A lot of nature has a fractal element in its design. Fractals are patterns which contain within them self-similar patterns in varying degrees of time or size. If you think of a tree, you see the trunk and then at appropriate points you get a branch forming. Then another branch emerges which also looks like the branch it originated from. If you’ve ever stepped away from an oak tree, you might notice that the pattern of the whole tree resembles the pattern within each leaf.
We humans, being a part of the natural world, also tend towards pathways of behaviour which have self-similar patterns. Whilst working with clients and researching patterns of behaviour within business systems, a Universal Life Cycle (ULC) emerged. As I realised this I began to see the ULC in human relationships, careers in my coaching clients, the economy, and businesses. In fact I’m still looking for somewhere it doesn’t apply. The benefit for leaders and entrepreneurs in understanding the ULC pattern, is that they can predict what optimal behaviours are needed at each step of the life cycle to boost the performance of their business.
It’s said that when you’re about to climb a mountain, you can see the whole mountain in front of you. As you begin to climb the mountain, you lose some perspective. Even at the top of the mountain, you can’t really grasp the whole mountain as an observer.
Employing a guide who owns a map and a compass helps you maintain perspective enabling you to climb the mountain with more predictable success. So here are the directions to the top of the mountain of commercial success. Obviously every business is unique and their time lines differ, but they’ll all follow this general pattern.
In the initial stages a budding entrepreneur notices a challenge and designs a solution. Either a product or service which can help people feel better or which will remove a frustration for potential clients. This stage is very important because it’s easy to become overexcited about an idea and waste resources on the set-up without doing enough research. Everybody who attends the Dragon’s Den believes in their idea. But not many of the ideas are chosen on the show and even if they’re picked; a lot fail the due diligence process behind the scenes.
It’s useful to remember great ideas might not necessarily make great products to sell and conversely great products might not appear as good ideas in the beginning. The entrepreneur has got to assess if there is a strong need by enough people to part with their money in exchange for their product or service. If so what’s the best way to do that? Who is the target audience? Where are they? How do you get in front of them? How would you describe the niche? Time spent in preparation is time well spent although that might not be the entrepreneur’s strongest skill.
Once you’ve done the research you can then crystallise your ideas into a proposition. That is what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it and why you feel compelled to do this.
If you do this process early on, it gives you a lot more credibility when you talk to potential investors and clients. Remember the Socratic influencing pattern is made up of three components; ethos, logos and pathos. You’ve got to appear credible. You must present a reasonable case and arguably the most important part, you’ve got to appeal to people’s emotions. This is done by having an inspiring reason for doing what you’re doing. Focus on the value you will add to people’s lives and when you’re really clear about that, use it in your promotion later on.
Next you’ve got to package your product or service so that it is easy for people in your target audience to find and more importantly get their hands on it. Most people feel nervous up front mentioning costs, but if it is suitable you might want to be up front about the investment needed by your potential clients. By packaging some of your offerings clearly into several categories means you save time speaking to tyre kickers.
People suffer from an overwhelming amount of information and if you come across as clear and succinct, it feels like a welcome release from the hard work of researching for a suitable product. Packages are easier to not only remember but easier for people to pass onto their friends who might be in the market for your products and services.
Now we move into marketing. The usual path is to get business cards printed, design expensive brochures then possibly, moving into more creative ways such as video presentations. There is a continual evolution going on in marketing. If there is somebody out there selling the ‘how to’ of a particular system, it usually means that that system has been out for a while. Be innovative and come up with your own ideas because it will make you more noticeable. Think Richard Branson and his antics. Whatever you think of him nobody can deny he’s in the public eye a lot and he probably hasn’t got a business card.
Your aim in promoting should be to engage, entertain and educate. Entertaining clients makes you more memorable and educating them will make them also experience value by associating with you. You can also refer back to your proposition plan and use that in your marketing material and elevator pitch. Stick to the K.I.S.S. principle in elevator pitches. ‘Keep it sublimely simple’. There is nothing stupid about simplicity in a complex world. As Einstein proposed “If you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough”.
If a start-up has made it past the initial stages and is confidently attracting clients, then it’s one of the few businesses who do make it, meaning it’s a good idea. Now is the time to make it great. As the business grows the entrepreneur has to programme the business for success. This means making great service, delivery, communicating, promoting and everything else a habit.
