Does it often feel like you’re spinning your wheels in your business or the sales area you’re leading?
No matter what you try, do you find you inevitably end up right back where you started (while also wondering how)?
For those wanting to succeed but finding themselves continually striving for flourishing instead of living in it, I’ve got four steps you can take to crash through that wall and move towards the destination you’ve been aiming.
In my book for small business owners (The Jump), I explore these four steps to transform your company from chaos to clarity. They won’t be easy ones, but they are vital for providing the stability and momentum required to cross the chasm you’ve struggled to overcome.
In the following sections, we’ll quickly survey these steps while delivering practical action items to inspire and equip you forward. Let’s get at it!
1. Level Up Your Team (And Yourself)
To get unstuck first requires understanding the five levels of Constructive Development Theory, how to lead people at each stage, and knowing how you accelerate their journey through each level of maturity (toward the most effective levels, four and five).
We fully enter into level two of the five developmental stages in our adolescence. It’s why parenting middle school children can be so challenging. They are literal, black-and-white oriented, with a strong sense towards winning (and when they lose, it’s done poorly) while also struggling to see the value of working well with others. Your goal in your business with this level is to avoid hiring the few adults(10% of the adult population) who never leave this stage.
Those in level three (from their twenties and through their early forties, on average) are a part of the socialized stage of development. They are highly influenced by real and perceived expectations from their superiors and people they admire. Those in this stage will struggle more with a lack of structure than those in later stages. Your goal here will be to coach them toward embracing responsibility for their beliefs and actions so they can perform at a higher level. It will also involve the creation of a structure to empower them to succeed.
The first three stages (the first is irrelevant to this discussion) can be thought of as an outside-in understanding of the world influenced by external forces and circumstances and often lacking in the desire and behavior around ownership and taking responsibility. Moving your team as quickly through this stage as possible will not only grow yourself and them but also the business (while accelerating the journey is possible, it will still take a great amount of time to move people forward).
At some point we face the challenging reality (often known as a mid-life transition, or crisis if it goes poorly) that these external forces and what we’ve been taught don’t fully teach and equip us for the difficulties we now face. We must reconcile contradictions and challenges we’re not prepared to handle. By embracing this for ourselves, we author our destiny in the world we operate (we’re no longer a victim of circumstances). We become dramatically more effective at what we do and establish our own way to effectively operate in the world. You want to move into this level four as a leader in your business, guide your team towards it, and hire into it (when the finances are available to do so) for top-tier performance.
There is one final stage (our end game as humans) that elevates someone beyond this fourth level through understanding and embracing the many paradigms that exist to effectively navigate this world. At level five, we’re able to let go of our way of seeing and doing to understand other people’s paradigm. This stage is known as the self-transforming one oriented around a set of higher values that transcend our own paradigm. You want as many of these folks willing to still work involved in your business guiding and mentoring others.
The most simple way to accomplish this is by building a cadence of planning forward and reflecting back. This internalized reflection helps us grow a little bit each day, week, month, and year and will move us along the spectrum at a quicker pace (what if you could do two years of growth in six months?). This habit of leaning into challenge and contradiction is something you’ll want to build into your personal routine while also doing the same for your staff to foster development.
Planning forward is setting specific goals on what you (and your staff) want to accomplish. Explore and own it individually and together (as opposed to dictating it). Aim for the target as a way to develop character in the process of planning, executing, and succeeding (or failing). By creating these tangible checkpoints, we have clarity for the reflection to follow.
Reflecting back leads us to understand why it worked or why it failed (and we’ll need cultural safety in the business to explore this). What were variables we could control and those we could not? What degree of impact did our actions contribute to this endeavor? What did we learn about ourselves? What fears or passions did we illuminate in the process? What do we value? How can we change or improve going forward?
It’s this process of self-authoring the answers to these questions that help us develop. By building triggers and habits to actually do the hard work of growing, we’re moving towards that final self-transforming stage five (arrived to, on average, in our sixties).
There are no shortcuts to growing yourself or others, but we can embrace how human development happens to help our team (and self) move through it quicker and lead them in ways that is most appropriate with where they are at in their own journey (and level of maturity).
