Growing According to Plan

by Gila Hayes

A few weeks ago, your Network leadership team rubbed shoulders with the firearms industry at the SHOT Show. Each year, we share knowledge and experience, gather intel, and bring back a clearer vision of how the Network will continue the strong but sensibly-managed growth that has been one of the hallmarks that sets our organization apart from the competition.

Our planning sessions made me remember an online Forbes article I read several years after we opened the Network. People who know me know that I’m a tightwad, so it comes as no surprise that I’m still using the battered MacBook Air I bought on which to write a book the year after the Network was born. However, even I was a little surprised when I recently ran across the notes I took from that online article all those years ago!

The article outlined how some of America’s major corporations nearly went bankrupt chasing the highest possible growth without adequately considering whether the company’s staffing and infrastructure could continue to produce the quality of product that made them successful.

I can think of outfits I’ve known that, riding the heady wave of success, borrowed heavily to expand and lost the whole thing; we’ve all seen national brands destroyed when quality suffered during rapid growth. I believe the most common loss from fast growth amongst businesses that survive it is the irretrievable loss of a culture in which customers and staffers alike thrived.

I have lost track of the times Network members and people interested in the Network have expressed incredulity that the Network didn’t have 50 thousand members. I gently inform them that our focus is on nurturing the highest-quality self-defense aftermath support organization. If so doing brings in large numbers of members, that is a happy side effect, but meeting the needs of the individual member must come before haring off in pursuit of titles like “biggest.”

During our managed growth over the past nine years, we have worked hard to know members’ names, stay accessible for phone calls from members and potential members and we have avoided setting up phone banks of minimum-wage employees reading from three ring binders to answer your questions! At various stages in our growth, we have added staff and contracted for services to make it possible to keep the personal, family-like feeling we’ve worked so hard to nurture. We’re fortunate today to have Jennie, Melissa and Josh on the day to day team, along with a select set of skilled professionals who contract to take care of details that don’t require quite such a personal touch.

A strong, hands-on leader can be a double-edged blade! Last month, there was a weird spate of morbid questions from non-members asking if the Network would survive if something happened to our Network President. In truth, I think that is a far more appropriate question for Network members to ask, but most of you already know the care we have taken in crafting this organization and you probably also know that there are several layers of possible stand-ins, who would bring their own style and enthusiasm to making sure the Network endured and grew should our fearless leader chose to step down. The same holds for our skillful and tireless behind-the-scenes Vice President, and it also holds for my leadership of day-to-day operations.

Every new team member brings his or her flavor of talent to the crew, but the values that got us started remain and will stay the same. We started the Network from nothing but a great idea, grew it into a vibrant 12,500 member organization (as of Feb. 1, 2017) with over $950,000 in the Legal Defense Fund for defense of members (this is the balance after having tapped the Fund 13 times to provide for members’ post incident legal needs) and we have accomplished that without ever putting the Network into debt.

Strong leaders inadvertently create cults of personality that are not always positive, since over the decades, businesses need to mature. While the Network is molded and influenced by our leadership team, our advisory board and our day-to-day working staff, it is our Network members who make this a special family of like-minded individuals. This is the dream we started building in early 2008 and it is the organization we continue to foster today. Network members, you make what we do possible! Give yourselves a pat on the back!

To read more of this month's journal, please click here.