Last month, The Clean Space, suffered a massive blow to our progress. We lost one of our biggest, most important clients. A client who had previously been one of our happiest clients.
It hit everyone at every level of the business hard, so with the wound still fresh, this blog post will address how the team and I have dealt with it and why I now believe that pain is a necessary evil in growing a successful business.
Business Growth is a Series of Phases
In my experience, growing a business is not one steady upward path. Instead, businesses typically move from one phase to another enjoying rapid growth in one phase before hitting a plateau.
That plateau is a sign that something needs to change and the only way of getting back to growth is to knuckle down and make the required changes.
Now this is easy when it’s a small team. A strong, action-oriented leader can dive in and make the change happen themselves.
However, in a scale-up business with a team leading it (as The Clean Space is now) then that simply isn’t possible. One person can’t drive through all the changes needed. It must be supported by the whole team.
But change means extra workload. And extra workload isn’t something a high-performing team running at capacity has a lot of space for. Even as the business plateaus, the team is usually pedalling hard just to keep things steady.
Something has to spark them into action and reprioritising. They have to feel some pain.
The Clean Space is currently at one of those points between phases. To drive growth further, the business has moved into taking on larger, more challenging clients.
This former client was exactly one of those. A large international corporate office, with complex evolving needs and demanding requests.
We started well. We had a brilliant team of cleaners supported by one of our best managers. After a few months, things settled into a routine. We didn’t feel a sense of urgency to innovate our approach, because we were going okay. Complacency had set in.
Then things started wobbling.
Now, wobbles happen from time to time in a people-driven industry like cleaning and we applied our usual approach to fixing the issues.
However, this time we failed to settle the wobbles. Our tried-and-tested approach that works in smaller clients wasn’t working and the client grew impatient. Eventually their patience ran out and we lost the contract.
The Adrenaline Shot
Our experience in this larger client highlighted that our approach to managing contracts needed to develop. Our old ways of working, whilst perfect for servicing smaller clients, was found wanting at a bigger site.
I’ve personally known we’ve needed to develop our operation for some time and had tasked the team with doing so. They were making progress, but slowly and without a great deal of urgency. Other tasks always seemed to get in the way.
However, the news of this loss made the team focus on the need to develop in a way that I simply couldn’t make happen myself.
It has kick-started them to review newer, innovative, more appropriate ways of operating such a sizeable contract with a speed and focus that simply wasn’t present before. The pain had made them move.
Pain is Normal
It was hard for people not to feel deflated and blame themselves for what had happened (including me).
I felt the loss of that contract both physically and mentally. I ached, I was completely zapped of energy and I questioned whether I had the guts to get back on the horse.
But I realised I wasn’t alone.
Having spoken to my colleagues in the team, I realised they were also negatively impacted by the loss. Some felt a knot of sickness in their stomachs. Others were angry that we had not seen this coming a mile off. All were worried for the future.
But these emotions have occurred before and (more importantly) have been previously overcome.
I realised feeling the pain was normal and we would get through it. It wasn’t the end of the world. The business wouldn’t collapse as a result. We’d be OK.
Reacting to the Pain
That group realisation that pain is normal allowed us to move into the most important question – what are we going to do in response?
The answer has made me realise quite how positive pain can be.
It has galvanised everyone to pull together to develop and implement the upgrade needed to our ways of working. It has led to the team supporting each other, acting as confidants to those who needed it most.
After collectively accepting what had happened, it has made every one of us more resilient and more determined than ever to succeed.
It has made us a better business.
Now the episode is behind us I realise that pain is a bedfellow of ambition. Without pain, what impetus would there be to get better? Without pain, what reason is there for people to drive change?
It wasn’t the first time we have felt pain and it certainly won’t be the last but if each one leads us to greater strength then, perversely, I’ll be a happy man.