A how-to for growing a business ...
This was a fairly unusual book to crop up on LibraryThing.com's “Early Reviewer” list … which tends to be rather thin on non-fiction most months, and very rarely has “business” books. The LTER “almighty algorithm” (which matches books against requesting members' libraries) obviously saw the slew of business books I've been through over the past several years and figured that this needed to come to me. Frankly, being involved in a bare-bones bootstrapping start-up at the moment (but one with a very aggressive expansion plan), having a book that was geared to growing a business was of particular interest (although not specifically in my area!), and so I jumped right into this.
Doug and Polly White's Let Go To Grow: Why Some Businesses Thrive and Others Fail to Reach Their Potential
is a look at what is needed at various points in growing a business, how one skill set (or executive) which is essential at point A, might be unneeded at point C … and how the smart (and flexible) business owner can make these transitions.
The Whites are a couple who are principals in Whitestone Partners, Inc., “a management consulting firm guiding small and midsize businesses through profitable growth”
. Her background is in HR (“in people management and human systems”
), while he managed to turn degrees in Physics and Engineering into a career in consulting and CEO and COO gigs in various companies. Here's their general over-view of what the book's about:
Growing a company requires a very diverse set of skills, and you will face many challenges as your business matures. As a result, many businesses fail or stagnate well short of their full potential. Bright and hardworking business owners can sometimes figure out how to make the necessary transitions through trial and error. But, the trails can be hard and the errors expensive. By using what we've learned over the years about growing businesses, you can avoid many common mistakes.
For the book, they've come up with a way of classifying businesses, not so much on the money made, but by the functional structure.
- Micro Businesses – where the principal does the primary work of the business.
- Small Businesses – where the principal manages people who do the work of the business.
- Midsize Businesses – where the principal manages the managers who manage the people who do the work of the business.
- Large Businesses and Conglomerates – this level is beyond the scope of the book, but this is where “the principal has delegated P&L responsibility to a series of General Managers”.
The book is structured in four main parts, the first defining all this, the second looking at what's involved in running a Micro business, the third discussing taking a Micro business up to being a Small business, and the fourth looking at what's required to take a Small business to a Midsize business,.
One might wonder why this starts with a focus on the micro business, but it's the first level where there are problems...
It may sound like remedial counsel to say that before starting a micro business, the owner should ensure that he or she can do the primary work of the business. Yet, we ran into many people who … charged headlong into an entrepreneurial venture without thinking the issue through clearly. It is unusual for a startup business to succeed if the owner lacks the ability to do the primary work of the business.
An interesting element they introduce in this section is a 4-quadrant grid mapping urgency against importance, in order to figure out what to do in various situations, these work out as:
- Neither important nor urgent.
- Urgent but not important.
- Both important and urgent.
- Important but not urgent.
Each of these have 3-5 action elements, and several of those have multiple sub-points. One of the most useful of these (to me) was the second quadrant guidance to “use principles”, which, once established set guidelines which made specific “rules” superfluous (one example was given to a young associate to judge what would or wouldn't end up on an expense report – if he'd be comfortable explaining to the legendary founder of his firm why a particular item was on a client's bill).Let Go To Grow
is full of “case studies” where various companies the authors had worked with are given as examples (both positive and negative) for ways things could be handled. Obviously, in this space, it's difficult to present a lot of details, but I thought they handled goal setting with employees very well, a discussion of “the Peter Principle” and when not promoting from within becomes an option, and the importance of accurately and timely documenting systems and work flow in one's organization (something which we've recently been looking at in the start-up I'm working with) … “Once an organization reaches midsize, it requires documented processes to communicate to the organization how to execute specific tasks.”
and “When you identify better ways to do the work, you must change the process documentation to reflect the new reality”
stood out as particularly good points on this.
Obviously, a 250-page book is not going to be encyclopedic
on a subject as wide-ranging as growing one's business, but I feel the Whites have done a very solid job of presenting most of the issues that one would face in taking a business from the smallest levels up into being a substantial entity. Anchoring it in the experiences of organizations that they've worked with over the years gives it a grounding that is both warning and inspiration (although rarely in the same story, unfortunately), with some finding just the right solution and others failing disastrously.
Oddly, Let Go To Grow
is not a new
book, despite making it into the “Early Reviewers” program, having come out in the Fall of 2011. This means that there's less a chance of it being out there in the “brick and mortar” book vendors (heck, the link for the book on the publisher's site goes off to Amazon!), than usual, so your best bet is no doubt through the on-line big boys, who are offering it at about 25% off at this writing … especially as this has not worked its way into the new/used vendors at any great discount. Needless to say, if you're not a reader of “business books”, this won't have much to recommend itself to you, but if the subject of growing a company is of interest, this is a very
good book on the subject!