How to skilfully scale has been a frequent conversation I’ve found myself having with many of the Not for Profits and For Purpose organizations that I work with.
What do I mean by scaling? Scaling is growth or expansion whilst retaining the core qualities of the original concept, model or idea i.e. ‘the magic’. This could look like the expansion of a pilot or prototype, rolling out a program or initiative, or taking something that is working well in one location; a system, work flow or practice, and implementing in other areas.
In this current turbulent climate with a number of major reforms, services being devolved from government and the growth of markets such as early education and care and disability services, many organizations are grabbing these opportunities and scaling up so they can serve more of the people that need them and in better ways.
Seeing potential and running with opportunities is key for innovation and progress. There will always be an element of risk and pain, however if scale ups aren’t planned and managed well, the knock-on affect can be significant and you pay for it down the track. Issues arise such as:
- Insufficient infrastructure or systems
- A dilution of quality
- Disengagement of staff and damage to culture
- Disengagement of consumers and end users
- A blurring of the core value that organizations deliver
So how do you skilfully scale and prevent these issues? How do you develop, improve and grab opportunities, whilst being proactive and systematic rather than reactive and organic?
I have a Scale-up Framework that I coach organizations through for success. Here are some of the core elements:
Know who you are. This is an important foundation for making decisions about what you will scale and what core elements need to remain intact as you go through the process. Be clear on what makes you unique, what you will and won’t do and what your non-negotiables are.
A documented service model is helpful here. (For more detail on this, see my blog post on how to develop a service model). This may sound like stating the obvious, but there are many times that I have been working with organizations and their foundational model is missing or unclear.
The important thing to remember is that a model can change. Successful organizations evolve and adapt, but without an underpinning model to act as a blue print or reference point, confusion and even chaos can result.
Procedurise and systematise. Before scaling anything ensure that every ‘how’ is captured so it is explicitly clear what you are scaling. This doesn’t need to be a complicated suite of polices and procedures. Simple work flows and instructions do the job. I’ve seen this work really well with instructional video, rather than lengthy documents. The important thing is to get everything out of people’s heads and recorded somewhere. If work can be supported or automated with the help of a system, get the systems right before scaling begins.
Know your end users. This involves really understanding the group of people that are the end touch point of the initiative or concept that you are scaling, for example a new geographic area, community or target group. This step is more than gathering demographic statistics, but involves understanding strengths, vulnerabilities and cultural values and expectations. If this is a an internal scale up e.g. the implementation of a new work practice or system, you can’t overlook this step. Each team within an organization is its own mini community and will have unique nuances that can influence success.
Network analysis. If scaling involves entering into a new market or location, analyzing the existing players, networks and systems is another critical step in the preparation phase. Map out who is who in the zoo, how the service system operates and be clear if you are entering as a competitor or if you are filling a gap. Invest time in a targeted communication and engagement plan to build relationships.
Adapt. Adaptation is crucial to scaling success. Don’t assume that because something works in one area or with one group of people that it will work in the same way with another. Be clear about what needs to stay intact for fidelity to the original concept and hand over control to the end users to adapt the solution to suit their context. In addition, implement a continuous improvement process to test and further adapt models as they are embedded over time.
A structured project management approach. Scaling can be complex with multiple work streams and dependencies. A disciplined project management approach ensures that the right checks and balances are in place to keep activity on track and supports the management of risks and effective stakeholder engagement. Progress measures are another important element that help to identify how successful a scale up is and whether there is more work to do.
Engage and reward existing staff. With a focus on the new, it can be easy to forget the old. So allow existing staff to have a role in the scaling process; let them step up, plan the changes, train others. They hold corporate knowledge and have significant value to offer. Bring them along the change journey through engagement activities and clear communication.
Invest. Scaling requires investment otherwise it is extremely costly to rectify down the track. Invest where is matters, so in fit-for-purpose systems, strategy, design, analysis and consultation.
Coach. Often a scale up requires some sort of behavioural change and coaching is critical for sustainable success. I’ve seen multiple scale ups fail because staff have been trained, the project is closed and, after a period of time, they resort back to their old way of operating or stray from the core model. Using external coaches or internal champions to work alongside people and teams as the new system, model or practice is bedded down picks up inevitable implementation challenges and ensures continued on the job practice and learning.
Skilfull scaling is the key to organisational growth and is one of the specialist services that I offer as part of my suite of consulting and coaching programs. Give me a call to discuss your scaling opportunities.