When I was running Atrion, an IT services firm, we hit a roadblock in the ‘90s. We were trying to grow beyond the successful $6-million-a-year company we had created.  We hired new employees. We created new products and services. We changed processes and added structure, but nothing seemed to move the needle. We were stuck at the $6 million run rate. As you can imagine, we were frustrated and stuck in the mud.

Our frustration rose every time we failed to reach our next milestone or when we missed a growth opportunity. Some businesses would have been delighted having a profitable small business, a mom-and-pop shop if you will, but we had bigger goals in mind. Our company was operating as a small business, not one that aspired to reach and exceed $100 million while achieving total world domination. 😊

So, I got to work reading a ton of business books. I attended business workshops and took courses at the local university. I spoke with mentors and business peers, trying to understand their secrets. I hate to admit this, but I even tried out several leadership management fads. But we couldn’t shift out of neutral. We were not evolving. We were not prepared for the growth we desired. It felt like being stuck on the tarmac when your plane is grounded, and you can’t seem to reach that fantastic vacation destination. The tension kept building.

Related Reading: Why Strategy Gets Stuck

After creating some space for the unguarded moment to hit me, I realized that Atrion had three challenges: Culture, Strategy, and Execution.

  • We had a somewhat healthy culture but not one that could fuel us to world-wide domination. It certainly wasn’t toxic or hostile, but it also wasn’t strong enough for our growth imperative.
  • My business partner and I were technical innovators, and we were able to navigate the technology disruption taking place successfully. Still, we were not creating a corporate strategy that was moving Atrion forward.
  • And whatever “strategy” we thought we had; we weren’t proficient at executing against it. We were not at a loss for ideas and solutions, but we struggled to bring the ideas and initiatives to 100% completion. Most of the time, we were trapped in a constant fire-fighting mode, jumping from one blaze to the next.

During this moment of clarity, I realized that I was operating like any CEO in my position… I was simply working harder. I led and pushed our teams to keep their heads down. So, much, in fact, that I earned the nickname Hebertstein! Atrion was undoubtedly not moving backward, but we weren’t moving forward at the desired pace

Does any of this sound familiar? Are you in a similar place with your organization or your department? Do you want to reach critical new growth markers, but you can’t seem to move the needle?

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You’re not alone.

Growth—and sizeable growth at that—is challenging, particularly for small- to medium-sized businesses. Research reminds us that while 80% of small businesses survive the first year, only about half survive past the five-year mark. In our case, we realized that instead of working harder, we need to work smarter. As I shared my newfound understandings with a trusted business associate, he said, “Tim, you need to learn to work ON the business versus working IN the business.”

Are you working ON your business, or are you knee-deep working IN the business? Are you responding to one fire drill after another unable to break this cycle? If so, maybe it’s time to create some space to reflect ON the business by answering these three questions:

  • Is my current culture strong and healthy enough to drive us into the future?
  • What are the strategic actions that MUST be executed to achieve our desired goals?
  • Is my team-laser focused on strategic execution?

When I look back on my three decades leading Atrion, a company that did grow to almost a $170 million in revenue, I always come back to this critical realization—I needed to change the way I thought about my business.

If you want your company to be successful and perform better, you need to change the way you think. Create a vibrant culture, develop a strategic plan, and be adept at executing your plan. Unify your thoughts and actions to generate above-average results. On paper, this sounds easy, but it requires constant rigor and attention.

However, you are probably closer than you think. You may even already be on the runway, preparing for takeoff. But there may be a few things holding you back. Remember, your next significant milestone is always within reach; it just may require a new line of thinking.

Stay tuned for: Are You Data Deprived? Using Data Analytics To Support Your Decisions

I’d love to chat with you about your next big company/team milestone. Our Consulting & Advisory offerings allow us to sit down, talk about your current state and desired future state, and start to build the bridge to your next big moment. Drop us a line here to get started, or feel free to send me a personal message here to tee up the conversation. 

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