Bang! That was me hitting the invisible ceiling with my established small marketing company. We grew each year until I finally hit my limit. My way of leading and managing moved me forward, but it wasn't going to get me to the destination. For three years, our company income went stagnant and we couldn't get over the hump.
It turns out this is a common occurrence with founders. Their company grows to a “stuck” point and doesn't go any further. How they initially fueled their success worked, but this same way fails to help sustain and grow.
The problem in many of these scenarios is the lack of the founder's contentment and poor leadership. They hit this ceiling and instead of being content with the success they've had, they're instead frustrated that they can't elevate themselves and company further. Instead of dealing with the root issues, they become easily distracted chasing shiny objects.
Thus, founders enter into the years of wandering in circles. They're changing things, shuffling people and systems around, but never truly moving the business forward. This can last years, and for some, decades. And, it's not exclusive to the owner. The leadership, team, and vendors fall right in line with this behavior. Everyone continues to benefit from this wandering in some way, so why bother changing it?
Like finding ourselves in the map at the mall, our first step in the process of moving out of this stagnation is to understand the stages of an organization and where you and your company currently reside on this map.
The Five Eye-Opening Stages of Every Organization
Every new business starts out as an idea. Then we discover that idea. Once we've explored it, we execute the plan. Once it's created, we maintain it. And eventually, at some point, we audit the company to determine how to make it better.
Ideate. Discover. Execute. Maintain. Audit.
Knowing these five important-to-understand stages of an organization
, our goal now is to transform this five-stage linear process into a cyclical one. We should be constantly rebooting our company as we consistently refine and revise. The audit stage is critical to making this happen and prevents us from fossilizing as a company.
Unfortunately, some of us prefer certain stages to others and we easily camp out. For example, some people love ideas. They come up with new business ideas like they're going out of style and many are viable and profitable concepts. But, if they never actually discover that idea, what good is it?
Others land on an idea and plan it to death. They map out every step of the process with a contingency plan for every possible scenario. Their pitfall is relishing in their privately written words and never executing on what they've planned.
Executors love to create new things, but never intend or plan to sustain them so they quickly create a wreckage of unfinished and abandoned projects. They never make a long-lasting impact because, by the time they're close to doing so, they're onto the next thing.
Some enter and stay in the maintenance stage. And the moment they do, they begin the process of becoming bloated. Whatever is enabling them to perpetually stay in this mode eventually vanishes and they're not prepared to adapt to the rug being pulled out.
And lastly, we have those who hang out in the audit stage
. They're constantly evaluating but by staying in this stage, they fuel cynicism and become constant criticizers who don't ever act on their insight.
Making The Jump From Rogue Management To Process Oriented Leadership
When it comes to starting a business, it's best to do so with proper planning and clear intentions. Unfortunately, startups don't usually happen this way so founders find themselves several years into the company's journey before they ask foundational questions about their business and the role it plays in their lives.
By not clearly answering vital questions ahead of time, they end up weaving a web of confusing alliances, motivations, and goals. Think of those tangled Christmas lights as an example of how the business operates.
Eventually, this wild west of entanglement causes the business engine to seize up and they get stuck in one of the stages. They enter into a perpetual state of striving and burning out.
To not only survive but to thrive they must make the jump from chaos to order. From launching to sustaining.
moves us forward. It's pushing the IDEMA flywheel to ensure we're improving, not decaying. It's our conscious choice to choose this cycle even when we want to camp out. It's the actions we take to move out of a chaotic system into a sustainable orderly one. It's the accountability we have to ensure we never stagnate again.
It requires we lead and manage through effective processes, and minimize the amount of rogue management required in a startup mode. A profound reality check can do the trick.
A New And Better Destination Requires A New And Better Leader
Several years after launching my marketing company
, I found myself in a moment of reflection. If I were to start a new marketing business knowing what I do now, what would it look like?
This came on the tail of a year of a personal identity crisis. My life, my marriage, my faith, and my business were in a stew of chaos
. My way wasn't working and the trajectory of my decisions and actions was not my desired destination.
In a desperate prayer, I asked God to show me His way since mine was only fueling problems. After that prayer, there was an exodus of unhealthy relationships with new healthy friendships and guidance entering my life. And through this transition, I was asking and answering personal questions about who I was, what was my purpose, what was my destination, and how I was going to get there.
It was a monumental moment in my life that required me anchoring into foundational beliefs that would shape my future. While it seems like such an exercise would make my life better, it quickly got worse.
But, while these challenges to my firm foundations were unpleasant, they were the test required to ensure these pillars would stand strong through severe storms.
With a strong personal foundation, I was now able to go back into the business and face the question in front of me. What type of business did I want to create?
How To Setup (or Re-Setup) Your Business For Success
Powerful companies require strong intentional convictions. Anything less will simply fade away when it gets hard. I found an interest in the concepts of purpose
and core values
shortly following my personal identity exploration. Now that I knew who I was, I needed to evolve the company to follow suit. Unfortunately, I struggled to understand these concepts in a way that harmonized them all together.
Eventually, I came up with several visual methods for communicating these concepts in helpful and unifying approach. The Formula for Intentionality.
) plus mission (How?
) core values equal the creation of vision (Where?
As the newly anchored leader in my company, it was now time for me to step up and define our intentions as an organization. As I share these with you below in a seemingly clear and concise way, the process to get here was anything but. We had to wrestle, test and explore these elements until we arrived at our conclusions. Once we did, we quickly made progress.
