WHAT WE'VE LEARNED THROUGH OUR GROWING PAINS
For a long time, I was basically a plumber.
I had a stable, relatively small group of clients and my standard service offerings. Business was steady. I was running the proverbial road, responding to clients as needed. We could survive quite nicely at that level forever – or until retirement.
Then, around five years ago, something shifted. We saw the value of the intellectual property we had created over the years and its impact on our clients. We realized we could help many more if we scaled up the business.
I began to imagine how big WhiteWater might be and how we might grow. My team and I started making the first intentional moves towards scaling. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen that drive to growth catch on. We've doubled the business between 2022 and 2023 and are on track to repeat that in 2024.
Most incredibly? We didn’t kill ourselves to get there (other than spending way too much time on airplanes and hotels!). We were working at a (mostly) sustainable pace, and it began to come together.
Damn, this stuff we’ve been talking about really works!
We’ve learned a lot about what it takes to expand, especially for small to medium-sized businesses. It’s been an exhilarating journey that’s put our team on a big learning curve, one on which we also see a lot of our clients.
Like us, many others may not think big enough about the possibilities for their companies. We all put fences around ourselves that don't need to be there. And when they try to scale, they often need help getting from idea or strategy to implementation.
Even for us as experts in this area, it’s not perfect. Life happens. Plans need to pivot. Small teams are under a lot of pressure. But amid the day-to-day hustle and bustle and the messiness of running a small but growing business, progress is possible…we call it getting the big ball of chaos moving in roughly the right direction!
In this post, I share my reflections on what has fed our growth. I also speak frankly about some challenges I’ve had as a leader trying to navigate this change and growth.
We held ourselves accountable to our goals.
An American Society of Training and Development study on accountability found that the odds of achieving your goal basically double with every intentional action you take to make it happen, including setting timelines, making plans, and having a committed accountability partner.
With these simple steps, your odds of achieving your goal rise to 95%, an astounding, nearly 10-fold improvement over just having a goal that’s just in your head!
As this study makes clear, more than having goals is required. They need rigor and structure to be realized, but don’t over-complicate it. A regular catch-up with your accountability partner increases your chance of achieving your goal by 95%! That’s just a 5% chance you won’t achieve your goal!
This is the essence of our Get In Gear training program and book, which performance drives processes to results. We use some different languages, but the basic idea is the same: when we set goals, there are specific things we need to do to meet them.
So, write down your goal and the steps you need to get there. Give yourself deadlines. And engage an accountability partner who will meet with you regularly.
We developed better processes.
In WhiteWater’s early days, we didn’t really have standard operating procedures for, well, anything.
Like a ringmaster, I was at the center of operations, running my circus. The company knowledge was mostly in my head. That wasn't such a flawed approach, as I was in regular contact with the team and could work directly with any of them to provide guidance.
Over the last two years, though, that has had to change. I’m not able to touch every part of the business anymore. I had to let go of some things and delegate. Today, there's all kinds of work happening in this organization that I’m not directly involved in. I’m on a need-to-know basis. The other day, our content coordinator shared notes from a call with the agency supporting our marketing. Before, I would have been in that meeting. Today, I can get a debrief. And there are many days when she just takes action, and the results turn out better than if I had been involved!
It’s a little scary letting go. But the team has delivered, making it easy to trust them, which is incredibly freeing. It builds their confidence and competence. And it releases me to higher-level leadership work…or just staying out of their way.
We put the right people with the right capabilities in the right roles.
I’ll try not to hurt my shoulder too badly, patting myself on the back, but we did a fantastic job this year finding excellent people to take us to the next level.
For the first time, we have a dedicated content coordinator who’s giving our marketing efforts rigor. We added an operations manager who is putting all the behind-the-scenes systems in place, including HR and onboarding processes. (And, really, she spends a lot of time cleaning up all the messes I have made!) We hired additional consultants whose experience and perspective are challenging and expanding our thinking…and helping everyone on our team be better.
The combination of process with the right person in the right role is creating a beautiful flywheel effect, and our team is feeling the momentum. It really is a testament to getting the right people pointed in the right direction to the goals and then giving them the latitude to be their best.
It’s still not perfect (is it ever?), but we're systematically moving to a way of working where there is a clear process and clarity on roles and responsibilities. We're building the architecture to let WhiteWater run without me someday.