Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The mechanics of managing a fast-growing company

Usually when you read about how to manage a company well, you find tactical tips on how to delegate tasks appropriately, communicate clearly, be a good listener, empathize with team members, appreciate and recognize employees' hard work and accomplishments, and so forth. We've talked on our blog about how Stroll uses some of these tactics in its management activities.

But for Stroll, management is more than a series of tactics to guide employees' actions. Management is one of the cores of our business. And so I wanted to bring our management discussions full circle today to flesh out what we mean when we say that management is a pillar of our business model. In future posts, I'll also bring home the three other cores of Stroll's business that we've been blogging about -- marketing, analytics, and HR.

Stroll defines management as the mechanism that pulls team members together and points them in the same direction to achieve a common vision. Once you've identified your vision, you work backward to reach it by establishing sub-goals and granular processes that drive you to your ultimate destination. In that regard, our company's mission is to transform lives by discovering the best educational products and turning them into best-sellers, our vision is to be a $1 billion plus company with a portfolio of consumer-education business and, in general, our goals focus on maximizing contribution margin at the company and operating plan levels.

Our growth rate illustrates how our management philosophy plays out, and how it pays dividends. In 2011, Stroll grew an eye-opening 105 percent, due mainly to four key management components.

1. Operating plans. We set certain contribution margin (CM) targets and build operating plans for every department. Each operating plan is comprised of specific projects that are thematically tied together and pointed toward our company vision. We create lists of opportunities that span all departments and prioritize them based on their CM potential.

2. Laser focus. Focus is about not only what you do, but equally important, what you don't do. We spend our time working on those activities that drive our vision, filtering out the noise that distracts.

3. Monthly meetings. Our management team meets at least once a month with the corporate team to sync every department's progress and reinforce our company direction and vision. Every project manager updates the team on their tasks by whether they are ahead, on track, or behind the deadline. Between meetings, all statuses are updated weekly on an operating plan dashboard which is displayed on LCD monitors throughout the office.

4. Weekly meetings. It's important to keep a meeting "rhythm" and we do so at both the departmental and channel levels. That's where managers drill into operating plan projects with their teams and discuss tactical matters.

5. Sticking to budget and deadlines. If during our meetings we learn a task is delayed, other teammates share advice on how to get back on track. We also discuss ways team members can help make deadlines, improve performance, and get projects done on budget and on time -- or better yet, beat our targets.

These mechanics, combined with last year's growth, was the result of a tremendous team performance. We hit our annual growth target because our efforts revolved around a single purpose: getting operating plan projects done on time and on spec which in turn equaled maximizing CM and moving our mission and vision forward.

Every fast-growing company needs to understand the mechanics of growth and create a framework that drives management decision making. In this regard, management becomes more than the business of getting things done. It becomes the business of mobilizing people and resources to achieve a vision.

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