6 Most Damaging Growing Pains in a Small Business

Recognize and assess the need for organizational change as you grow

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Growing pains in small businesses can be signs they haven't successfully developed the internal systems they need to take the next step. Some of these growing pains are more common than others, so you can prepare for them if you know what to look for. Maybe some of the items on this list will sound familiar. If so, take action to address the problems so they don't become something more than just growing pains.

1. Too Little Time

When employees start to feel like there is never enough time to accomplish necessary tasks, stress can mount and morale can start to sag. Employees might even begin to experience physical illnesses brought on by excessive stress, leading to increased absenteeism.

This is usually a good sign that it is time to review efficiency and perhaps hire additional help. Seek feedback from your employees about where they are feeling the most overwhelmed and why. Are they spending time on unnecessary or redundant tasks? Or is there just too much for everyone to do? By carefully evaluating the business' needs you can determine the most efficient means of increasing efficiency or the size of your staff. Your needs might range from one or two additional part-time employees to several additional full-time employees. Or, maybe all you need to do is streamline some of your staff's responsibilities.

2. Constantly Putting Out Fires

When staff repeatedly is spending time dealing with short-term crises, it often is caused by a lack of long-range planning or the absence of a strategic plan. It's inefficient for individual employees and the organization as a whole to be living from day to day, never knowing what to expect. Everyone should know what their longterm goal is and what they should be doing on a day-to-day basis to get there.

If this is happening with your business, it's probably a good time to do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis as a step toward developing a strategic plan. Bring together key decision makers in your company to analyze where you stand in these four areas and how that knowledge can help you establish a clear plan for the future. For an exercise like this, it's often a good idea to bring in an expert from outside your company to help guide the process and offer additional insight.

3. Lack of Direction

This is closely related to the issue of employees constantly putting out fires, and the solution, again, is strategic planning that involves everyone.

Whether it is because immediate obstacles occupy too much time for employees or for other reasons, staff members sometimes can start to believe they are spinning their wheels and not really accomplishing anything. Not only does this lead to morale problems, but employees may lose interest and seek employment someplace where they feel a greater sense of purpose.

To avoid those issues and get everyone in the loop with the company's objectives and direction, a company-wide strategic plan should be broken down into subsections that address short-term and long-term goals department by department. This means one of the goals of strategic planning should be to make sure every employee understands the company's long-term and short-term goals, how that employee's department contributes to that, and how that employee contributes to his department's role.

4. Working in a Bubble

When employees are unaware of the exact nature of their jobs and how they relate to those of others, it can create an environment where people and departments do what they want and say remaining tasks are not their responsibility. This can lead to an organization becoming a group of isolated factions at odds with one another while duplicating tasks or leaving tasks unaddressed altogether.

Another part of strategic planning should be developing an organization chart that clearly defines the synergy among departments necessary for each department to achieve its goals. When employees in department X understand that the work they do helps employees in departments Y and Z accomplish their required tasks and vice versa, it creates a sense of teamwork and increases the motivation to communicate and solve problems when things aren't going as planned.

5. Too Few Good Managers

A firm may have a significant number of people who hold the title of “manager,” but it may not have many good managers. They may complain that they have responsibility but no authority and employees may complain about a lack of direction or feedback from their managers.

The problem may be that the company has promoted successful “doers” (salespeople, office workers, and so on) to the role of manager, assuming they also will be successful in their new role. Managerial success requires different skills, though, and without proper training, many “doers” will fail after such a promotion. A tendency to continue “doing” will show itself in poor delegation skills and poor coordination of the activities of others, and subordinates may complain that they do not know what they are supposed to do.

When building a staff, companies need to devote sufficient resources to developing a pool of managerial talent. This can come by way of formal management development programs, but it also can come by way of identifying strong management candidates and grooming them for the responsibility. Build a culture in your company where current managers are expected to identify potential candidates for management positions and mentor them until an appropriate management opportunity presents itself for that candidate.

6. Unproductive Meetings

It's a problem when meetings become a waste of time. Obviously, the waste of time is inefficient, but such meetings also may reinforce a belief among employees that the company is directionless. Too often, meetings regress until little more than informal discussions that take too long and result in no clear decisions being made. Everyone attending a meeting should know why they are there when they walk in the door, and everyone should leave the meeting with a clear sense of what they need to do, based on whatever decisions were in the meeting. To make sure there is follow through, subsequent meetings always should include an agenda item to address tasks assigned at the previous meeting.

To get your meetings back to being productive and useful, keep them short and on topic. A focused 10-minute meeting can be more productive than one three times as long if it simply is padded by people chatting and following tangents. To do this, make sure every meeting has a detailed agenda and stick to it. If the agenda involves a lot of detail, consider breaking the meeting into two or more sessions. Multiple short meetings often can be much more productive than a single long meeting.

Focused meetings also can help address the problem of people or departments working in their own bubbles. If a larger project involves two or more departments, meetings are an opportunity for managers from those respective departments to communicate clearly with one another about what is expected of each department.