Scaling a Hypergrowth Enterprise – Part 4 (Process)

This is the 4th in a series of Posts on the five elements of scaling a hypergrowth enterprise.

A “ONE IN A MILLION” HYPERGROWTH STORY

I was the co-founder and CEO of CyberRep, a CRM and call center company which grew revenues nearly 160x (16,000%) to over $80 million over a 9 year period.  In the 8 years since we sold CyberRep, the organization has grown an additional 20x (2000%) to over $1.6 billion in annual revenues.  Yes, that’s “billion” with a “B.” So, over a 17 year period, this enterprise grew 3200x, or 320,000%.  I’m not a business historian or a statistician, but I would bet that these numbers would put our little startup from 1992 in the “better than one in a million” category of organizations that have experienced this level of growth.

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about People as the first of 5 key elements for scaling a hypergrowth company.  In Part 2 of this series, we discussed Culture, and in Part 3, we examined Scalable Customers. The fourth key element in scaling a hypergrowth enterprise is Process.

THE BENEFITS OF PROCESS

A critical success factor in our ability to grow the business was our commitment to mapping and implementing all of our key business processes.  The 3 key benefits to this were:  1.  We were able to dissect HOW we were doing certain things, and thereby make improvements along the way (process engineering, in essence) 2.  We were now able to “cookie cut” or repeat business processes that were vitally important to our business and our customers (improved business operations), and 3.  We minimized errors and were more consistent in our service delivery (happy customers!).

We didn’t get bogged down in the “flavor” of process engineering or documentation, a la TQM, ISO, or Six Sigma.  We just did the best we could, got them down on paper, trained our people, and put in place measurements to monitor our adherence to the processes.

You may think you are too small to create processes for everything.  In fact, this may even seem to be a waste of time for a startup that has limited resources and “other” more important priorities.  But the simple fact is that every organization, whether a startup or Fortune 100 company, will benefit from developing and implementing SOME key processes.  As a company grows, it becomes imperative to document more and more proceses in order to establish a firm foundation for hypergrowth.

THE “PROCESS PROCESS” – THE WHAT AND THE HOW

At my company, we documented and implemented close to 200 different KEY business processes.  This was a very time consuming task, but once completed, maintaining and adding to our library was relatively easy.  We had processes for things such as business acceptance, hiring, internal communications, various types of training, employee suggestions, innovation, client reviews, different kinds of reporting, and maintaining & upgrading IT and telecom systems, for example.  We even had a process for developing and rolling out processes, the “process process.”

Who’s responsible for the process process?  We were lucky in that our COO was a TQM expert and a trained process engineer, so he owned the process process.  I would suggest that a C-level player in your organization take ownership for sure.  The process process is so critical to winning that it deserves C-level attention and sponsorship.

We assigned a process champion for each process, who was responsible for gathering the information and procedures, as well as getting buy in from the people who would be most affected by the process, e.g. the people who had to follow the process.  I do NOT recommend having one person create processes in a vacuum because the most difficult thing about doing processes is NOT the documentation.  It’s the actual implementation, where you put theory into practice. Where people are involved, the easiest way to gain adoption is to have a cross-section of people involved in all aspects of the planning and implementation of each process.

Do it, Implement It, and Live it.  In order to make the process process work, you need to be serious and consistent about your commitment to it.  Pay especially close attention to the implementation.  Keep monitoring and measuring for the first 60 days or so to insure compliance.  And live it!  When your team sees its top leaders embracing this, or any initiative for that matter, it becomes ingrained into the organization’s culture, and becomes a matter of individual, team, and corporate habit.  And a funny thing will happen:  the discipline that your team puts into the process process will lead to hypergrowth, as your existing scalable clients grow, and your business operations run more smoothly.

Thanks very much for reading.  Please tell me what you think.  How do you see your organization getting more disciplined about the process process?  Which specific processes you have had success or challenges with implementing?  What are your ideas on how a company can improve its “process process”?

