When you’re running your own company it sometimes feels like you’re hacking your way through a jungle. You’re not quite sure where you are or what you will encounter next. It would be nice to have a scout who knows the route and could warn you about the low-hanging snake 500 metres ahead.
Even though it feels like you are on your own, many others have trodden the entrepreneurial path before you. And if, like Shirlaws you have worked alongside more than 3,500 owner-managed businesses, it becomes clear that there are phases common to all of them. Predictable patterns emerge around things like staffing, skills and how you behave as a leader.
Shakespeare x 2.
Shirlaws is a global coaching business. The Stages Model developed by its founder, Darren Shirlaw, lies at the heart of its approach. It’s a business version of Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man, in the sense that it recognises that there are common phases in the life cycle of every business – including yours.
Simply put, your business needs to work through 14 Stages to achieve advanced and sustainable growth. Disconcertingly, this includes a couple of ‘brick walls’, those moments where you feel you’re really up against it. Roy Lauder is a senior business consultant with the Shirlaws Group:
Quite often I deal with companies that have got stuck somehow. They’ve been thumping along hard and not really getting anywhere for a number of years. So the turnover’s still where it is and they’re working very hard but not really understanding why things aren’t getting better.
If you’ve been running your business for more than five years it’s highly likely that you will have experienced a phase like this. In Roy’s words:
Working all the hours God sends, not making nearly enough money and struggling to keep good staff…
At moments like these, it would be invaluable to glimpse the bigger picture, beyond the jungle canopy; to realise that high staff turnover is symptomatic of (say), stage 5, and you need to do X, Y and Z to get to stage 6.
Sleepless nights sorted out by a simple Stages equation. Roy:
The Stages Model describes beautifully the whole journey, from starting a business through all the development stages of growing. It highlights the good times and the bad, the anxieties and elation along the journey.
And we find that all business owners absolutely, completely, identify with that. They see themselves in that point where they believe they are on the curve. And when you’re in a coaching environment, that allows you to have them take over the story.
Tell your story out loud.
The moment of clarity comes when Roy’s clients start to superimpose their own business story onto the Shirlaws’ Stages framework:
I often start it off in a third party manner, saying, “Here’s generically the sort of journey we often see”. Fairly quickly they take over. It’s their story now: “And this is what we did and then we did that”. And they start sharing the story around themselves.
I guess what we find is that they get quite emotional – not in a teary sort of way, but they’ll often say, “Wow, wasn’t that great? Gosh, good old times”. They really do remember the good old days.
It brings a lot of clarity to them. And to me, as the coach, it helps enormously to be able to identify the key milestones along their journey: “Here was a great time; here was a bad time; here was another great time”.
When you piece together your version of the Stages story, it helps you to take stock. Once you set it against Shirlaws’ framework, you can see how far you have come and be more sure-footed about what to do next – partly because you’ve got a much better sense of what lies ahead:
When we go in and start to work with them, usually a few major pennies start to drop and they suddenly feel hugely relieved that there is a solution; there is something they can practically do. They can get their hands on it and fix it, albeit with our help, and they’re not alone. This is a normal situation and it’s not their fault that they’re in that situation. It does not mean that they’re a bad person or bad manager.
And I think that’s where an awful lot of owners of businesses sit in the space of fear. They secretly harbour this fear that they’re not good enough and don’t know what the answer is. That’s a very difficult place to be. They don’t know who to go and ask, because there isn’t a headmaster any more. They’ve long since left school, so there’s no headmaster and the typical service providers around them are not normally ones who can advise them.
That’s the thing that certainly lifts me – to hear that a client is no longer sitting at home going, “Why are we doing this?” and shaking their head, worrying about money, and just wondering whether it is worthwhile to be doing this business after 10 years. They’ve got a new lease of life and the business is really moving. And that’s wonderful.
Clarity, why you care and business culture.
In my next post with Roy we explore how your Stages story not only helps you to gain perspective; it also sheds light on how your personal values shape your company’s culture.