In our last blog post we looked at signs your small business could be ready to expand. This is an exciting time for businesses, but there’s one more crucial element you need to consider: are your employees ready to expand with you?
After all, a business is nothing without the people that run it and you’ll want to be sure you have a team in place that can grow as you do to ensure the expansion goes smoothly. After a lack of product/market fit and a lack of capital, as mentioned before, the third most common reason start-ups fail is not having the right team.
Evaluating your employees is thus the next step in deciding whether now is the right time to expand, although it’s definitely one of the trickiest factors to consider as it's much less tangible than other issues like pricing, competition, or the product itself.
With that in mind, we’ve identified the key questions to ask to assess your team’s readiness to expand.
Do you have a plan in place?
As you expand your small business' operations, the need to delegate will become ever more pressing. While it can be difficult for small business managers to relinquish control, it is also absolutely necessary! That means you need employees who understand and buy into the objectives of the business, and who can run it smoothly in your absence.
Consider a few scenarios that will help you make this judgement. Could you hand over the operational side of the business to your juniors? Would they cope with demand doubling in a short space of time. Is there enough knowledge and guidance available for new starters to come in and make an impact quickly?
Take some time to assess your team's strengths, to offer additional training, and to evaluate where you can delegate and where you will need to have systems in place to pick up any slack.
How does your team handle uncertainty?
It won’t all be plain sailing as you look to grow. There will be ups and downs as changes are brought in. Has your team handled shocks or setbacks before? Ensuring that your communication is clear and frequent will keep people on the same page and pulling in the same direction even when the pressure is on.
A lot of responsibility lies with management here, as you have responsibility for fostering the right culture to keep things going even during difficult times. The more time you and your colleagues spend overseeing people and processes, the better - a lack of management experience is another key reason for business failure.
Equally, look at how your employees work when things are quiet. This is especially true for seasonal businesses. If your off-peak time is already spent preparing for the next busy spell, then you can be confident that your team are well placed to grow.
How engaged are your employees?
If your business is ticking along nicely with a bunch of uninterested salespeople, it would appear that your product sells itself! Expansion in this case could be as simple as getting in a few harder-working people and watching sales rise.
But in all likelihood, a more realistic situation is that you’ll have some employees that are more engaged than others. These are the ones to focus your expansion around. After all, engaged employees deliver 21% higher productivity than their less engaged counterparts.
Employees who feel positive at work are more likely to be able to tackle the new challenges of an expansion, and will thrive with added responsibilities. Here are some more tips for how to improve employee engagement within your small business.
Are your employees specialising?
It’s common in small businesses to have employees that can do everything. This makes sense when you rarely have many people working at the same time and/or your business is very specific - you want the versatility that allows any combination of employees to work together and cover all the bases.
As you grow, however, the sheer volume of the workload will mean that it makes more sense to assign certain people to certain jobs. Each area that was previously one of many responsibilities is now becoming a job on its own. Once this happens, your employees become more efficient at their specific task and the business as a whole can get more done.
The division of work becomes more like an assembly line - each employee contributes their part towards the whole and their skill levels increase. This opens up opportunities for expanding businesses - you can now see clearly where your bottlenecks are, where you can become more efficient, and what hiring gaps may need filling as you continue to grow. You can also look for experts in the clearly-defined roles you need, confident that your existing employees can tackle their own specialisations. Here are some more tips for how you can spot management or leadership potential in your employees.
If all these answers are positive, you can be confident that you have the people in place to grow with you. Best of luck!