I’d love your feedback and thoughts, so please Comment below…and please sign up for my Blog too!  (See the Signup box on the sidebar of my Home Page)

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13 thoughts on “Scaling a Hypergrowth Enterprise – Part 4 (Process)

  1. Well done. So many growing organizations waste thousands upon thousands of hours reinventing the wheel, especially service-based organizations who have multiple teams servicing multiple clients that don’t document how they’ve satisfied each client. I’ve worked with many execs who are convinced that they have processes in place, however until the processes are written down and internalized…they’re just thoughts.

    • Thanks Fred! So true. It’s very important to minimize the waste and inefficiency from wheel reinvention. And your point about process internalization is critical to long term adoption. Otherwise, it’s just an academic exercise. Appreciate the Comment!

  2. Tien,
    This is absolutely on the mark! Create it with other important stakeholders and the table and you’ll get their participation. Before we selected and implemented our most critical staffing process our COO lead the way with our front office to first document all key processes. My IT organization then had a road map we used to select and implement the most advantageous system/supplier. One of the things that became clear is the need for highly configurable web services based on SOA architecture. As these processes have been refactored several times over the last 3 years, we have been able to keep the system in lock step to give us even better competitive advantage (putting the right people to work in the least amount of time, clearly knowing our inventory of candidates, etc.). Without the business out in front on the best practices of our business as embodied in our core business processes, we could not have positioned for efficiencies and economies, let alone competitive advantage. As you suggest, we keep a library of these processes in Sharepoint and we have champions responsible for their upkeep. One challenge is to stay disciplined on keeping these processes out and governed by the business. Good governance is essential to ensure the “process process” is followed and its due diligence is completed before implementation. Here is the most interesting thing… we are on a similar hypergrow path and it is accelerating as we gain more market share. Great stuff! -Rob W.

    • Thanks very much for the Comment, Rob. Apex has done a great job growing precisely because of what you write here. Congrats on that! Sounds like we pursued a very similar path, and I am glad you are reaping the rewards of hypergrowth now! We also had challenges in maintaining discipline and found that the only way to counter this is to have senior C-level leadership evangelize, reinforce, and repeat over and over again. Even after it becomes part of the company;s DNA, you have to remain vigilant and disciplined. Look forward to catching up real soon!

  3. Just tweeted – thanks Tien. Goldmines you’re sharing here…

    ChiefHotMomma Kathy Korman Frey
    The 5 stages to hypergrowth: People, Culture, Scalable Customers…http://ad.vu/bbc7 by @TienWong

  4. Tien,
    It’s so interesting reading your blog, and thanks for sharing your experiences in building and growing a business.
    I also heard people say that when you start or building a business, you also should have an exit strategy in mind, which would direct you how to build the business. What are your thoughts on that? I look forward your insight on that topic.
    Jennifer

    • Hi Jennifer, thanks for the nice words. I am not a believer in starting a business with the exit strategy in mind. I think that so many things can and will change after you start a business, and it’s really impossible to plan for the perfect exit outcome. Plus it’s a distraction to operations and may even lead to bad long term decision making. Far better to build the very best and most profitable company you can, and then be comfortable knowing that you will have many exit options if you are able to do this. So, by managing to a few key metrics like, EBITBA, revenue growth, and customer retention rates, for example, you will be building a very exitable business.

  5. Tien – the “favor” you asked to read your postings was a privilege. I would offer only one addition and that is to market it to entrepreneurship programs as a course offering. It was a great read based on real life experience and the wisdom that comes from those kinds of experiences. Thanks again and have a great summer.

    • Fernando, thanks for the Comment. And also for the suggestion. Maybe one day in the future, I’ll get in the classroom on a more formal basis. In the meantime, this Blog allows me to think through some lessons learned from my experiences. Appreciate the words! Take care.

  6. Tien,
    Great nuggets of information, straight to the point and no fluff. Something I will check back on and read frequently.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom and lessons learned!

    All the best,

    David

  7. McDonnald’s, McDonnald’s, McDonnald’s. They make it so easy to run a 16 year old with no experience can do it! They’re far from perfect, but they know systems!

    I guess for me, the most important process to begin with is a CRM. Without sales, a company is nothing. Without happy clients, the company will fold, quickly (especially in this internet-based world). Happy clients = happier employees. Happier employees = productive environment…= increased revenues.

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