The purpose of Noodlehead Marketing was to be an example of excellence and accountability. Our mission was to obliterate marketing neglect. We moved on these intentions within the core values of passion, love, respect, service, change (for the better), and openness (to share/receive ideas). Acting this out resulted in our vision of intentional organizations reflecting excellence (how we defined marketing).
On this foundation, we built a framework of five business units. Planning, Project Facilitation, Communication, Community, & Resources. Like the company, we clearly defined the intentions (Why, how, within, & where?) for each of these areas and assigned an owner and driver (as described earlier).
These drivers were responsible for discovering intentions on their nested projects while the owner was accountable for this happening. With a foundation, we built a framework. With a framework we assigned responsibility.
Making The Jump With Your Existing Team
Our search for an effective project manager was an elusive one. The type of person we needed to help us drive projects forwarded wouldn't last in our rogue management culture. A few months after landing a perfect fit project manager, I went on vacation to Disney World. In the middle of my trip, I received a phone call from a team member that our project manager couldn't handle it anymore and left without explanation.
It reminded me of another project manager friend I had brought on in the early years of the business. One weekend we were in the middle of a highly demanding project and things were not going well. That weekend, he up and left, and to this day, I never heard from him again.
The type of person we needed, couldn't exist in our chaos. When I finally embraced this reality, I sat us all down and directed us to figure out how we must work together to foster the environment needed to prevent these types of people from running away screaming and instead pursue working with us.
We quickly explored the journey every project goes through, and we mapped it out. The result was IDEMA, the framework discussed above for capturing and sustaining ideas. With this roadmap in place, we looked at each other and decided, based on our strengths, what roles we all could each play when it came to managing our projects as well as our client's activities.
Instead of finding the perfect person who could do it all, we instead found the perfect roles we could each play in the larger picture. Imagine a relay race where the baton was carried by a team member. They'd overlap while running as they handed off the baton. This was how we shifted in leading and managing our projects. We went from "needing" a project manager to no longer seeking one. We had become a team project manager.
While there was a frustrating transition, it fostered a planning and execution squad that was bent on building sustainable systems. Otherwise, we were all going to kill each other in this new context.
Creating Long-Lasting Visible Systems Is How You Bullet Proof Your Business
If you're not around to lead your business, how well does it continue to operate? When the burden of success or failure is tightly intertwined with the founder's activity, it's easy and quick for them to burn out.
During the extended process of shutting down my marketing business, I did some file and technology spring cleaning. From when I began the company to the day it ended, I was constantly building systems to manage projects and move things forward. What I quickly recognized was how often I would build the same system over and over again in different ways.
I never had the discipline and memory to stick with the good things I created. Instead, we created and forgot about them. When we realized we needed them again, we built them all over. We struggled to gain traction because we did the same basic things repeatedly.
But there was a shift when I decided to create a blueprint for the business
and input every single project we had going on in it. After listing hundreds of items, it was quickly apparent how overcommitted we were. We were trying to do it all and as a result, we had a wreckage of unfinished, decaying, and abandoned projects.
The power of creating a blueprint for company-wide visibility not only acted as a much-needed reality check for this visionary, it also created a dashboard for us to know the direction of the company, how it was segmented, roles and responsibilities, and the progress of nested projects.
And it is those projects that make or break a business. We didn’t have a way to handle ideas and projects well and it became our must-fix chronic problem. This spawned the creation of the IDEMA framework.
With the destination in place, an informed and directed team, and the founding of long-lasting system, the next step in the process is transitioning the organization. How do we move from the existing chaos into an orderly and effective business model? How do we go beyond the perpetual startup cycle and create a sustainable company?
Make the JUMP: Five Steps To Transform Your Messy Business Into a Well-Oiled Machine
Successfully making the jump requires a soup of vital ingredients. We must understand the business cycle and our propensity to get stuck in the wheel's cogs. From this revelation, we'll embrace becoming the leader our revitalized company requires, long-lasting systems, and bringing our existing team members (at least those that choose to continue) along.
We'll also do the heavy lifting of knowing who we want to become, and create a framework to move towards. It's with this stage set, that we can not only make the jump but successfully stay where we land.
- Tackle Low Hanging Fruit (High Impact, Low Effort)
- Simplify Everything
- Make What's Left Better
- Identify & Fill In The Gaps (What's Missing?)
- Master Maintenance
While I prefer to see this helpful strategic direction happen in order, the reality is it rarely ever does. In most cases, we're moving along on all five initiatives with one being the primary campaign. After a few years, we'll eventually get to the final step where we master our work and foster a foundation for creating new and better. We shift into the IDEMA cycle always moving, never camping out on one stage of the process.
Take The Next Step & Move Your Company Forward
Now you've received a glimpse of what it'll take to move your company forward. You must evolve as a leader, grow your team, and improve your revenue. It won't be easy, but if you're still a business owner, you let go easy going a while back.
Where are you camped out? Are you ready to make the jump? Are you ready to sustain an active progression of the healthy business IDEMA cycle?
Finding A Guide To Point The Way
I've outlined the checkpoints along the way, but it's extremely difficult to do alone. In many cases, you need a guide to help point the way. You want someone who has been in your shoes, gone through the journey, and actively helps founders through this process.
All the people, tools, insights, and lessons learned from my journey contributed to a system and plan for helping others like they helped me. For your benefit, I've assembled the pieces as described above into a cohesive and focused message to help you as a business owner move forward.