What It Takes to Grow a Little Company Founded on a Big Vision
It was 1986, and I had just started my enterprise a year earlier. The concept of working “on” my business and not just “in” my business really resonated with me. So, I wanted to do some vision-making for my business and do my best to think ahead for the next 5-10 years. How many clients did I foresee? How many states would I be operating in? What additional support could we provide our clients? All of these objectives came down to the need for a more comprehensive organizational infrastructure. I needed a bigger operation to eventually handle the bigger vision that I had for the company.
So, I sat down and started my multi-year plan by drafting an organization chart; this was not for what currently existed but for what I envisioned what the company would look like years into the future. I began by considering all the functions that my two part-time employees were covering along with all the roles that I was currently filling. I came up with at least 15 different boxes of current and future positions.
When your company is small, everyone pitches in and does multiple roles. So, I worked at de-constructing everyone’s roles and drafting an organization chart based on all the functions that we were currently sharing. Then, I put the three of us into every box I drew relating to the functions that each person was currently covering. For example, my assistant was also the receptionist, and my shipping person also did the production of all the client materials. Consequently, I put their two names in four separate boxes for the roles that I envisioned as being separate in the future.
Then, I put my name into all the roles that I was currently covering. It was at that moment that the old saying “chief cook and bottle washer” came to mind. Because there I was, the Founder & CEO of the company, listed in many, many boxes. In addition to the CEO, I was the marketing director, the complaint department and yes, even the janitor.
This exercise gave me unwavering clarity on what I had to do to grow the company: I had to get out of all the boxes I was in -- except for CEO. Now that is easier said than done, but this was my 5-10 year plan, and I knew it would take at least five years to get there. That meant I needed to start now to make that happen. I began by thinking about the things I hated doing and accounting was at the top of the list. I knew that if I wanted to grow the company, I needed this and other things off my plate.
I believe an entrepreneur is either working "in their flame" or "working in their wax." When they are in their flame, they are on fire. The are excited about what they do. You can hear it in their voice, and you can see it in the way they act. When an entrepreneur is working in their wax, they are being drained, and they are tired of what they are doing. You can hear it in their voice and can see it in the way they act. Accounting was my wax and I knew it. It was one of the first things I needed to replace. The beauty of business is that something that may be my wax, also happens to be someone else’s flame.
I remember the first bookkeeper I hired, she loved accounting! One day she came to me and said, “The books were off by $0.05, but I found it!” It took her two hours to find it, but she eventually spotted the discrepancy and was clearly proud of her discovery. Now, some of you may be thinking "But wait you paid her two hours to find $0.05?" I did. And I congratulated her on her hard work.
For me, it could have been $50, and I would have said "Oh well, close enough!" Could you imagine if it were $500 off? She wouldn’t go home and sleep until she tracked that money down. Bookkeeping was her flame and it was inspiring to witness her passion for it.
With each person I hired, I would put a line through the name in the box and write in the name of the person who replaced me or one of my first employees. It took about seven years, but I eventually replaced everyone on that original organization chart. Today, my company, BNI, has almost 100 employees in several corporate offices around the world. In addition, it has over 12,000 franchisees, director consultants and employees working for the company in more than 70 countries and it all began with that hand-written, vision-making org chart. This is a great exercise for you to do at any point in your business, not just early on (I ended up doing it several times myself).
One other thing I recommend -- keep the first version of your chart! If I had kept my first organization chart, I know for certain it would be framed and on my wall today.