Lots of people and companies struggle to accept change. They fight it until, most times, it’s too late to identify what’s happening and adapt. So how do you overcome it? Let’s invent a company called Big Boy Digital to discover the change that happens to a young, service-based company. We’ll see how Big Boy navigated the imminent shifts to evolve from startup to player.
Big Boy’s Background
Big Boy opened for business a few years ago. Like any startup in the services space, they slapped together people, process, tools and clients to establish themselves. They managed to pass the first battery of tests – they’re not only still in business, but their clients love what they do so much that they’re helping to spread the word. But Big Boy is hitting a wall in terms of how efficient they can be, as well as the caliber of clients they feel confident approaching. So they have a decision to make: keep going and try to patch what’s broken, or stop and reinvent themselves. In our story, Big Boy employs smart people, so they’re going with the latter approach.
When is it Time?
In order to identify the events in business that signal sweeping change is needed, let’s talk about triggers some of us may have experienced during our younger lives… As a kid, after almost setting your house on fire (a few times), something or someone convinced you to put the matches and homemade napalm down. Then you dated that chick that liked to make out with all of your friends. You decided that she sucked and shifted your focus to good friends and sports. Then you went to college and after partying too often and too hard during your entire sophomore year and nearly failing out, you started reading books, attending class and you graduated. Good job.
The same signals happen in the business world, you just need to pay attention and react.
So what changed at Big Boy since opening their doors three years ago? Just like any young company, Big Boy had gotten into the habit of celebrating milestones as they notched them up. With each success, the bar was set higher. Signing a new account used to be cause for acclaim. Then they’d focus on retaining that account, or signing a bigger one. Maybe they’d launch a new offering, then another. They brought in new talent to fulfill services their clients clamored for. And with each shift and accompanying victory lap, not only did the stakes go up, but it became more difficult to figure out where the company was heading. The company that was, looks nothing like it did when it formed.
So Big Boy put a list together of things that had changed within their four walls since launch:
- From 2 co-founders, to a team of 25.
- From one co-located team, to individuals spread around the world.
- From working wherever they found affordable (read: free) space, to them outgrowing the space at their local Starbucks.
- From one person doing five things, to five people doing one thing.
- From one or two tools to get a couple types of job accomplished, to a closet full of duplicated, conflicting tools to serve the growing needs of their team’s deliverables.
- From a slapstick process that got the job done, to bends and kinks that Frankensteined their process into a ball of spaghetti.
- From small clients with small budgets, to a menagerie of clients with grossly varying budgets and expectations.
- From clients in their backyard, to clients in all corners of the world.
Accepting Change and Getting Started
Some people have drinking problems and end up in AA. They say the first and most difficult step is accepting you’re an alcoholic. Not that we want to compare Big Boy to binge drinkers who show up to work with glassy eyes and no pants, their first accomplishment in creating the list above was that they had accepted it was time for change. Then what?
Big Boy simply started working through this list and addressing each point with a solution that would scale them from diapers to big boy pants…
- Growing team: They focused on tools & process to help streamline communication and collaboration – both internally client-facing.
- Teams spread around the world: Aside from leveraging the tools from #1 above, they agreed upon when and how their timezones would overlap so that the right people from disparate teams had dedicated times to work together.
- Upgrading their primary office space: They settled on an affordable work space that would suit them for years to come. It was convenient for the existing staff and would be easily upgradeable. Then they hired a third party design agency to create a space for them that would serve as inspiring, relaxing, inviting and collaborative to the team. When all was said and done, their new space became a perk that they shared and promoted with both their clients and new, prospective hires.
- Shifting roles: Without trying to shoot for IBM, they put a simple org chart together with Gliffy to identify roles, relationships and hiring needs. They quickly formalized several roles with accompanying goals so that people understood what was expected of them in that role and who else to involve and/or reach out to. This also helped them better define needs for new people and identify the right candidates for the job.
- Tools procurement: Big Boy put a Google spreadsheet together that listed out all of the departments across the top of the X axis and associated tools along the Y. This included tools they used to manage their client projects as well as those used to run their business. They asked members from each department to list what they were currently using, pros and cons, and then research and suggest new tools. Once the final list was tallied, they agreed upon the tools that were most efficient, fit their budget and (ideally) integrated well with one another.
- Process overhaul: Big Boy identified the departments, processes and people where they had the largest gaps in quality. Considering the tools they selected in #5 above, they then restructured their entire process to go from clunky, to polished (with a little practice). Then, aligning with #4 above, they put plans in place to find and acquire the right people. Gains in efficiency, quality and coverage went through the roof as a result.
- Client evolution: In a later post we’ll cover how to successfully fire clients, but the premise of what Big Boy did here is to identify their ideal client account and then put all of their energy into finding, securing, collaborating with, delivering for and overly impressing this new and shiny client. Everything else took a back seat.
In the end, Big Boy reinvented themselves to be able to work more intelligently and efficiently. They could do more with less, which gave them the freedom to bring in new tools, people and process. This snowballed to allow them to gain confidence in their offerings, which allowed them to attract bigger and more profitable business relationships.
Time for Your Company to Give it a Shot
If you follow the triggers, decisions and actions from the Big Boy story, you should be able to apply them to your company.
Make lists. Sign team members up to get involved. Attack smaller problems, first, and gain some momentum. Keep everyone in the loop with your progress to develop a vicious cycle of accomplishment and excitement for what’s ahead. Share your achievements with your fans and followers – everyone loves to hear that their favorite vendor is doing well. And make sure you celebrate along the way – stop to reflect after a month, a quarter, a year and pat yourselves on the back.