2. Build Strong Foundations
No business owner or sales department wants to build their foundation on sand. But building on bedrock seems to be an elusive one for many companies. The following two frameworks provide your department and business a strong bedrock for long-term sustainable growth. Let’s first explore The Formula For Intentionality as our starting point.
- Purpose (Why?) plus mission (How?) within values equals our vision (Where?).
- Does your business have clearly articulated intentions for each aspect of this formula?
- Does your sales department or team have clarity on these areas nested within the business intentions?
- Does each sales person have clarity on the why, how, where of their role within the company?
- Without clarity on the end game, we’ll only wander in circles as lost sheep (individually and collectively).
Beyond the formula, we’ll also want clarity on The Four Pillars of an Effective Small Business Strategy. Without clarity, your sales department and company will struggle to effectively prospect and close deals. With articulated focus, you’ll be surprised how much you and your team will accomplish.
- Offering Strategy: What problem are you solving with your offering?
- Position Strategy: What is unique about your target audience (Persona)?
- Leverage Strategy: How is your business uniquely able to deliver your offering to your target client?
- Promotion Strategy: How will you persistently persuade prospects to choose your business?
The foundation of our business rests on the answers to The Formula for Intentionality and are further explored and defined with our answers to The Four Pillars of an Effective Business Strategy.
How does your department and company answer when asked these questions?
3. Guide Your Loyal Team
While only hiring the right (values, skills, and role) people and filtering the wrong ones out of your company is important to guiding your loyal team, I’m focusing this section on mentoring and extracting clear motivation for your individual contributors.
To further lean on the Adult Development framework shared earlier, it’ll be up to the sales leadership, and executive team to ensure everyone across the business is brought along by those further along the development spectrum.
It’s where leadership comes into play. This mentoring is the heart of entrepreneurship because it focuses on finding, training, and equipping problem solvers so we no longer have to be the one who solves our team’s problems. But like parenting, it’s often scary to set aside our ego and move people towards this end game of self-sufficiency. But, when you care about your people and their development, you’ll set the stage for a strong relationship with transformational trust. This trust will take you and your team further than pure performance could.
Upon this trustworthy relationship between you and the team, and your staff and the company, is creating clear objectives for all parties. When an individual contributor clearly understands how their activities will lead to accomplishing their personal goals (financial and otherwise) and the growth of the department (and company) they’re gifted with a personal incentive and a higher level sense of significance. Married, these two tensions will create a motivating force towards top performance and will minimize the amount of accountability enforcement required when managing them. Spend the time with your team to uncover what they’re after and create an alignment plan that build a win-win for everyone involved.
A company can’t be built by one person, and a fragmented business can’t gain the traction of a unified and focused team. Build a culture of mentorship and clarity for each individual contributor.
4. Leverage Sustainable Systems
If you disappeared or you lost the top talent in your business, how well does the company continue to operate?
How shielded is your company from a sharp downturn if key people within your company were to suddenly leave?
Often, we don’t recognize how dependent we are on just a few individual contributors within a business. And in addition to this dependency its also not fair to place such a heavy burden on folks who are highly gifted at what they do. To prevent this downside and help carry of burden of top performers you want the bullet-proof systems required to grow your business.
These systems operate as proactive measures to lead courageously, and prevent the many problems that come with operating in a reactive manner. When we level ourselves up, build from a strong foundation, and we have the right top performing team members around us, we can tap into sustainable systems to build and perpetuate the momentum required for overcoming the stuck state of our meandering business. To get highly practically, I recommend leaning heavily into two systems (one for you and another for those you lead).
For you, document and track your weekly twenty-mile march (via Jim Collins). What done consistently over time will almost guarantee you move the business forward (or at least the area you have responsibility)? Create for yourself a cadence of consistency around these most important actions for your area, department, and business. Let them be a bone you won’t let go of and when distractions come up (because they will) you’ll know what to focus on first and when to deflect or delay.
As part of your cadence, the second system I recommend leveraging is regularly communication checkpoints (daily, weekly, or bi-weekly) with those you lead. The iterative impact that compounds over time with growing each person and the results for the business is essential for moving your stuck business forward. But beware when you start thinking about shutting the practice down. As the following quote from the Harvard Business Review article (Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement) indicates.
These four steps will help you overcome the challenges that have chronically plagued your company. Embrace and build on them to create (or influence) the flourishing business you own or operate within.
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