By Daniel DiGriz, CEO of MadPipe
One day, we all look up and realize our businesses aren’t in Kansas anymore. In the past, we viewed company processes as static, because the economy was steady. The intervals between economic hills and valleys were shorter, the gestation period for new ideas was generous, and the rate of evolution of customer demands was slower. Now, change is like a twister out of Kansas that sweeps us up and drops us in Oz.
As in Oz, the company that doesn’t grow dies. That external growth comes from internal transformation. A little wizardry can take us from low financial resilience to powerful brand. For the small business, this means adopting strategies from enterprise best practices. Dorothy and her team needed four things, and so does a small business in this new, challenging environment.
1. Locate the heart: Put the company on a project footing.
Treat every operational activity of the company as though it were a temporary “project”. Those processes are already, always evolving, only now it’s faster than ever. So, build change and the ability to flex into the Tin Man’s heart of your operation. That means acting as if you’ll have quickly changing needs for tools, methods, staff, and structure. Start by documenting each and every process in your operations and tracking changes in it. Since you’re preparing to be fluid, do so in a collaborative platform that everyone can see. MadPipe companies generally use Trello, because we can easily break down operations, project areas, specific activities, and processes. The tool just needs to be more sustainable than a static document.
2. Feed the brain: Make every staff member a stakeholder.
It’s ironic that, as a company grows, it can develop a calcified internal life that stymies the potential for future growth. The traditional silos that develop when a company scales (“This department is mine; hands off.”) are bottlenecks that don’t let us flex with the next change. We also can’t afford a staff that’s merely compliant, and goes limp on us, like the Scarecrow, because we aren’t imbuing them with a sense of ownership. We need to insist on permitting, welcoming, and reinforcing an all brains on deck workplace, where neither too much control, nor too much handholding prevail. I direct a marketing person who asked for a meeting to determine her priorities; I said “remember, you own this piece; I want you looking at our goals as an organization, and then determining your optimal priorities.” And of course, she rose to the occasion, as most people will if we empower them.
3. Stoke the courage: Make transparency the default setting.
It may start with openly documenting company goals and updating activities, but that’s not the end. Track team outcomes in an transparent way, as well. Let everyone in the growing organization see what every team is producing, and how. We can’t become awesome without learning from each other. Go even farther: get out of e-mail and into a more collaborative company platform like Slack. Set up channels for any ad hoc groups, and encourage communication in the open, whenever privacy isn’t absolutely required. It doesn’t fill up inboxes, like CC-ing your whole staff; instead, people can see into how the company works and what’s happening as needed. Consider a daily “standup” meeting, short enough that no one wants to sit down. Give everyone a maximum of two minutes to say what they’ve worked on since yesterday, what they’re doing today, and call out anything they need from another staffer (but don’t solve it in the meeting). Transparency is the company’s Lion courage, and it’ll mean the evolving team is always unified and has visibility on the whole.
4. Redefine the goal: Make all participation outcome-based.
A lot of forces have come together to change the way we work. Outdated companies prioritize time at one’s desk, so location is the basis for employment. The context for being competitive has shifted with the rise of the contingent workforce and an emphasis on deliverables, the end of all but a formal distinction between W-2 employee and 1099 contractor, the prevalence of collaborative technologies and remote work, and the commonplace liberty of bringing your own device (BYOD). Dorothy can be both at home and at work wherever she is. So, go with that: foster an outcome-based work environment. Ask people to report numbers, not just on their output, but for their inputs as well. Get them used, continually, to saying in those standup meetings, “I delivered 12 of x yesterday. Today, I’m constructing 16 of y.” If there’s no way to assign a number to a thing, we can question whether it’s work. Once you get consistent numbers for what everyone’s putting into the system, you’ll be able to compare them with numbers for what the company is getting out of it, and much more easily allocate, adjust and optimize as needs shift and evolve.
Each of these is a cumulative strategic improvement. It requires heart to ask for the help we need, brains to achieve the collaboration we want, and courage to follow through on our objectives. There will be an adoption period, an adaptation period, and ultimately the company will see right through us, to the wizard behind the curtain, so we’ll need to be authentic about it. The prize is a pair or ruby slippers, which let us roll with whatever the economy or the market sends our way.
As CEO of MadPipe, Daniel DiGriz is the external Marketing Director for client companies and organizations. As digital philosopher, he writes about marketing strategy and is creator of the Digital Ecologist™ designation for Digital Strategy. As a serial entrepreneur, he has a background in Fortune 500 sales, marketing, and corporate training, digital publishing and media. A frequent public speaker and podcast host, he has an M.Ed. in instructional technology.