Any growing company is bound to have its share of chaos.   Maybe it’s an  organizational structure that evolved over time but it isn’t working any more. Maybe one day you take a step back and look at how your departments are interacting and realize they aren’t interacting at all the way you thought they were.  Perhaps you realize it is taking your team 3 ½ weeks to complete a monthly task and you panic when you calculate how much it is costing you. Then of course there’s the ultimate chaos – the clients aren’t getting their products/services when you said they would – or worse, they are late and full of errors - and you are starting to get a bad reputation.

Any of that sound familiar? 

Step 1 – Acknowledge the Chaos
Here’s the good news - you are NOT alone.  Fantastic companies with equally
fantastic products and services inevitably hit a spot in their growth where doing things the same way just doesn’t work anymore. You are starting to see that things could and should be running more smoothly.  Well done – you’re on your way.

Step 2 – Embrace the Chaos
Here’s the better news – this is happening because your company is GROWING.  You have probably spent most of your time to date focused on sales, financing, marketing…all the typical things needed to get your company going. You were right to focus on those things, and the fact that you’re at this point now means all of that hard work is paying off.   You should actually be feeling pretty good about the fact that you have a company big enough to have chaos within it.  Take a moment to embrace it – but only a moment, because if you embrace it for too long it will start to hold you back.

Step 3 – Do Something About It
It’s time to focus on your operations – it’s that simple.  But that is easier said than done.  You still have all those other things to focus on (sales, financing, marketing, etc.) and you probably have a small management team, all of whom are working above capacity already.  Proceed with caution – creating too many internal projects and pulling people off their ‘regular’ jobs to address an issue can cause a direct hit to the bottom line, exacerbate your already existing problems, and cause your employees to be unhappy (that translates to ‘less productive').  You need to have your key team members involved in these discussions, but keep their assigned tasks to a minimum.  When looking at your operations, you also need to think about whether you will take a project-based or ongoing approach.  In other words, are there a few specific issues that need a one-time fix, or do you need a Chief Operating Officer to act as second-in-command on a more regular basis to tend to the day-to-day?  If you’re not sure where to start, bring in someone on a part-time or consulting basis to test the waters and help you figure it out.  Speak with your colleagues about their experiences, and talk honestly about the issues you are facing.  They may have already gone through it and you can benefit from their knowledge.   Always remember – you are not alone.

Debbie Millin is President/CEO of UpperLevel Solutions - a Boston-based firm offering part-time and interim COO services, operational assessments and executive project leadership.



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