DILEMMA: When we started out, our company was idiosyncratic and attracted highly individual employees. Now that we are bigger, I worry that we shall lose the very individuality that has made us a success. How do we avoid becoming an unwieldy bureaucratic monolith?
ISSUES: Close your eyes and think back to when you were a teenager. Remember how it felt? You probably weren't sure what you wanted to be when you grew up, and deciding how to present yourself was a nightmare. So it is for the owners of an adolescent business. Confused emotions match confused ambitions. There is a recognition of the need to join in and a fear of doing so. The reasons you started your business are the very reasons you feel uncomfortable with what it might become. However, what has made you successful up to now may not be what secures success from here on in.
Sustained success is usually based on great clarity and unity of purpose, a strong product and staff who fit.
In business we call figuring out what you want to be when you grow up 'strategy'. Success seems inextricably linked with the words 'growth' and 'big'. It doesn't have to be. Personal success can be achieved taking a different route. What's wrong with having a small, lucrative business that is a lot of fun? It's your choice.
- The first step is to figure out what you want to be. Sit down and consider all your options. Make a conscious decision.
- If you do want to be a grown-up business, be one, rather than flirting with the idea of being one.
- Accept that some loss of individuality is inevitable. You can still have fun. It needn't be all or nothing. Strong leaders can work within a team of individualists that performs consistently well.
- Decide the things for which you need consistency and uniformity and what you can afford to be more flexible about.
- Not everyone has to be strongly individual. Hire some people who love doing what the individualists hate. Getting more order in your life frees up time for the good stuff.
- Don't call your accountant Mr Bean. Leaders set the tone.
Engender respect for the qualities of others.
- Find the wise uncle or aunt - possibly a good non-executive.
- Don't lose your spirit of adventure.
- Finally, remember that every teenager has to explore and set their own limits and learn when to say no.