5 Signs Your Business is Facing Growing Pains

Everybody is complaining: your customers are complaining, your employees are complaining and even your vendors are complaining. What got you this far isn’t working any more. The duct tape, band aid system that you were able to use and get by is proving useless. Well, it is more than likely that you’re experiencing growing pains!

Sometimes companies get lucky; they get in at the right time and business flourishes and then comes the real challenge of whether you can deliver in the long term. My parents’ company had a mishmash of processes but the 80s were really a boon for construction and everyone was doing well; but when the money dried up and projects were scarce, the seams began to unravel. In my own old company we experienced this first hand when one of our suppliers was tackling growing pain and it was awful to be at their mercy. There was nothing we could do but cross our fingers and hope they pull through it and we had to divert the business to our other suppliers to fulfill the items that our problematic supplier wasn’t delivering.

Growing pains are experienced by big and small companies alike. If you find that you company is seeing a sales growth but you are still struggling with money problems and profit problems, you can be certain that there are gaps that need to be repaired.   It is important to keep an eye out for some of the early signs of growing pains to ward of the danger or it derailing your progress.

1. Do you feel like you’re constantly putting out fires?

Either you yourself or your employees feel like most of your time is spent on short-term crisis or in putting out fires.  This is fairly often a sign that there is no clear long-term planning.  An example of this in e-commerce would be where there’s always some inventory on back orders; this is manifested as an inability to fill orders due to not having enough inventory in stock and then there is the failure to ship goods  on time or as promised leading to customer frustration. You as the business owner or your employees will have to scramble to get the orders filled, you may have to have the supplier ship on your behalf and this could incur increased handling and shipping charges. This will cut into your profit margin or will be transferred to your unsuspecting, and fairly soon unhappy, customer. This is not a sustainable approach to say the least and in the long run your business will not be a profitable enterprise.

2) Do the people know their roles in your company?

If people don’t know exactly what their job descriptions are they feel like they walk-in and pick up whatever lands on their desk. They are unaware of what is really expected of them and they are unsure about how they contribute to the overall success of the organization. This also means that they don’t know what other people do so there’s a lot of likelihood of dropping the ball and things slipping through the cracks. When this happens, there’s bound to be in-fighting and finger-pointing between departments and people because there’s no clear delineation of responsibility. There are also instances of overlaps – people doing the same thing as others just because there is no communication of tasks. Customer service eventually suffers and there’s a lot of playing catch up each day, every day. Some employees may also feel like you’re doing everything leaving them feeling unsure about their value-add. If roles are nor defined, employees may also feel inadequately trained or prepared for what they or doing and there is the permanent sense of sink or swim. This feeling of struggling to survive cannot be the basis for a strong organization. At the end of the day all this signifies that there’s a lack of leadership and organization.

3) Do you feel like you are working innumerable hours with no measurable progress?

In many companies big and small, there are people who feel like they are constantly pushing a huge rock up a hill. They are working very hard but there is always the feeling of insecurity of things being on the verge of collapsing. Some companies have too many projects on hand and as they have taken on many initiatives at the same time. This aggressive approach with many projects in the pipeline can lead to a workforce that that can barely keep up. More seems to be added at every meeting and therefore employees feel like they’re working around the clock and not getting enough done. Burn-out, overload, high-stressed all become part of the office ambience and causes significant tension and lowers morale.

This is really bad for the organization because it really exhausts the talent pool.  Your good people may start to feel that the only way they can get around this is to leave the organization. And new hires and training means the organization will lose time and money each time an experienced employee quits.

4). Do your employees know the ultimate goal or company mission?

Lack of clear direction can make employees feel that the company has no clear goal other than that of making money. This is a dangerous framework for a company to operate and not a good model for long-term success.

If all that an employee sees is a series of projects with no idea of end-goal, he or she can feel like a cog in a wheel. There will be a sense that the founders have failed to communicate the purpose of the company. This is mostly due to poor planning or poor execution.  Lack of a strategic plan, and a systematic approach to achieving goals and absence of a clear set of priorities makes everything seem urgent and important, which in real terms means nothing is important or crucial.

5) Do you have a feeling of too many meetings and inadequate action?

It is true that when companies are growing there will be more meetings. However, when people feel like they’re spending most of their days in meetings and that nothing productive or actionable is coming from these meetings, there is a problem. If all meetings become a matter of tackling an on-going crisis but with little attention to a planned agenda, there’s a problem. If there’s no designated leader or responsible person to create action items and follow-through plans, there’s a problem. These are classic indicators of a rudderless organization. It is difficult for people to understand how to monitor the progress and what they should be focusing on if there is a lot of talk and few other markers.  

As you can see, the five signs I talk about are all very interlinked because in essence they all are symptoms that have to be addressed by good leadership that will address long-term planning and short-term action items. Do not dismiss a higher employee turnover, an increase in customer complaints or budget-leaching crises as independent or isolated problems. They may well be pointing to the one big problem that you have to address – growing pains!


Written by: Shirley Tan


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