Often companies with far more structural issues at play blame seasonal demand (wider economic pressures and subsequent dips in confidence) for under performance. In fact, what goes on inside your organisation trumps everything else: if your company is founded on a clear vision and principles delivered by a strong, unified leadership team, it will weather any storm.
When a business starts flatlining, it’s easy to assign it to a simple blip – i.e. seasonal factors. Low margins, a jaded management team and high staff attrition should signal that it’s actually something more structural. If the same problems occur again and again it should ring alarm bells, and at this point, it’s time to deep dive into your companies make-up and get started on some business reinvention.
I’m speaking from experience. Some three years ago, INITIALS became caught in a dangerous cycle of “do for me” projects – seeking out new clients to work on a project by project basis. By repeatedly turning to new business to remedy a period of stasis, we lost something crucial, and rendered our client relationships transactional rather than emotional. That’s when we decided to press pause and look into performing a little business reinvention. Chasing quick wins is easier than actually examining your own organisation, but it can only last so long.
So what course of action did we take? First off, we carried out a “root and branch analysis”, which meant developing our network and taking charge of our own destiny as a company. We identified and made use of a selection of positive external influences. We spent time speaking with other founders and CEOs, studying indispensable business literature from the likes of Gino Wickman (“Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business”) and Tim Williams (“Positioning for Professionals”), even bringing in outside help to assess current performance and to confirm the change that was needed.
Ultimately, if you’re serious about injecting growth into your company – and not shirking the blame – you have to rip your business apart and start again. It’s called business reinvention.
I’d be lying if I said recessionary pressures didn’t play a part in the last 10 years: it certainly hurt us when other companies didn’t or couldn’t pay the money that was owed. But even if our debtors settled up instantly, it would have only helped our business in the short term. As Wickman drives home in “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business”, it’s about having the “right people in the right seats”. Just as a clear and compelling vision is vital for a company to run efficiently, its workforce must also have clearly defined roles. There’s no space for dead wood: whether it means retraining existing staff or, regretfully, saying goodbye to those who aren’t a good fit, it’s essential to invest in your team. But business reinvention should never be about ruthlessness.
Since hitting the reset button everything has changed. Our team has a shared goal and we’re all focused on what we’re going after. New business has become a company-wide responsibility, not just reserved for top-level figures, which has reaped dividends. We tackle the pitches that are right for us and have experienced a good deal of success. Staff attrition is at an all time low, our pitch win rate has surged to 80 per cent over the last 12 months (compared to marketing industry averages which sit at 35-45 per cent) and most of all, our clients are happy.
Ultimately, organisations are nothing without staff. Clear company principles aren’t just a powerful tool for recruitment, allowing new talent to know what they’re signing up for, but an excellent benchmark for success. Any achievement that reflects the goals your company has set out deserves high praise. And although economic factors are no doubt far-reaching, they don’t affect every firm in the same way. The kind of attitudes that proliferate within a company hinge on its structure and the knock-on effect it has on the people within it. You will never be able to completely protect against unpredictable external influence, but if the company is unified, focused and clear about what it seeks to achieve, exceptional performance from all individuals will shine through to deliver outstanding results for the company.
Jamie Matthews is chief executive officer of INITIALS.
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