Most of those reading this article will remember the NASA tagline, “Failure is not an option,” a phrase that is very often used in the business world these days. As human beings and involved participants in the business environment, our resentment of failure is high. As a result, we strive to avoid it at all costs. And in many cases and with a lot of hard work, resilience and – let’s be honest – a bit of luck, we achieve the much-desired success. However, growth also comes with a series of challenges. How do we accelerate it further and not stall the engine ourselves?
With success comes a whole new world – all the opportunities, all the options, all the joy… and all the pressure to stay in the zone of success and keep growing. As most entrepreneurs can tell you, it’s much more difficult to sustain success and grow your business than it is to get there once – the first time. And there are several reasons for this: you will need to expand, acquire new skills, add new people to the organization, implement a clear and fair way of working and, most importantly, delegate tasks to a management team capable of to avoid YOU becoming the bottleneck. And all this in an uncertain, constantly changing and complex environment. Easy to say, isn’t it?
Working with Romanian entrepreneurs for the past 4 years, I have learned some valuable lessons on how to make this transition smoothly – and I emphasize smoothly, not easily. It would not be fair to say that it is an easy process, since we are talking about change management that requires a minimum of 6 months to be sustainable, depending on the complexity of the business context. A lot of pressure is on the management team, the leadership team, the executive board or whatever name it may have. Its members have the responsibility to translate the vision into reality by actively shaping it, taking care of the dashboard with relevant indicators, ensuring that their teams understand and accept the changes, stay engaged and consistently deliver results. Not to mention the care of building and maintaining a healthy organizational culture.
But… what if there is no dashboard to look at? A double problem arises here. On the one hand, it is about insufficient awareness of the need for centralized aggregation and monitoring of the company’s activity. On the other hand, there is a problem related to the actual processing of the data. In a study cited by CECCAR, it is shown that ‘one company out of five, active and performing in the Romanian economy, uses Business Intelligence tools, while most call excessively on human and material resources to analyze a huge volume of data about the activity theirs, generated by classical reports.”
But what if a scoreboard is built with a lot of effort and it no longer reflects the strategy? With the volatility of the current economic situation, this is a real possibility. Or if some managers have very technical profiles and are not familiar with the meaning of big picture indicators, be they KPIs or OKRs? Or if they lack the skills to work with people to keep them engaged, to support them, to guide them? Or if they look like a team but don’t act like one? A 2020 study shows that less than 20% of large and medium-sized companies active in Romania use Business Intelligence tools, which help them to be efficient and profitable and, above all, to quickly adapt to changes in the market.
From challenge to action, without perfection
There is a way to start putting the pieces back into the puzzle and get the final picture faster. Pick one or two challenges, think about the expected outcome, and start identifying the actions that, once taken, will trigger the processes to achieve the required results. Implement them, even in an imperfect form, test how they work, adjust and re-implement. Too often the pursuit of perfection is the enemy of clear and swift action and stands in the way of effective problem solving.
This way of working is a reinterpretation of the Agile model in the IT world, currently used in software development. This model works very well when there is little clarity on the end goal (the moving target), when changes occur more rapidly in the business environment (hence the moving target), some team members agree to the plan and others do not , and the available budget is not guaranteed (yes, sometimes we have to work by seeing and doing).
We have seen the first approaches of this type in IT and industrial production companies that extended the Agile model to the area of business management. Thus, they defined necessary and important cross-company projects with the multi-disciplinary team and a project sponsor from top management.
Some examples are the retention of employees, the reallocation of the portfolio of strategic projects, the improvement of communication between the supply, sales and production departments, the implementation of an ERP system or employer branding.
Among the benefits obtained after the first sprints: faster decisions with all stakeholders at the table, immediate correction of communication errors and preconceptions between departments, improvement of collaboration between top management team members and their fellow managers of different business lines, identification between them of to those with growth potential and the list goes on.
The 4 week sprint
In terms of planning, our experience shows that 4 is the magic number – the optimal length of a sprint, as we call it, is four weeks. This allows some results to be visible, but maintains enough flexibility to adjust goals if changes in the environment occur.
Examples of initiatives that have been successfully approached using this method come from various parts of the organization:
- Strategy (reviewing and adjusting strategy either as a result of external influences such as new competitors, competition for resources, changes in industry trends, etc. or internal events such as changing shareholders, creating a connected dashboard and relevant at the company level, so that the management team has a unified and solid view of the past results and the most important forecasts)
- Sales (approaching new markets, launching new products and services, building successful sales teams)
- Operations (continuous improvement of internal operations, processes and systems to support strategy delivery)
- Human resources (adjusting and maintaining a healthy organizational culture to achieve results and retain talent, internships, acceleration programs, training new managers)
The main benefits of this method approach are:
- Quick results – finding effective interim solutions until a final one is implemented
- Low financial risk – investment of limited budgets in early stages
- Involvement of team members
- Ability to adjust and make changes in real time if needed
- Flexibility in management behavior
In addition, sprints provide a valuable opportunity for mentoring and coaching team members, guiding them and helping them build the skills they need to become more autonomous and effective. All the work in sprints offers the opportunity to apply a very powerful tool in practice: psychoeducation in business, as a factor of self-knowledge and development of leaders and their teams. Understanding the basics of psychology and neuroscience explains in a credible, scientifically based way why we have certain reactions and behaviors and especially what impact they have on others. Psychoeducation helps improve leadership ability and develop a healthy and productive organizational culture, increasing the chances of staying in the zone of long-term success.
That way you, the entrepreneur or team leader, become a growth factor instead of a bottleneck.