Taking your business ‘beyond the horizon’

In our coaching practice we work with many sectors in business. However, they all fall into one of two categories:

1. Those that are being ‘managed’ for the present and short-term future.
2. Those with a long-term vision where leadership, risk and the creation of something new is almost always on the agenda.

One of these ensures that they see the horizon; the other knows it can’t see the distant horizon, so it effectively makes up what lies beyond.

The art of survival
Many business owners and managers look at their businesses and talk in survival mode. They feel the cold winds of the long recession; they see lots of business failure; they know that finance is hard to come by and therefore, scaling or growing their business is the last thing on their mind.

This sounds and feels logical, but if you have your eyes fixed solely on survival and not on the future, your horizons will inevitably shrink. Maybe not this year, or even this decade, but eventually it will lead to failure. All businesses should be looking to grow and change and sometimes be prepared to transform. The old adage – change or die – rings true in business growth.

Those who argue that survival is the name of the game are right in one sense, but if that is all they do, eventual failure is almost certain. Scaling your business does not just simply mean making it bigger; it can also be about making it more resilient to outside pressures, more enticing to customers and a more attractive place to work and develop a career.

Living the dream
If you want to scale up or grow your business, one way is to do more of what you are doing by either getting busier or investing more resources to do more of the same. There is nothing wrong with this approach – in our coaching we call it incremental growth. This type of business knows what it does, feels safe and either gradually or rapidly grows its ‘doing’ into even more ‘doing’ on a bigger scale.

However, this is NOT how businesses (unless inherited or acquired) are first formed. By definition, all new businesses involve some sort of step into the unknown – however small. An individual, not a board or a committee, had a dream, didn’t know, with any sense of certainty the outcome, took a risk and went for it. In effect, they created (or made up) something beyond the horizon.

Once that dream has manifest itself, in whatever way it turns out, many businesses and ‘short-term entrepreneurs’ forget this experience and vote for the easier options of incremental or organic growth. This is perfectly acceptable – someone initially plucked up courage to plant a seed, watered it, wanted to see it grow and blossom and often, but not always, it does. The people who often get in the way of scaling are those second and third generation owners or managers who start to analyse, worry and over complicate things.

What business owners and future managers and guardians often forget is that you may have to take further seeds or cuttings, graft on new growth (or ideas – sometimes radically) and frequently prune a business drastically to see where it could grow next. Often business is left to simply evolve or managers stick to what they think is a winning formula. Look at the current issues that Blackberry faces or think of what Mr F. W. Woolworth would have made of the fate of his dream!

Maintaining a vision
On the other hand, there are many businesses, large and small, that have remained true to the secret to scaling and growing. In a big business this can become difficult as the bean counters, hierarchical structures, bureaucracy and administrative systems take over – but some very successful businesses do still manage to create and nurture a culture of vision, scale, risk and growth.

Despite their size, the highly successful businesses we work with are often choosing to ensure agility as part of their culture. They actively look to take the next step – and often the one beyond that. They cultivate a way of being within their organisation that encourages risk taking, tolerates mistakes and focuses on developing leadership from the middle.

Those businesses that operate in a command and control environment are probably doing OK in these recessionary times. However, the good guys repressed in those organisations (I’ve met quite a few) with great ideas who want to blossom will, given the chance, jump ship once the good times roll again.

So, if you want to grow your business, here are seven questions to ask yourself:

• How can I scale up what we’re doing now, do it better and do it in a way that produces real profit benefits?

• If I could see over the horizon for my business, what would that look like? This requires imagination and also the ability to look at and examine options for future growth – either in what you do, how you do it and/or whom you involve in the doing.

• How many times have I taken the time to really sit and think about the POSSIBILITIES in our business – I mean really think the unthinkable – the thoughts that get you feeling a bit nervous but, at the same time, excited?

• What kind of open questions do I ask of my entire team, have I really explored the possibilities that are almost certainly staring me in the face?

• How many leaders do I have or could I cultivate in my business? What have I done, if anything, to nurture my talent?

• What is my attitude to my people taking some risks or making mistakes?

• Would someone looking from the outside see our business as agile or in a fixed way of being?

These are simple but effective questions to ask yourself and your team – questions that could have a profound effect on the future growth, scale and success of your business.