Is growth a problem or an opportunity?

When I asked a client that question, he did a double-take.  Wanted to know why I would ask.  "It's always an opportunity, of course."  

But that's not necessarily true. And before you immediately think Well, it's always good, how could it be a problem?  take this quick self-assessment to find out.

Q1. Could you take an extended holiday without your company falling apart?

If you answered No to this one, then you have a job rather than a business.

A business should have have a system that ensures work gets done right, even if an owner/top manager is absent.

The system needs to include processes, roles & responsibilities, policies and procedures. And if those are in your head (or someone else's), that isn't a system. It means you have one or more essential people. Which a/is not a good idea b/represents a major risk to the company itself and c/you probably can't grow (unless you plan to give up something else, like perhaps sleeping or eating?).

Q2. Could your company handle a sudden increase? 

For example, one or more large contracts, a huge order (meaning a dramatic increase in production or delivery), a sudden influx of new clients or personnel?

Increases of almost any kind, especially those that are sudden or large, put stresses on any organisation. Unless you've planned for it, anticipated what you'll need, and made the changes you determined were required, increases that are sudden and/or large often find your existing weaknesses or inefficiencies.

Things start going wrong, or slip 'between the cracks'.  Processes that used to work smoothly when only 1 or 2 people were involved no longer do, because different people are doing things in different ways.

In the worst cases, you can actually 'grow' right out of business. For example, if you increase sales and thus services/production too, you may also have to buy more inventory or put on more people - which could severely stress cash flow as well as strain existing resources (after all, how will you recruit, induct and train all those new people?  Receive, store and ship new inventory? and so on.

Q3. Could you effectively add more people into your organization and have them become productive smoothly and quickly?

The finding and hiring of people is relatively simple compared to making sure that:

You need a framework in place, including documentation of key areas such as policies or procedures, and a clear system for bringing new people on board, inducting them, and communicating who does what, when & where, and making sure that it all happens. Relying on word of mouth is inefficient, and can be downright risky.  

Q4. Could you set up one or more new locations (a state/regional office say or a new facility) with relative ease?

Expanding operations to new locations again usually tests an existing system, sometimes to the limit. Take a leaf out of the franchise system's book. New businesses are known to be risky and the statistics on their failure are frightening - but franchises are over four times more likely to survive than a start-up business.  A large part of that is because they have a well established system and a written operations manual. Are you running your business like that?

Q5. Are you happy with your work/ life balance? And would your partner/family say the same?

This is a perennial problem, getting so caught up working in the business, and forgetting the even more important: working on the business. Are you spending too many hours in your business? Is there too much stress? Do you find there's too little time with partner, family or friends, and on things you enjoy? It's only you who can choose to make time for the things that matter.

Having a well designed management system in place - which includes periodic assessments of the business itself, beyond just the daily operations - should enable you to do so. How do you know if you've got that kind of system ? If you have, it should allow you to answer Yes to all 5 questions.

If you didn't, perhaps it's a good time to start thinking about doing something that will make sure in future you can?

As a consultant, I talk to many organisations either in growth mode or keen to grow.  The smartest ones I see are considering ISO 9001 because they've realised that in order to get the growth they want or need, they must have a better internal system, and think (rightly) that ISO 9001 can help them do that.  And you may even be interested to know that planning for changes that may affect your organisation is also one of the requirements of ISO 9001 itself.