06.28.18

Firing on all Cylinders: Feeling stuck? 4 Ways to Push Forward

KARL R. LAPAN, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF THE NIIC

Growth and stagnation are natural parts of the business lifecycle. But what happens when you stay too long in the latter phase? It takes a savvy business owner to know how to ride those often-unpredictable waves.

Here’s what engaged business leaders and I have to say about moving past a plateau.

Go on a Fact-Finding Mission.

As a business owner, you are often concerned with working in your business (vs. on). This can be very detrimental to growing your business, and this cycle of non-stop busyness (activity-based versus results-driven) usually means you are treating symptoms instead of looking at the causes. But substantial growth requires that you peel back the layers and cut to the underlying issues. Is it a human capital problem? An aspect of your product or customer mix? How and what is your customer experience?

One of the things I enjoy doing to stay fresh and sharp is going on listening journeys. Several times during the year, Daryl and I go off and visit and meet with different businesses to learn about what they are doing to stay on top, how they are reinventing themselves, and what their biggest challenges and opportunities are. Most recently, we visited Airframe Components in Kendallville, and Roy, the owner, talked about how he bought the business from his father, challenges in working in a family business and pivoting the business model, how he treats and inspires loyalty with his employees, his inventory management advantage, and how he is expanding to meet the growing needs of his customers. Thank you, Roy, for your generous knowledge sharing. I find this benchmarking information and insights helpful when we coach and advise our clients, and also as key inputs when we do our own strategic planning about our programs, services, and environmental assumptions (think PEST analysis).

Strike a Balance & Do Something Different.

You and team may be working crazy hours, but are you working smart? And how about work-life satisfaction (It is no longer about balance but how satisfied you are in the particular aspects of your work and life? If you’re not showing up rested and renewed each day, your work suffers and productivity wanes. Make space for recharging your batteries (professional development, networking, reflection time, mastermind etc.), and your company (and you and the bottom line) will benefit.

What does your Bill Gates type sabbatical and think-week look like? I am fortunate to have just received approval from the Foellinger Foundation to fund my third Inspire Grant. This grant models some of the philosophies and practices of the Think-Week and gives the non-profit CEO an opportunity to look at adaptive challenges and opportunities in a fresh and transformative way. I am excited and grateful to get started on this amazing professional and personal learning journey.

Analyze & (Continuously) Improve Processes.

Given local unemployment levels of less than 3%, customer dissatisfaction and complaints can result from employees’ lack of training, turnover, experience or misunderstanding. You might need to take a hard look at your culture, processes, and procedures and retool as necessary. The best customer experiences are orchestrated, consistent and the quality of the interactions and engagement measured. Our recent registration as an ISO 9001:2015 organization is one way to keep our processes fresh and relevant.

Be Open to Change & Opportunity.

As the founder, you likely wore many hats and had your hands in all the aspects of the business in the early phases. However, as your operation grows and evolves, the need to empower and lean on others and trust in their capabilities will become necessary. Do you need to look at ways to have others step up and lead at the project, strategic business unit or organizational level?

Plateaus and ruts happen and can be a wakeup call if we pay close enough attention. Be pro-active and willing to troubleshoot and pivot for the sake of your business’ livelihood and your sanity.

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