Think of five Major League Baseball players. Now, of those five, did you list Bill Hall, Ryan Freel, Michael Young, Omar Infante, or Jeff Baker? No? Probably because these are all utility players: they play a variety of positions competently, but switch so frequently that they never develop into the big hitters or playmakers. Business owners trying to grow a new enterprise often rely on a roster of utility players to get started; everyone is fairly good at everything, but not particularly skilled at any one thing.
This is a major reason a business ends up on the Great Small Business Plateau – it stalls out because the staff aren’t skilled enough to take the company further. You need “great” to grow to the next level.
Why hire all the Jacks Of All Trades? During the startup phase, a business owner is only able to afford to hire two or three people. Instead of choosing subject matter experts – expensive, relatively inflexible employees – they hire people that can be cross-trained and are often less expensive. These versatile players jump in and help take the weight off a new business owner, and assume a variety of roles. As the business grows, you add a few more, and compile a whole roster of these jacks of all trades, utility players.
AS THE BUSINESS GROWS, YOUR NEEDS WILL CHANGE
The people that can be most helpful as one builds their business, perform in a number of capacities. But these personnel might become a significant obstacle later. Growth is essentially capped because a large company needs subject matter experts. They can control and expand a whole division on the team; they can manage and train new employees, with vastly different capabilities and qualifications than the CEO.
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A friend of mine once found herself in this situation. Her company’s growth plateaued because she had a team full of utility players. She tried to identify their greatest strengths and move them into their niches, but at that point, the culture was set. These people were not experts. She had a tough call to make: either change personnel so that the company could keep growing, or be satisfied with her company’s productive capacity. She opted for the latter.
There is an important caveat to remember: not every company needs to be a growth company. Providing stable income for the members of an organization is a legitimate priority, even if it does cap the top line. Opting to be a growth company, means either strengthening specific skill sets of the utility players, or bringing in some power hitters and playmakers.