It will mean that the business is transforming and when a business transforms from one level to the next, it will see a drop in performance temporarily. No business follows a straight line so nothing to worry about here. The entrepreneur now has to learn to lead and in doing so has to let go of some of the responsibilities of fire-fighting and routine operations.
Note that some of the original team might become disillusioned at this point and leave. From becoming a close knit group where the entrepreneur was sat next to them, members of the team are now not able to demand the leader’s attention as they once did. This can be a knock to their self-esteem which influences them to move on and is perfectly normal at this stage in the evolution of an organisation. This can be negated at the preparation phase if the entrepreneur understands the ULC and clearly communicates his vision of the future. Forewarned is forearmed.
Businesses usually employ systems at this point and introduce levels of hierarchies to manage the increasing workload. This has the effect of unlocking more potential, boosting profits and its happy days. It is a good time to think about selling the business because it will look like an attractive proposition on paper.
However; there are other effects of introducing complexity into the organisation. These features are often used to hold the team accountable and, as opposed to helping the team, they eventually begin to inhibit the team’s performance by introducing increasing levels of guilt and fear. The aim of the team morphs into satisfying the system and hierarchy as opposed to satisfying the clients. This takes some of the passion out of the work and as the team expands, the culture begins to become diluted.
Real time feedback is a feature of peak performance that helps people get into ‘the zone’. However feedback, delivered once a quarter is a bit pointless, especially if it’s negative. The systems should be designed to be helpful in the moment not as a tool for managers to beat people over the head with later. Helping team members to self-monitor their own performance leads to increased ownership and responsibility. It’s a subtle difference in the use of systems which makes a considerable improvement to the culture and business results.
Likewise, extra lines of management usually serve the same roles as parents, teachers and managers during the rise of industrialisation. It might come as a surprise that terms such as incentivising and depreciation originated from the slave trade. Keeping meticulous records of slave productivity were the forerunners of modern management techniques. So it’s no wonder that as the organisation becomes more complex with ever more levels of accountability people learn to distrust their intuition and dismiss their insights in favour of ticking a box or passing a performance review. This leads to disengagement. The manager’s response tends to be to implement more systems because it worked originally. Eventually systemising to stagnation, the business hits a wall especially if a new innovation or challenge raises its head.
Some investment is needed to help the team overcome the growing pains of the business. Think about how one would magnetize a piece of metal. One rubs a magnet along the piece of metal until all the molecules begin to point in the same direction. It’s the same with the team. Instead of following the path of systemising to stagnation, programme the team for success too. This means creating a clear vision and strategy that people can use to help them in their decision making. It means improving people’s self-awareness so that the culture shifts from egocentric to ecocentric. If this isn’t done then the entrepreneurial spirit will leave the organisation and that’s a problem for the next stage.
So the leader now has a great lifestyle business but it’s becoming a bit frustrating and possibly a bit boring too. Instead of sitting back to enjoy the fruits of his labour, the leader finds himself being drawn back into dealing with the administration and problem solving. Things that they dislike and shouldn’t be doing.
This frustration is because all systems have an optimum state. After a period of fast growth the business will hit a ceiling of performance. More systems will not help, what’s needed is for the organisation to transform from being great to exceptional.
The main challenge at this stage is fear. The ego is only scared of two things, not getting what it wants. When it has what it wants, it then becomes afraid it will lose the ‘it’ that has been acquired. An exceptional business will overcome the fear of being entrepreneurial again and look to platform itself. It will look for new markets, new products, new partnerships, new channels and generally experiment with innovative ideas and productise emergent assets that can create more wealth.
Here the entrepreneurial leader has to have a great team in place so that the leader can go back to being able to see the whole mountain and know what needs to happen at each place of the lifecycle within the various new departments, products and businesses. Exceptional companies are aren’t afraid to share the glory and rewards by developing the entrepreneurial spirit within their own organisation. Creating a platform for success and sharing resources within the group means that great innovations will not walk out the door.
Archimedes said: “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” This should be the role of the inspirational leader of an exceptional organisation. With a light touch he should be able to inspire great things to happen.