An essential principle in growing a business is that it must be structured to facilitate your goals. If your goal is to become the largest business in your industry, eventually, your company will morph into a different structure than the one you use as a one-person operation working out of a garage. Like a commander in battle, we have to adjust our tactics to the field we’re on and the troops we have at our disposal. We can use my own company, Rocky Mountain Forest Products, as a case study.
My father started the company in 1974 and ran it single-handedly with about 15 employees working with him. At that size, it was possible for everything to go across his desk, and he made sure it did. He liked to have control over every facet of the business. He managed to keep this managerial style throughout his career, growing the business from a small operation to a $10 million company. While he was obviously successful, his business was static. There was no room for new ideas, new growth, or changes in direction driven by his employees.
One of his employees was me. It was frustrating to deal with his black and white thinking. Either an idea or process was successful, or it was a failure. There was no capacity for anticipating the future or foreseeing the shifts in the industry ahead of time. Other employees and I would suggest ideas, only to be shot down.
The first idea we managed to implement was switching to an in-house marketing team. We knew there was a need for better marketing, especially as relics like the Yellow Pages slowly became irrelevant to our customers. This small change worked wonders. In 2014 our sales increased, and we demonstrated that small changes in strategy could drive growth.
When my father finally bowed out of the business, I gained more control over how our company was run. After spending a lifetime watching my father, my instinct was to continue running the business the way he had. Tight control over every decision. This method was exhausting. I was burnt out from micromanaging every aspect of every project. As I grew into the role of a leader, I realized that leadership means allowing your employees to do their job without you looking over their shoulder. You can create space for them to work and to exhibit their own expertise.
Restructure for Growth
This meant restructuring the business. In order to meet our goals, which centered on growth, less burnout for me, and a way to let our employees contribute more meaningfully to the company, we had to change. It was at this point that we restructured Rocky Mountain Forest Products to let the managers do more managing. The growth after this point was staggering, as we set increasingly lofty goals and smashed through them with each project. By the time we made it through the learning curve, we had grown our business from $10 million to $40 million. We quadrupled our business.
With all this success came new struggles. While the managers had more freedom, the growth exposed gaps in our processes, where things occasionally fell through. The expansion in the business had left us spread thin, struggling to keep up. This forced us to restructure once again, as we created a new level of executives starting with C: CFO, CEO, etc. The restructuring allowed us to keep up with projects, continue growing, and continue delivering on projects.
For example, one of our employees had more than two decades of experience with our company as a salesman and sales manager. That amount of experience in the processes, products, and day-to-day interaction with customers left him uniquely qualified to understand our needs as a company. By making him our Vice President of Efficiency and Integration, we leveraged his invaluable experience to help us streamline and improve our company.
Empower Your Staff
We invest heavily in our staff, from top to bottom. From sales training to management training, we are pouring resources into our employees, so they can rise to the challenges that meet them. We find that the more we add to our employees, the more they add to our company. Allowing the employees to drive new changes within the company has kept us changing and adjusting to keep up with new trends and challenges. This symbiotic relationship between the company and the employees has not just allowed employees to unlock their own potential but created efficiency within the company.
As the leader of a company, it is imperative to consider the broadest perspective. While the details are important, getting bogged down in the details can prevent you from understanding the systemic issues. Getting feedback from down the line will let you identify your pitfalls and company-wide challenges, which in turn allows you to address them by changing course, restructuring, or implementing feedback from your team.
When we are leaders on a construction site or in any trades business, our role should be as a coach, just like coaching football. Our value is being able to see the whole field and draw from years of experience to make decisions on how we play the game, but it is up to our players to make decisions on the field. Our value is in the broad perspective of the sidelines, not our ability to play on the offensive line.