangover the next day. All of these little occurrences are habit forming. As a person, none of them are very consequential. However, as the face of a company, they will not scale as you grow.

Nobody wants to have a ridged, rule riddled organization that crushes creativity and doesn’t encourage camaraderie. However, creating a culture that will grow with your business is a delicate balancing act. After being overly aggressive, follow up with positive comments or a brief apology. Don’t ruin the bonding over beers, but pull the lewd commentator aside to remind them that your waitress is a person too and we should respect women more. Sure, stay home with a hangover if you need to, but don’t make it a 'typical' thing and understand that you can not punish that occasional occurrence from your staff.

It’s hard to separate the person from the title, but remember that this is still your business. Just because your office of 10 people feels like hanging out with friends doesn’t mean that you don’t still carry the responsibility of leadership. 

 

 

I hope all of this information can prove helpful in laying a foundation for your growing business. Nobody gets everything correct right out of the gate, and it’s important not to beat yourself up when adjustments need to be made. Change is a part of growth and the most anyone can do is try to make the process as painless as possible.