By: Larry Fish, President
Have you had this experience? One morning you wake up and put on that jacket or other article of clothing that used to fit so well only to find that, suddenly, it feels very tight around the shoulders and waist. The first reaction is to call the cleaners and see if that new dry cleaning agent they have been using causes clothes to shrink. You soon realize it is a function of age and you should learn how to deal with it. Most importantly, despite the fact that you love that jacket, it’s time to set it aside and get a new one.
To paraphrase a quote from the great American philosopher Forrest Gump, sometimes, business is like an old jacket. Let’s face it, each green industry company, as it progresses through the various stages of growth, develops and wears its own jacket. Repeated weekly use gives it a warm, personal feel. The owner describes it as “breaking it in”. People who helped start the company understand the “jacket” and all that it symbolizes and how it brings comfort. They overlook the fact that it’s starting to get a bit frayed around the collar, there are stains on it that can no longer be removed, and the wearer has gotten a bit large around the middle.
If green industry companies were old jackets, it would be easy to deal with them. Just hang them in a closet somewhere and forget about them. But, that’s where the similarity ends. Companies can grow from a size 40 regular to a 46 long right in front of our eyes. It doesn’t happen overnight, but there are plenty of symptoms and indicators that present themselves to wary observers. Sometimes we ignore these indicators in favor of the security the old “company jacket” provides.
When the company was a 40 regular, things were more predictable. The customers whom it served were happy and the employees who helped start the company were proud of it and were excited about coming to work. Then, good customers who recognized the quality and dependability of the company started to ask for slight variations in the services they received. It wasn’t a big deal at first, but as demand increased, these new requests were taking them in a different direction from the original mission of the organization. New equipment had to be purchased, straining lines of credit and putting pressure on revenue generating activities to produce new customers.
The field people started feeling the pressure of providing new services that were different from what their original jobs required. These new services were not always priced properly and required more time at the job site than they had been putting in before. Customer complaints started to increase because they weren’t getting the quality in the expanded services that they had come to expect from the company’s basic services. As discouraged field people resigned, management people doubling as technicians to meet customer demands filled their positions. The excitement of the vision was rapidly being siphoned off by sheer exhaustion and confusion.
What was the owner doing? He was spending more time in the office planning for “additional expansion” and neglecting the problems that were starting to emerge. In effect, his people noticed that he was wearing that tattered old 40 regular jacket more frequently. For the first time, it neither looked good on him nor appeared to fit him very well. Some said he looked ridiculous, dated, and out of touch.
From the owner’s perspective, however, things looked great. Customers were calling the company to do more things. They liked the work the company did and wanted more. This burst of unexpected success was heady stuff, and as a result, he was planning to implement more new ideas. He had forgotten his coaching responsibilities, and the fact that he hadn’t had a staff meeting in two months with his key folks. He hadn’t noticed that things that used to get done quickly were taking forever, even when assigned to the best, most responsive people he had. He wasn’t connecting the dots among the frequency and types of customer complaints he was getting and what the real message they were sending him was beginning to say.
He was consumed with planning for new divisions in the company to meet new demands and had lost sight of the fact that his core business, which would fund these new ventures, was losing customers and good employees.
The company had become a 46 long. Even the people in the company who had proudly worn the old 40 regular, knew it was time for a change. Old habits and ways die hard. The owner faced two choices, pull up the collar of the 40 regular and hunker down into that old familiar warmth, or make that trip to the mall and find a new tailor.
What would you do? Are you so comfortable that change may not be an option?
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