This article is the last in a three-part series on how to overcome a period of stagnation, or “plateau” that businesses often hit somewhere between 20 and 50 employees.  The first and second articles, Process and the Importance of Consistency and Taking the Leap of Faith, were posted previously.

When you did all the work, it wasn’t too hard to understand exactly where things went wrong in delivering value to your customers.  When you manage a small team, you might not know the details of every customer interaction, but it still doesn’t take too long for major problems to bubble to the surface.

As your company continues to grow, however, there’s no way you can get involved with every challenge faced by your employees.  And while great processes can mitigate most commonly-faced challenges, they can’t resolve the unanticipated ones.  Great process can’t even resolve all of the anticipated ones.  If someone was able to design a sales process that overcame every anticipated sales objection, they’d be the richest person in the world within a year.

In fact, as your company grows much beyond 20 people, you won’t even be able to know about every challenge your employees face.  There’s simply not enough time in the day.  There’s nothing wrong with this – the fact is that most challenges don’t require your knowledge or input.  They’re either not important enough, or they’ll be resolved well by the people you hired to resolve them.

But how do you decide which ones do require your input?  And how do you even learn about those problems to decide if they’re worth your time?  The answer is a dashboard – a set of metrics that point to underlying problems in your business.

Each business unit should have a few key metrics, and a benchmark for success.  If the metrics are meeting their benchmarks, it doesn’t mean the division isn’t facing problems – it means that the division is working hard to successfully resolve them as they arise.  If the metrics aren’t meeting the benchmarks, that means it’s worth your time to dig deeper into the metrics and figure out what’s going badly so you can help address it.

This seems simple enough, but it’s actually incredibly difficult.  For one thing, metrics should be forward-looking.  It’s not helpful to know that sales fell short last month – that’s last month’s problem, and there’s no fixing that now.  You need to know what your sales pipeline looks like.  For most companies, building a sales pipeline formula that’s reliable requires months of data collection and analysis.  Gathering the daily data to feed that formula requires continued persistence.

To have a strong grip on where your company’s greatest challenges lie, you need similar forward-looking metrics for each of your business functions.  What do next quarter’s expenditures look like?  How busy will your product and service staff be next month?  How many employees will you need six months from now?  Your dashboard metrics won’t fill a single sheet of paper, but every division manager will likely put hours each month into collecting the data required to generate that single metric.

Here are a few tips to build a dashboard that will help you dedicate your time to the company’s most important issues at any given moment:

1. Ask your division heads “If you could have one team metric delivered to you each morning from three months into the future, what metric would it be?” Work with them to figure out how to build proxy measures for what this number will be in the future, and how to test that proxy’s accuracy for predicting the future.

2. Create a list of the 5 to 15 most important weekly metrics that you would need to determine whether you are winning or losing in your pursuit of achieving key goals. Not hitting these metrics should lead to action items to get the organization back on track.

3. Make sure that every person in your company has at least one benchmark on your dashboard that their work contributes to meeting.  You want to capture everyone’s success, and you want everyone to be able to measure their contributions to the success of the company.

Once your dashboard is built, you’ll know exactly what problems require your most immediate attention.  Just as importantly, you’ll know when nothing is on fire.  This will do more than just let you sleep better at night.  It will also give you the time you need to clear your mind and focus on the long-term strategic planning for your company’s success.

Further Reading on Setting Forward-Looking Company Metrics:  Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business

To learn how WingSwept can help your company overcome the business plateau through better use of technology, call us at 919-779-0954 or email us at