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Your 'Growing Pains' Might Be Warning Signs. Here's How to Turn Them Around. Use this quick test to determine if your growing pains could be signaling issues throughout your operating system.

By Katie Murphy Edited by Amanda Breen

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Business growth can happen suddenly and will put your infrastructure, people and sanity to the test. It's common to refer to the undesired consequences of business growth as "growing pains." Sometimes they are temporary, but sometimes they are warning signs.

My company, Expansion Group, has specialized in addressing such growing pains over the past five years. Here is a quick questionnaire to help you determine if your growing pains are worth exploring further:

  1. As the head executive, are you spending more time working in the business than on the business?
  2. Are you seeing an increase in negative reviews from former and existing staff on
  3. Meet with your team that handles customer service: Is customer satisfaction or retention slipping?
  4. Have you started to miss 40% or more of your strategic goals? This includes postponing key strategic initiatives.

If you answered yes to just one of these questions, then the issue may be temporary. But if it was more than one, your growing pains could be signaling serious systemic issues likely that you have outgrown one or more areas of your operating system.

Related: 5 Ways to Survey Employees About Company Culture

What do I mean by operating system? The operating system of your business includes things like the core processes you have in place, your technology infrastructure, systems of accountability (like goal-setting) and how your organization is designed.

Determine your staff's perception of business operations

The best thing you can do at this point is survey your staff. Does your perception of current business operations align with theirs?

There are many free survey tools available, like Google Forms. The key is to ensure anonymity and properly communicate the intent. I would even recommend sharing this article along with your survey. Trust your team! These are all great problems to have so long as you listen to the warning signs and upgrade where needed.

As far as what to survey, I have included recommendations below. The responses to each question should be something like strongly agree, agree, unsure, disagree and strongly disagree. It's important to keep the questions structured this way to avoid unhelpful complaining. Anonymous surveys tend to bring that out in people.

Related: What are Pulse Surveys, and How They Can Help Your Company?

I recommend asking five to ten questions in four key areas of the business:

  1. Business strategy and goal-setting
  2. Organization and role design
  3. Product and customer experience
  4. Technology

What can an effective survey tell you?

Starting with business strategy and goal-setting, you will want to determine if your team has a solid understanding of your vision, mission, core values, short and long-term business goals and the part they play in achieving those business goals. Do they understand top priorities and what their co-workers are focused on, and do they have confidence in their leadership? These are all areas you should include in the survey.

In organization and role design, you are looking to determine if they understand all the different functions across the business and agree with the reporting structure, and if they understand what your core processes are at a minimum. Other areas to consider include a review of your onboarding process and whether team members feel they have a voice and room to grow.

Related to product and the customer experience, the top considerations are an understanding of your core products or services, who your target customers are and the entire customer journey. How about metrics related to that journey, like conversion rates are those metrics well understood?

The final area is technology, a critical component of your operating system. Ask team members if they have the tools they need to do their job well and if they get frustrated with your current systems and test them on their policy knowledge.

What you're ultimately looking for here in the results of this survey is whether or not your understanding of the business aligns with theirs. The areas where it doesn't is exactly where the problem lies. This is the area of your operating system you need to upgrade.

After analyzing the results, if you find that you have a lot to replace, hire outside services to help. You need to capitalize on your momentum, so delegate what you can. Your operational leader should be the one to lead these improvements and the selection of those outside services. Consulting companies that focus on business-process improvement, organizational design, business strategy and technology are one option.

If you don't have an operational leader, then I recommend starting there. A fractional executive can be a great interim option to consider.

Related: How a Fractional Executive Can Take Your Business to the Next Level

These changes are also going to take at least six months to successfully implement, so be sure to set that expectation from the start. Change management is hard, and people only have the capacity to handle so much at once.

Katie Murphy

Founder & CEO of Expansion Group

Katie Murphy is a serial entrepreneur, author and speaker. She is an expert in strategy, innovation and business operations. For the past 14 years, she has helped startups and high-growth companies grow with intention, as an executive and consultant, across numerous industries.

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