I recently took a familiar trip, driving from New York City to visit my parents at their home in Pennsylvania. My favorite point is near the end of the trip, while descending a long, winding hill. There is one curve in particular that, when you hit it just right, gives you that incredible rush. I love the feeling of the adrenalin on that curve. I hate when someone else is on the road--at my curve -at just the wrong time, forcing me to slow down. It's the inflection point--the point when you have to switch direction quickly--that provides the thrill. Making it happen is a matter of timing, skill, and serendipity. And it's incredible when it all works out.

I see parallels between this experience and what we at Hospitality Quotient help our clients deal with every day. Growing businesses experience inflection points as well--periods of rapid growth and change that require special attention to navigate properly. For those of us who get a thrill from that adrenalin rush, these are the moments we long for. But even the most experienced drivers will tell you that you need to know what you're doing if you want to accelerate through that curve. So how do you know if you're in an inflection point, and what do you need to watch out for?

We see inflection points take many forms: restructuring your team, winning a game-changing piece of business, changing your technology, or consciously deciding to invest in growth. These moments are true milestones that can make or break a business, no matter the size or legacy. The differentiator for entrepreneurs is being the leader at the helm who will accurately sense the timing, prepare the company, align the team, and not be afraid to hit the gas.

So what are some lessons from the road that entrepreneurs can take into account when facing inflection points in business?

Plan for versatility. Driving fast through an inflection point requires a calculated plan involving the right speed, a lack of congestion on the road, great weather conditions, and the right skill sets of the driver. All the same are true in business. To build the right kind of momentum and really prepare for any major shift, entrepreneurs have to carefully and thoughtfully assess the external environment and align their internal capabilities. Teams that build versatility into their thinking and know how to handle "what ifs" will be better prepared to navigate the shift.

Assess your culture. Rapid change can have a huge impact on the culture of your organization. In preparing for such a shift, it's important to assess how well-equipped your team is to handle the change. Moreover, it's critical to understand how to optimize the change you're planning so it can strengthen and evolve your culture. This means ensuring that the decisions you make are aligned with your values as an organization. The changes should further your company's 'purpose'--not distract from it. And it's essential to imagine the shift from the perspective of your passengers to know how the changes will affect them, so you can be prepared to coach them through the shift and bring them along for the ride.

Know your capabilities. Internally, leaders must have the self-awareness to ask themselves, "How good a driver am I?" If you're not the right person to lead the change, make sure you tap the person who is. You should also know yourself well enough to know how hard you can hit the gas. If you move too fast and haven't executed your plan well, you'll end up slamming on the breaks or, worse, spinning out of control. If you move too slowly, the car next to you will surely get there first.

Buckle your seatbelts! Give your team fair warning when you're embarking on a major turn in the road (just as you would for your passengers in a car). Keep an open line of communication and be transparent. Don't let your team get distracted from their jobs because they're wondering what's going on.

Be focused in your approach. In this process, it's not uncommon for organizations to push the gas pedal too hard by trying to accomplish too much at once. The distraction of having too many initiatives going on at the same time without the proper communication can overwhelm team members and blur priorities. Simply put, distractions make for dangerous driving.

Entrepreneurs typically love this kind of change--it's what feeds their spirit and keeps business exciting. So embrace those inflection points--enjoy them. They are huge milestones in business and great opportunities to further your organization. But remember that inflection is an important moment for reflection. In my experience, the most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who truly embrace this point, and not only ride through a shift in their business, but also let it propel their culture forward and faster. Knowing your own capabilities as a leader and your purpose as a culture is key to any surge's being a successful one that the entire team feels connected to. Any decision that is made should be done through the lens of your culture and your vision for the future. Ultimately, there are only so many opportunities to find these specials places on the road, and in your business. Without them, it's nearly impossible to enact impactful change or get ahead. So as scary as they may be, if the stars align, don't be afraid to go forward and make it count.

Published on: Nov 14, 2014