Operational Scalability: Stacey Zimmermann of Marbury Creative Group On How To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And People To Prepare A Business To Scale
Keep things simple. The more complicated something is the less likely people will understand much less be inclined to follow it. Make sure you AND your team understand the why behind your systems and procedures. If no one can explain why something should be done a certain way, you shouldn’t be doing it. Not having clarity on why and how to do something will only cause confusion and chaos which is counterproductive to growth.
In today’s fast-paced business environment, scalability is not just a buzzword; it’s a necessity. Entrepreneurs often get trapped in the daily grind of running their businesses, neglecting to put in place the systems, procedures, and people needed for sustainable growth. Without this foundation, companies hit bottlenecks, suffer inefficiencies, and face the risk of stalling or failing. This series aims to delve deep into the intricacies of operational scalability. How do you set up a framework that can adapt to growing customer demands? What are the crucial procedures that can streamline business operations? How do you build a team that can take on increasing responsibilities while maintaining a high standard of performance?
In this interview series, we are talking to CEOs, Founders, Operations Managers Consultants, Academics, Tech leaders & HR professionals, who share lessons from their experience about “How To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And People To Prepare A Business To Scale”. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Stacey Zimmermann.
Stacey Zimmermann is the Vice President of Operations for Marbury Creative Group, a brand building marketing agency that drives business growth through the fusion of strategy + creativity. Stacey holds a Bachelors of Arts from the University of Georgia as well as Masters in Education. She also holds a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Scranton. She has spent her entire career working for and with small businesses with a focus in operations and marketing. After her first stint in graduate school, she started working for a start law firm in Atlanta, GA as the founder’s first employee. She assisted growing the company from one employee in a startup firm to two law firms collectively grossing over $2.5 million and over 10 employee over the course of seven years. She left this role for a Director of Operations position at another law firm that was around the same size and helped streamline processes and systems to improve efficiency and structure. Stacey had an opportunity to make a move to another industry which brought her to Marbury Creative Group where she was promoted to VP of Operations after 6 months. Throughout her career, Stacey has thrived with the opportunities to build culture, invest in employee professional growth, increase efficiencies, and find opportunities to do more with less while hitting company revenue goals each year.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I like to joke that I’m in my third career. Other than wanting to help people, I never really knew what I wanted to do when I was kid and really even into college. My dad gave me the best advice when I struggled with direction and that advice was whatever degree I got would show a potential employer that I can learn new things, I’m disciplined, and I see things through. Basically, I’m smart and teachable. I held on to that advice as I worked my way through two “careers” that I didn’t really enjoy but I learned some great professional skills that I still use in my current role. Due to personal life circumstances, I fell into an operations role for a law firm and almost immediately realized I’d found my niche. This had me pursuing my MBA while working full time and devouring any opportunity to go to conferences or attend webinars to learn as much as I could. I was lucky to end up where I did with a great boss who invested in her employees, but ultimately it was up to me how successful I was going to be. Since then I’ve landed in a role that aligns perfectly with my own values and skills giving me the opportunity to continuing growing as a professional.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Umm, which one should I pick? It may be true for everyone but I HATE failing; however, I’m a big believer that failure makes us a better. This philosophy has served me well in that I don’t shy away from a challenge, but I do whatever I can to prepare so I’m not blindly dealing with issues. That being said, I think the main lesson I learned early on is if you don’t know, ask because it can have major financial ramifications. In high school, I participated in the work study program and worked at a risk management company. They had me doing something that even now I don’t fully understand and probably something they shouldn’t have had a high school student doing. I remember there was one specific thing I had to do, and I thought I knew what I was doing but even now I remember having that little tickle in the back of mind saying are you sure this is right and I ignored it. Turns out, it was wrong and had it not been caught, it would have caused a big problem. That was the first time I understood what “listen to your gut” means. I can’t say I still always listen, but over the years, I’ve become more and more reliant on that gut feeling that’s telling me to speak up. And most of the time, it’s right!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Everything! Corny but I’m blessed to work at a great company. One thing that really stands out for me is that we run on EOS — Entrepreneurial Operating System — which provides a very clear structure for running the business. It simplifies what we do, provides very clear vision and focus, and involves every single employee in feeling like they are each a part of the growth and success of the business. Every single person works on the business not just in the business, and this give everyone a feeling ownership and responsibility to the business. The agency had implemented a loose version of this prior to my employment. When I started about two years ago, the partners decided it was time to go full in on the structure and it was my responsibility to implement. The way EOS works is a near perfect articulation of how I think a business should run so it was a natural fit from the beginning for me. We implemented it with our leadership team first, and then rolled it out to each of our departments six months later. It took about a full year but it’s become a fully integrated part of how we operate from every level of the company and has helped our employees have better business acumen which provides them a better understanding for why decisions are made the way they are as well as how they serve our clients.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Flexible: This is a trait I’ve had to work on as I haven’t always been flexible. I’ve found working for entrepreneurs in small to mid-size companies requires the ability to pivot quickly. This means not getting so stuck on one idea that I can’t see the trees from the forest. Being flexible lends itself to listening to others to find the best solutions, taking a step back to see the big picture, and being able to make quick decisions with limited information.
Open-minded: This allows me to receive feedback without my ego getting in the way as well as receive suggestions on how things could be done versus forcing my idea as the only way to go. This encourages collaborative relationships with the people around me.
Honest: To be trustworthy, I believe people need to say what they mean and mean what they do. Being a person of my word allows others to trust me. This opens the doors for better conversations, more collaboration, and trust when giving feedback to employees.
Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.
Letting people go is always the hardest decision because you’re not just affecting one person; you are typically affecting them plus their partner and/or family and their very livelihood. But the reality is the biggest drain on resources is a person that is not a fit for the role or the company. It’s been framed to me that by not making the decision to let someone go, I could also be in the way of their happiness or finding the right fit for them where they will thrive. This mindset has helped me in situations where I liked the person but ultimately, they were not the right fit and needed to be let go. Often, they don’t even see it until they are out of the situation as well. Time and again, I’ve been reluctant to let someone go; however, once it is done, everything starts working better, things start moving along, and after a few days, even morale increases.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Operational Scalability. In order to make sure that we are all on the same page, let’s begin with a simple definition. What does Operational Scalability mean to you?
Operational scalability is structuring a business in a way that it can adapt and expand as demand increases for the business’ products or services.
Which types of business can most benefit from investing in Operational Scalability?
All types, but certainly small to mid-size companies that have any sort of growth goals they are working toward.
Why is it so important for a business to invest time, energy, and resources into Operational Scalability?
Ultimately, this saves time and resources which saves money. Many entrepreneurs first instinct is to jump in and figure out as they go and to some scale, this is necessary. But often an important step of taking a moment to think about future goals and how they are going to get there is skipped when making decisions. This results in rebuilding the business or various parts of it several times over because what works for one size company may not work for another size company. In addition, it can lead to confusion and unclear expectations for employees as they can feel the effects of whiplash from constantly changing plans which can create an unstable environment.
In contrast, what happens to a business that does not invest invest time, energy, and resources into Operational Scalability? See above.
Can you please share a story from your experience about how a business grew dramatically when they worked on their Operational Scalability?
I worked for a law firm that opened a second company and went from a new business with $50K in revenue the first year to a $1.5M firm in less than three years. We took the basic structure from the first firm to give us a very solid foundation to allow for such rapid growth. By having processes, procedures, and systems in place, even the most basic of ones, everyone knew who was responsible for what and how it was going to get done. It created a clear language that everyone understood and set clear expectations and goals.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the “Five Most Important Things A Business Leader Should Do To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And People To Prepare A Business To Scale”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
1 . Know where you want to be in the next 3, 5 and 10 years. Then you can be thinking about how what you put in place now can accommodate where you want to be then. This will allow you to think on a bigger scale and build systems and procedures that can scale with you over time.
2 . Involve your team. You do not know everything. They are the ones in the trenches and will provide some valuable insight on how things should be handled. A successful business leader will have the big picture view and have the ability to decern the relevant information shared by employees and build it into a scalable system that allows for growth.
3 . Take your time and hire the right people. Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of hiring quickly to fill a position to deal with an immediate pain point. If they aren’t hiring the right person, that pain will eventually become a gaping hole in the businesses ecosystem that will stall overall growth. Hiring the right people means finding a culture fit AND someone with the skills to do the current job with potential to grow into a bigger role as the company grows. Businesses CAN outgrow the skillset of employees that are more comfortable in a smaller more intimate environment so hiring people that are comfortable with change and accelerated growth is critical.
4 . Be flexible and adapt. Things will not always work out the way you planned, but it doesn’t make it any less of a valuable experience. Every failure is an opportunity to learn and improve as you work towards your goals. While systems and procedures are the best foundation for scaling, sometimes they can get in the way if they aren’t the right systems and procedures. By not hanging on so tightly to a certain way of doing things, you can have the clarity to see alternative and better solutions to scaling.
5 . Keep things simple. The more complicated something is the less likely people will understand much less be inclined to follow it. Make sure you AND your team understand the why behind your systems and procedures. If no one can explain why something should be done a certain way, you shouldn’t be doing it. Not having clarity on why and how to do something will only cause confusion and chaos which is counterproductive to growth.
What are some common misconceptions businesses have about scaling? Can you please explain?
All you need is a great idea and the rest will fall into place.
Anybody can learn to do a particular job.
A business plan isn’t necessary; we’ll just figure it out as we go.
I’m too busy to train a new person so they can just figure it out as we go.
I’m too busy to delegate, so I’ll just do it myself (and work myself into exhaustion).
The idea/product/service is the most important thing, more so than they people working for me.
I’ll figure out my goals (even revenue goals) later.
All of these will either stunt the growth of the business or cause it to implode. They are short-sighted mindsets and aren’t thinking about the big picture. While these businesses may eventually “make it”, it most likely could have been simpler or grown more quickly with the right focus.
How do you keep your team motivated during periods of rapid growth or change?
Being transparent and sharing what their role in the growth looks like can go a long way in loyalty. If they can envision themselves in the future with you, they are bought in and will be working hard right alongside you. That being said doing company retreats, offering rewards for great work, bonus’, and other incentives show your appreciation in a more tangible and impactful way when you’re in the midst of growth.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
As Dory from Finding Nemo says — “Just keep swimming”. Operating and growing a business is not easy. Life is not easy. I’ve dealt with a lot of heartache and loss in my personal life as an adult. Putting one step in front of another is the only way to get to a better place. If you stop, you will get stuck in a place you don’t want to be.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It’s all about the people — creating work environments where people love coming to work. In case you can’t tell from my 5 tips, I believe people will make or break a company no matter how great an idea is and no matter how savvy the entrepreneur is in business. The more employees feel like they are part of something bigger, the more likely they will be to stay with the company and grow with it.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can follow me on LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/stacey-zimmermann/
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Operational Scalability: Stacey Zimmermann of Marbury Creative Group On How To Set Up Systems… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.