If you associate the term ‘glass ceiling’ only with problems women face in career progression, think again. Every growing business will hit glass ceilings from time to time, when growth is stifled. Continuing progress depends on recognising what’s happening and learning how to break through. Here, we highlight what to watch out for and what steps to take.
Could you be Facing a Glass Ceiling?
Whether your business is a fledgling start up or a fully established organisation, growing a business depends on moving through different stages over time. This involves recognising when you are ready for the next stage, realising you need to take action to make it happen, and then putting new approaches in place.
The problem is that when you’re busy working on day-to-day priorities, it is easy to miss the opportunities that could be waiting for your business just a little further down the line. This focus on the here and now creates a glass ceiling – an invisible barrier stopping you moving ahead.
Does this apply to you? A good pointer is to consider whether you are too busy to think and act in the interest of your business.
Specific symptoms include:
• Working too many hours?
• No time to think?
• Too busy looking after existing customers to find new ones?
• Making up for poorly-performing staff?
• Too busy to hire the staff you need?
• Too busy supporting yesterday’s product?
There are many more. And businesses at different stages of growth will face different situations.
Typical Glass Ceiling Scenarios
For a startup, getting the first customer sale could be a glass ceiling. You have created the product or service; maybe formed a small team; sorted out premises, got a website up and running. Now, you must change your mindset from setting up to selling.
Tip: Concentrate on getting that ONE first sale at all cost. Leave no stone unturned. Once you have your FIRST sale, the second sale will soon follow
With a one-person business, the decision to hire staff often presents a glass ceiling. The workload is becoming too much for one person – but you have done everything yourself so far, and you are not sure the business can support two. How do you plan what things will look like with another person on board, adjust to working with a colleague, and use the extra resource to make sales grow?
Tip: Hire, outsource or subcontract the mundane things where you add the least value, such as book keeping, packing and dispatch. Focus on core business activities.
In owner-managed businesses, delegation issues frequently create a glass ceiling. You founded the business, you know the customers, you are closely involved in operations. But for a business to grow to its full potential, the owner needs to know when to step back and delegate so he or she can concentrate on longer-term strategy.
Tip: Identify other small owner managed business that complement what you do, and learn to work together on bigger or more complex jobs.
For a single product business, the biggest glass ceiling is the creation of product number two. You are spending all your time handling sales and support for your current product, which gives you no time to think about what comes next. Yet to be successful in the long term, you need to get a second product under development well before sales start to drop on the first.
Tip: Hire, and delegate the activities that keep the flow of your first product success. Invest your time in product number two.
Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling
Breaking through glass ceilings requires recognition, reflection and action. What is working? What is not? Why? What do you want to be different? What can you do differently?
Think about your business as an outsider would, involve your team, identify the challenges you face, look for new approaches that will help you move forward. Once you have ideas on the table, prioritise these and make a plan.
Tip: Create a step by step plan with meaningful milestones. This will be more effective than just having one long term goal.
All of this is, of course, easier said than done.
For this reason, many businesses bring in an outside business mentor or coach to help. An experienced advisor will listen to what you have to say, recognise where you are, suggest and explore ideas with you. They will also bring practical tools to the table, and help you implement new ways of working that will you take your business through the glass ceiling and beyond.
For an informal chat about support for your business, call us on 01625 329 319 or contact us to arrange for us to call you.
From our base in Macclesfield, we provide Business Advice, Mentoring, Coaching and Training to businesses across Cheshire,Derbyshire and the North West including Macclesfield, Wilmslow,Stockport, Buxton and Manchester.