Leading Through Adversity
Every successful entrepreneur has a story or twenty about leading their companies through the troubled waters of adversity, and most, if not all, will say something similar to, “never want to do that again, but glad I went through it because of what I learned.”
My journey is no exception.
During times of fast growth in a pay-for-service business like goBRANDgo!, cash flow is always a difficult dragon to slay. In early 2012, our team was once again frustrated with this perpetual problem; we’d need cash, so we would go out and close more business, but then we had more work than our team could handle, so we’d bring on another employee, which meant higher payroll, which meant we needed more cash, needed to close more business…rinse and repeat.
We were caught in what I described as an “upward tail spin.” I was beginning to see how companies could sometimes grow themselves right out of business. Seeing as I didn’t want that to become a prophetic vision, I—as the company’s leader—had to figure something out. I turned to my most trusted confidante and source of answers…my whiteboard.
I’m a firm believer that a whiteboard can be a window into your soul and deepest thoughts if you just ask the right questions…so, I put on my headphones and got to work.
A few hours later, It appeared that I had identified several small culprits that—when combined—made a formidable foe that I dubbed the “Value Gap.”
To wit, we were:
- under charging
- suffering from scope creep
- giving away free ideas. (You can read my blog post “Business Growing Without Profit” for the complete story.)
Locating the hole in your boat is vitally important but identification does not stop the water from rushing in…you’ve got to fix it.
Philosopher-poet Notorious B.I.G. was spot-on when he said, “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” The larger your business gets, the more complex your problems become.
The situation could even get to the point that you won’t be able to fix it on your own; you’ll need a team effort. And here lies a major problem for many entrepreneurs: we are great problem solvers, but not always great leaders.
To lead your company through adversity, you must be able to diagnose, communicate & align, execute, and then assess.
- Diagnose the Root Problem
Make sure you identify the fundamental cause of your problem and not just the symptoms.
One of my most important meetings every week is Tuesday at 8am, just me and my whiteboard. This gives me the opportunity to constantly think deeply about my business without any distractions.
- Creating Alignment with Consistent Communication
The entrepreneurial equivalent of “if a tree falls…” is “If an idea never leaves the head of an entrepreneur, does it exist?” and if you’ve got more than a handful of employees, the answer is easy…No. You have to create understanding and alignment among your employees. You are the Commander of the ship. It really doesn’t matter which direction you take the ship, it only matters that you’ve got all of your employees rowing in the same direction…otherwise you’ll just spend a lot of time, energy, and money going nowhere.
I presented the “Value Gap” challenge to my team after our all team Monday Morning Huddle by explaining and drawing it out step-by-step on (I bet you guessed it) the whiteboard. It was such an effective way to communicate and frame the challenge, Whiteboard Wisdom was born. I now present a 10-minute lesson on entrepreneurship, marketing, or personal/professional growth every Monday and post the videos for public consumption/discussion.
- Execute the Shit Out of It…or ETSOUI pronounced ET-SUE-E (thanks Rob Cima!)
As your business grows there are hundreds of things that your team could be working on at any given point. It is your job to cut through the clutter, identify the most important things, and make sure your team has the tools/training they need to execute at a very high level.
To overcome the Value Gap, we created the “Mind the Value Gap” competition rewarding the team that found the most missing value. At our Quarterly Employee Retreat, we identify the 3 most important challenges to overcome and establish initiative leaders to do so by the next retreat, and I meet with them weekly for updates and to see what roadblocks I can get out of their way.
- Assess Level of Success
In entrepreneurship, there aren’t 50 shades of grey, there are thousands. As the level of complexity rises, it becomes more and more difficult to inherently classify something as a success or failure. In the absence of clear criteria, you have to create the metrics for success and hold your team accountable to those numbers. You must hone your skills on creating success metrics that actually drive the positive change you desire…and the fun part, these metrics will often change as your business evolves.
Whiteboard Wisdom has been a case study of iteration for us. After we decided to actually publish them, we were thinking paid membership to watch the videos, evolving to low-cost membership for access and higher-cost for videos + extra materials. Then free videos with higher cost membership and a coaching model and we’ve now settled into using the videos as content marketing to promote speaking engagements and provide the framework for coaching…and all of these iterations happened in less than a year, all with different metrics for success. The key being, each time we learned a bit more and changed the direction, we retooled our metrics to measure success.
I hope my story and these 4 steps will help you navigate your company through the consistent onslaught of adversity a growing business faces. It’s imperative to understand these challenges are the rite of passage to all things innovative, requiring perseverance and iteration to succeed.