Entrepreneurial businesses are fueled by innovation and exploration. Their beginning stages are often characterized by rapid decision-making to capitalize on opportunities, quick adjustments to meet customer needs, and individualized approaches to getting work done. But at some point, the leadership team in such an entrepreneurial company realizes that they need to firm up operational processes in order to allocate time and resources more effectively and to maintain a consistently high level of quality and service. However, both leaders and followers tend to balk at imposing order where happy spontaneity once reigned.
Developing optimized processes is usually a fairly tame endeavor. After all, it is easy to put guidelines on paper. All that is required is disciplined conversation to determine the best way to respond to service calls, hire new team members, manufacture a product, and the like. The real battle starts when the leadership team needs to secure commitment from team members to follow the process or to provide feedback that will help refine the process.
Such commitment is critical as it is the only way to achieve and sustain growth over time. Without consistency in processes, business will be conducted in a random fashion – and that is a guaranteed path to getting random results. Certainly, some results will be great … but other results will not be. And, in the long run, the negatives will outweigh the positives. You can count on it.
The reason that securing commitment to new processes is a challenge is because entrepreneurs – who typically comprise the majority of the leadership team in a young and growing company – are themselves bored by the prospect of process. Entrepreneurs do not wake up in the morning dreaming of following processes. Rather, they tend to view “process” as something bureaucratic and stifling, and to be avoided at all costs. Such an attitude from members of the leadership team makes it difficult to convince the rest of the company’s team members that the process is a) necessary for the business, b) beneficial for growth, and c) a requirement and not an option!
If you see yourself and your company reflected in this description, here are four clear steps to take to secure your team’s commitment to the processes that will ensure the consistency and quality your business needs to flourish:
Step 1 – Ask yourself, “What’s best for the business?”
With a growing business to lead, you need to take off your “entrepreneur” hat when it comes to operations and put on your “board of directors” hat. This mental shift will help you take a statesman-like view of what is best for your business, regardless of what you might personally prefer when it comes to how to act or how to get the job done. It will help you recognize that standardized processes are key to scaling a business efficiently and cost-effectively, and to ensuring product quality and customer satisfaction across the board.
And don’t worry – you are not retiring your “entrepreneur” hat. You will still need to wear that hat regularly to ensure a steady flow of innovation and energy into your company – you just need to put it aside when the question arises of how to conduct business operations.
Step 2 – Explain to your team, “Here are the reasons we are doing this.”
Change is always tough, but you can help people through it with good communication. Let your team know the nature of the process change, why a standardized process is being put in place, what effect it will have on operations, the benefits it will bring to the business, how it will impact them personally, and the things that will stay the same (this gives people something to hold on to).
Remember one thing when it comes to communication: when you think you have given people information overload, you have probably barely scratched the surface of what they really need to know and understand. John Kotter in Leading Change states that leaders consistently under-communicate the vision for change by a factor of ten. You cannot over-communicate during a change initiative.
Step 3 – Declare with your actions, “I am committed to this!”
Change starts at the top. It starts with you: your example is vital bringing your team on board with the new processes. If your team sees you behaving in a manner that reflects a passion for supporting what is best for the business, they will copy that behavior. Conversely, if they see you doing your own thing because that is the way you want to operate, they will quickly discern that the new processes are just words on a page that can be ignored.
Step 4 – Discuss with your team, “How are we doing?”
Nobody is sure who coined the term “inspect what you expect,” but it is great advice for every aspect of business. If you want a new process to take hold, you have to measure its progress. Are people following the process? Are they experiencing issues that need to be addressed? Has the training on the process been sufficient? How do the outcomes compare with the expectations? Metrics send the message that “This is important. It matters. We all need to follow this new process.”
You’ll notice that each of these steps begins and ends with you as the leader. That is key: if your team is not conforming to a new process, browbeating them is not the answer. Start looking for a solution by examining yourself and your leadership team. Are you dedicated to what is best for the business? Have you explained why the change is essential? Have you proven your commitment to the new process? Have you let people know what you are measuring and why? Take these steps and you will succeed in taking your business where you want to go!
 Kotter, John P. Leading Change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 1996, p. 9.