Imagine going to bed one evening.
You cuddle up with your loved one and sleep peacefully.
You get up, pour a coffee and turn on the news.
A reporter advises you that your team has just grown by a factor of 4; your operating budget ballooned by ten times; and, your team is headline news with the world watching your every move.
When I led a large disaster response organization, this was my nightly reality.
It happened with great regularity, and pulling together a team on a moment’s notice and grow the business to respond to the disaster was exhilarating as any rush you could imagine.
Most business leaders do not face that level of overnight growth, but what CEO doesn’t dream of dealing with rapid business growth.
The energy and excitement when everything you touch seems to turn to gold are way more appealing than saying no, dealing with falling revenues and laying good people off.
Over the past few years, I have worked with many leaders who have grown their organizations several times in size.
To a person, they are energized by the growth. But they were equally frustrated by the disconnect between strategy and operations; stymied by broken lines of communications; and, falling employee morale.
Whether you are navigating a booming startup or a long-established organization, leading through periods of rapid-growth is hard work.
This article will explore those challenges and offer ideas to help you succeed.
What are the challenges?
1 – Speed – When everything is moving so incredibly fast it seems impossible to pause and think. Rapid-growth creates a vortex that sucks up everyone’s time and energy leaving little time to do anything but survive each activity and get to the next.
Speed becomes a stimulant, with people striving to move faster and faster, but testing the team’s limit to execute.
2 – Shortsightedness – The collective view becomes shortsighted. Everything in the immediate foreground is crystal clear and yet things more than a few days or weeks away seems off far off over the horizon.
Forward thinking and strategic planning are almost impossible in this chronically myopic environment.
3. People Processes – In the high-growth environment, people processes break down. Onboarding is fast and furious. The focus becomes on getting bodies in seats.
Leadership development stops being
individual contributors and left to sink or swim as collective contributors.
Managers end up in over their heads feelings.
Consider These 4 Questions to Mitigate the Challenges of Rapid-Growth:
1 – Who’s eyeing the future? Somebody must be accountable for looking beyond the moment and towards the future.
The CEO or Executive Director is responsible for the long-range view and must hold the senior managers accountable through dialogue and clarity of strategic instructions.
2 – Who’s watching the store? It is essential to have someone focus on the business functions (processes, infrastructure, and quality) because rapid-growth can only be successful unless it built on the organization’s existing foundation.
Somebody must be responsible for fighting inertia, push continuous improvement, eliminating bottlenecks and ensure that the organization’s support functions and future investments are done based on future needs.
3 – Who’s looking after talent? In times of rapid growth, there is a tendency to hire and promote fast and sort issues out later. Trust me when I say there is a very high cost of ignoring hiring, and development processes.
Consider distributing this burden to the all your employees by actively involving them in recruiting and onboarding new team members.
4. Who’s building the culture? To be an effective leader, you must understand the power your values are as the reference point to everyone who works with you.
If you compromise values for expediency, you send a signal to the organization that they are just so many words. Use them in every aspect of organizational culture: from hiring, firing, resolving problems, serving stakeholders and growing the business.
There is nothing more exciting than living through a period of rapid growth.
It is like lashing yourself to a bucking bronco and hanging on for dear life.
For leaders, cool heads must prevail on the issues of strategy, talent, operations, and culture or the trashing can break your organization’s back.