Growing Pains and the Wet Paper Towel Syndrome
02/27/18 | 9:00AM | Posted by Denise Limato, PMP, Watermark Risk Management International LLC
As a company grows, there comes a time when it’s ok to ask for help.
Growing pains are universal across companies. Processes and procedures that achieved the desired end state when the company was very small worked because the small volume allowed it. When staff are stretched to the limit to meet the multiple demands they face, they do what they can to make things function, even if it isn’t necessarily efficient or effective. As they grow, those paper- and people-centric processes begin to fail. There is simply too much volume to keep doing things in the old “stubby pencil” ways. The pressures on those few people, lack of infrastructure, and limited resources only add to the frustrations. I call this the Wet Paper Towel Syndrome.
To demonstrate its product strength, a well-known paper towel brand once advertised someone stacking coins on a wet paper towel. They stacked a quite few, thus “proving” the strength of the towel. A growing company demonstrates success in much the same way. As the business expands, the company can stack more “coins” on their wet paper towel. The problem is, most companies continue stacking coins until, inevitably, the paper towel rips wide open. I have worked with several companies experiencing exponential growth. It’s exciting, but that kind of growth is risky if the company doesn’t change how it operates to accommodate their new size and changing needs. Just like the wet paper towel, the company can handle several “coins.” It will hold two, three, maybe even ten coins before it breaks. But when it breaks – and it will – there is a sizeable mess to clean up. To further complicate matters, we don’t know what that breaking point is until it happens.
What are the consequences of operating with a wet paper towel? I have witnessed many: missed revenue, lack of compliance with contract requirements, labor relations problems, missed deadlines, unhappy customers and employees, and even fines. In some cases, the consequences have been more extreme, including violating labor or safety laws. Ultimately, the cost is time and money, something all of us want more of and can’t afford to have less of.
So, what can be done? If the Wet Paper Towel Syndrome is alive and well at your company, the first step is to acknowledge it. Being brave and toughing it out isn’t likely going to get the results you want. Instead, it’s time to say, “I need some help.”
While some companies find they have an internal resource who could tackle this, most decide that’s not the most prudent choice. More often, companies choose an experienced consultant to help make the necessary changes. The consultant knows how to map processes and then help you prioritize the changes that bring the best return on your investment. A consultant is also objective, with no internal relationships or biases that might affect their decision-making. And, they have resources to help your business, whether it’s temporary assistance in a particular functional area or project management or actual execution until an internal resource can be fully trained. They alleviate the burden on your already overloaded staff by jumping in, quickly identifying the most important steps to take, and then driving those steps to results.
Once you tackle these challenges and are moving to the next stage, you’ll be stronger and more prepared for your growth. And, your coins won’t be all over the floor.