It’s easy for small busineses to be focused on growth. Sales, income, and adding people are commonly associated with the idea of “growth.” But, there’s so much more to it. When a small business experiences growth, it evolves through a web of tangible and intangible effects. Some outcomes are way more obvious than others, although they’re almost always evident. And some are more positive or negative. The key is to be aware of the process that unfolds because it's often unpredictable and can happen slower or faster than ever anticipated. This is why there’s way more to growth than sales. Moreover, there’s a big difference between growth and progress, although they’re closely related. When used properly, this difference can steer teams clear of many challenges, a common one being competing demands, which will compromise almost any organization.
Leveraging the Difference Between Growth and Progress Increases the Likelihood of Success
For context, here’s an example of the difference between growth and progress. One brother decides to help another by starting a new business venture together, partly out of sympathy and curiosity but mostly out of the desire to make money. Early on they complement each other and capitalize on their strengths that make up for the weaknesses. Their last name is on the building. A couple of prospects become customers and then turn into raving fans. Word of mouth takes over. Before long, the business experiences growth and both brothers begin to make money. Lots of it. Organic and rapid growth take over and the two owners hire whoever they can find. They simply need warm bodies and hold on for dear life.
Seven years pass with amazing year-over-year growth before sales plateau in the eighth year. People are burnt out, tensions are high, and the drama between both brother-owners skyrockets. Before long, their relationship erodes, sales vanish, and the pressure to maintain overhead for 20-some employees mounts. Then, the firm’s reputation gets tarnished as quickly as it blossomed. Soon the mass exodus of talented people begins, one brother buys out the other, and the business is swallowed into the black hole of competing demands. The magic disappears, the team dissolves, and the once-booming business is a shell of itself. And the one brother who initiated the endeavor is now overtly negative and biased about being a small business owner. He shuts everything down and resigns himself to never wanting to live with ownership responsibilities ever again.
Does this sound familiar? Chances are you’ve heard of a local small business like this. They’re everywhere because, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, private firms that employ fewer than 20 individuals in 2014 accounted for 89% of all domestic firms. That means almost 9 of every 10 local businesses employ fewer than 20 people. How could a small business like this avoid being swallowed by the black hole of competing demands? The answer is they fail to understand and leverage the difference between growth and progress.
The difference between growth and progress affects a small business like the one described above for one reason: competing demands. Just like small businesses, competing demands are everywhere. And they’re all-consuming. What is more, they’re so pervasive because the relationship between growth and progress is often unclear. This is important because one supports the other and creates chaos if there’s no separation. Moreover, it’s tough to know which one to focus on first. As a result, growth is often associated with obvious things like sales or revenue. But, like a lot of things, growth has many layers, each of which creates a ripple effect. Just the like brothers who started a business together, growth and progress must complement each other to become stronger and to overcome weaknesses.
Merriam-Webster describes growth as an increase in something, whereas progress is onward movement or the gradual betterment toward an objective or goal. In business, the first connotation with growth is sales or revenue. Beyond this initial glance, though, other attributes like size, scale, pace, or complexity help to define growth. Intrinsically there are leadership, skill-sets, knowledge, and vision that also influence growth. Meanwhile, progress is still generally all about an ongoing effort towards something. Understanding and owning these differences is the key to unlocking the power of each.
Here are five ways for small business owners to leverage the difference between growth and progress.
When small business owners can get growth and progress to work together, they gain focus, clarity, and confidence, and increase the likelihood of success. It’s the difference between herding cats and rowing in the same direction. Which do you prefer? Same for your team. Simply put, the more your team can make progress towards the same growth objectives, the more likely you are to be successful, especially as a small business owner. Otherwise, you’ll end up being swallowed by the black hole of competing demands, just like the brothers who went into business together and let growth get the best of them. Knowing how to complement growth with progress requires effort, clarity, structure, and accountability. But controlled growth and increasing the likelihood of success is totally possible for those who can understand and leverage the difference between both.