A common complaint I hear from my startup clients and many entrepreneurs is that rapid growth is more difficult than ever anticipated. The assumption usually is that more money is needed for marketing, or another round of new development is needed on the product. Yet I find in digging deeper, the challenge is just as often getting the right people and culture, rather than money.
Recently I found a new book, “The Success Cadence,” by David Mattson, Tom Schodorf, and Bart Fanelli, which summarized well the people and culture challenges, and how to overcome them. Although their focus was primarily on the sales team, I believe that many of their key success inhibitors, including the following, apply equally well to all functional areas of your team:
- Some team members have an entitlement mindset. The entitlement mindset is a failure of accountability. If this is left unchecked, the concept of we-first is destroyed, where too many are looking out for number one, and too few are looking out for your business. Rapid business growth requires that everyone pulls together.
The solution is more focus on rewarding accountability, and parting company gracefully with those who insist on being me-first. Set clear standards and expectations during team meetings, and set a personal example through your own leadership behavior.
- Inconsistent messages from top leadership. Sometimes top leaders send messages, by their actions and emotions, that are inconsistent with published goals and priorities. For example, a “quality first” message is negated if you minimize testing to reduce product costs. Ask for feedback from the team to confirm key messages are consistent.
- Increasing evidence of organizational silos. Teams that don’t interact effectively decrease productivity, impede communication, and make rapid growth impossible. Your solution is to make sure every group is pursuing the same objectives and strategy, implement consistent measurements, and make leadership changes as required.
- Assume a better product is the primary key to growth. Some company founders believe a stronger product will solve all growth problems, including silos and lack of marketing. The solution is to listen carefully to all constituents and customers, and build a balanced action plan, eliminating hubris, and strengthening all business soft spots.
- Evidence of ineffective hiring and recruiting. The reality is that bad hires are a huge constraint to growth, and they are expensive and time consuming to fix. The solution is to always be hiring and developing people, including diversity of thought, background, and operating style. Existing mistakes need to be acknowledged, and off-boarded tactfully.
- Trying to operate with too much or not enough process. Teams bogged down by slow growth are usually stuck in one of these extremes, typically as a result of founder inattention or lack of experience. Audit each group to look for processes that everyone agrees can be improved. Prioritize process improvements and quantify results.
- Making decisions without discipline and analytics. What you need to manage growth is real data and tools, aligned with your targeted goals and objectives. Define an inclusive decision-making process, become the role model for discipline, and teach direct reports to follow your example. Making gut instinct decisions in today’s complex world is folly.
- Not measuring outcomes that tie to business objectives. Counting trade shows or opportunities typically don’t relate to bottom-line growth. Focus your efforts first on identifying the perfect target customer, and then define and track the activities required to close. Find your leading indicators of growth, rather than measuring lagging indicators.
- Lack of training and misaligned training initiatives. Companies trying to sustain rapid growth, with normal business crises, often forget that training must remain aligned and a priority. Unless you invest in, initiate, and sustain a learning growth culture, your people will be de-motivated, and not be equipped to lead when their engagement is most critical.
As your new business ramps up, anticipating rapid growth, even an existing strong workplace culture and team spirit can get lost in the fray, just when their value is most needed. Cash flow is critical, deadlines loom, and stakeholders are watching. Your challenge is to build and unleash the power of your team to exponentially multiply your own commitment to business growth.