Scale or Stagnate: The Truth About Business Growth and Empowerment

By Angelina Bell

Recruiting and retaining talent continues to be the most cited barrier to business growth, topping the list of all business surveys. People are simply struggling to find staff, let alone those with the required skills and knowledge. Leaders are becoming increasingly frustrated by people not doing what they are expected to do and having to step in and do things themselves, raising the question, "how on earth are you supposed to scale a business without having people whom you can trust and rely on?"

This is a major problem; put simply, it’s impossible to scale a business without having individuals who can make and act on decisions that will benefit the business. If a leader needs to get involved in making every decision, then their own personal capacity will constrain growth (which normally occurs at around 10 employees or £1 million turnover). Often, however, the problem rests with the leader as they haven’t effectively equipped their people with the structure and information needed to effectively delegate and empower their staff.

Even if technology can be used to deliver systems and processes, there is still a heavy reliance on people to implement and own the technology and systems. Having empowered people who have the autonomy to make and own decisions is key! Creating empowered cultures results in great things happening that deliver results. Gallup estimates that empowered employees can add 21% more profit, 20% higher sales – what’s not to love? It’s a bit like Steve Jobs famously said: "it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do."

Although it may feel uncomfortable, you can only scale a business if it isn’t reliant on you! Ultimately, your job is to make yourself redundant from the day-to-day by filling your business with talented, capable, and empowered people. How great would it feel to have a group of people in your business whom you could rely on to make and implement decisions that benefit the business – perhaps you could go on holiday and not have to look at your email – imagine!

Empowerment is also critical to retaining talent. If talented people aren’t empowered, then they will become frustrated by their lack of progress and leave. If you want to motivate and keep hold of your best people, then you must liberate their potential. Trusting and investing in people's progress breeds loyalty, and empowered people will develop and engage other talented individuals, creating a self-fulfilling cycle that releases capacity and capability across the organisation. Suddenly, you’ve created a culture where new ideas, innovation, and creativity take hold; when problems occur, solutions are developed and applied, while you may be aware, you don’t have to be concerned or get involved. You’ve made the elusive shift from spending your time ‘working in’ the business to ‘working on’ the business.

It's important, however, not to mistake empowerment for abdication; this is a recipe for disaster and why efforts to empower people so rarely deliver the desired effect. Effective empowerment requires more structure, not less and your role as a leader becomes increasingly important. You’re no longer involved in the finite detail, so you need to focus more time on directing resources to the right things, making sure that people understand the business's purpose, vision, goals, and values – communication is vital!

Although for many, the word empowerment can be seen as an academic abstract, it is one of the most critical drivers of growth; without it, scaling a business isn’t possible, and it needs to be strategically driven and managed as a key business process.

Through Scaleup North East, I and my fellow Scaleup Partners provide bespoke strategic support for ambitious business owners, helping them to make the shift from working in to working on their business and to break through to the next level of growth and performance. You can find out more about how we can help you to scale up your business 

The North of Tyne Combined Authority is a partnership of three local authorities: Newcastle City Council, North Tyneside Council, and Northumberland County Council and the North of Tyne Elected Mayor.
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