How to grow without losing your soul

SONY DSCYou’re now established as a successful business. Your reputation is growing beyond your early ‘niche’ customer base and enquiries are flooding in. You’re struggling to keep up with demand, trying to recruit fast but worried about losing what made you special.

Last Winter my husband and I returned to the Dolomites in Italy for a long awaited ski holiday. We’d skied a lot in the past and have experienced some good but also some very bad travel companies. We stumbled upon Mogens and his now wife Alice from Simply Dolomiti a couple of years ago. Having bought this small niche travel company a few years back, they developed their offering based on a very clear principle that travellers were not customers, but their ‘guests’. Everything they did was highly personal – Mogens picked you up personally from the airport, he spent time understanding what was important to you, and created itineraries and activities to suit. He and Alice personally led ski and walking tours, sharing their vast knowledge of the area with us. We enjoyed the personal attention, and the feeling that they enjoyed being with us and actually cared about what we wanted. Their success was in a large part down to their lovely personalities and welcoming approach.

So when we arrived at the airport this year and were collected by a taxi we were slightly disappointed, having been looking forward to catching up with Mogens. Even more so when there was no sign of either Alice or Mogens when we arrived, instead we were welcomed (very well I might add) by a new colleague of theirs. We did see them the following day, and on and off during the week which was lovely. Their new colleague who spent a lot of the week with us turned out to be absolutely delightful, also sharing her huge knowledge of the area and showing real interest in us as people. Chatting to Mogens and Alice later in the week, it was clear that finding the right people to take over the day to day from them was vitally important, but also a real challenge. Having observed some of my client organisations struggle with this same challenge of growing whilst at the same time keeping the essence and soul of their business, I started to consider what strategies do people use to do this? Here are some of the key ones:

  1. Never, ever compromise on getting the right people in key positions, especially those that are customer-facing. Make sure that they share your values and are truly committed to your core mission.
  2. Know what makes you unique and never forget this. It’s all to easy to start following the crowd, but make sure that whatever the direction you take, you stick with the essence of what makes you unique. That doesn’t mean that you don’t change, just be careful not to be tempted by something new and shiny that might change your very nature.
  3. Make sure that your Purpose and Values are really explicit. When you’re small it’s easy for people to soak up your passion, to see the values in action and to understand why you do what you do. But as the founder(s) become further from the day to day operation, you need to have more conscious conversations about Values and Purpose and build processes with them in mind.
  4. Get new perspectives from inside and outside, bring in new things carefully and seek regular feedback from customers as you do.
  5. Let go of the day-to-day and concentrate on getting a leadership and culture in place that will sustain your uniqueness whilst growing and developing new opportunities.

I’d love to hear from you about strategies that you’ve seen work. Please do also make contact if you’d like my help to create a leadership and culture that sustains the essence of who you are.

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