GETTING AHEAD OF GROWTH
As a company that is planning to transition from a small to large business in the next two to three years, ALEX – Alternative Experts, a federal government-contracting firm, has spent time and resources positioning itself for its next growth spurt.
A critical part of this planning has been instituting processes that the company will need to rely on heavily once it reaches the next level. “As we grow, I can’t be the keeper and the holder of all things,” says CEO and owner Monica Joseph. “So we had to have processes in place that would be scalable [so] we could train … employees [and] so we can all speak the same language.”
One of these critical steps has been ALEX’s disciplined strategic planning process. It has provided focus and direction for the company’s 126 employees, who are committed to the team and each other. This culture starts with Joseph, who has spent 28 years with the company — essentially her entire full-time working life.
Years ago, when ALEX’s founder was looking for an exit strategy, Joseph bought a piece of the business — the staffing services arm — to keep together a core group of employees. That culture of family, community and commitment still permeates the business.
For example, ALEX’s budgeting and accounting process doesn’t rely just on the executive team’s watchful eye. It effectively utilizes the company’s managers, and employees efficiently leverage fiscal resources to help fuel growth. In total, ALEX has five core sub-processes, from pricing to opportunity identification to recruiting. But each of those sub-processes draws on the company’s master process: business development.
Having processes in place has helped save ALEX from some near failures. For example, its pricing policy was critical in identifying a breakdown when a government-contracting officer with ALEX felt the company wasn’t responding to what he asked for in a modification to a task order. ALEX used this near-failure as a learning experience and moved one of its key tasks in that process over to the critical path as a result.
The company also has processes in place to help it better overcome challenges. Whenever ALEX falls short on a strategic, tactical or operational initiative, the company holds a “collegial gathering,” with all critical functions represented. Here, the executive management team gathers information about what happened and why a particular part of the project didn’t go as planned — not to find what caused the challenge or who is to blame, but rather to determine what caused the result. Then, the team develops a corrective action plan, which helps them adjust for the next challenge.
Looking ahead, ALEX is on a trajectory to reach the goals Joseph set a decade ago. But Joseph feels a responsibility to continue to grow beyond those goals, in part because she feels a responsibility to her team. “You can’t continue to provide opportunity if you’re not growing. You can’t take care of your employees if you’re not taking care of your bottom line,” she says. That’s why Joseph has been focused on communicating the importance of managing revenue and costs in taking care of employees.
But Joseph stresses that planning for growth by implementing processes is only part of the equation. Business owners need to find the right people along the way and know when to make decisions quickly.
“It’s a combination of those things, of looking ahead, of planning, of sticking to your plan, of being able to change rapidly when you need to change, of having the right communication plan in place so that when change occurs, people understand what is happening,” she says. “You can’t just let business happen. You have to be ahead of it.”
Photo (L to R): Monica Joseph, CEO and Owner; Jeff Madsen, CTO; Tanya Smoot, Controller; Jeff O’Connell, Executive Director, Business Development