The Growth That Can Kill A Business

One thing in particular that can stymie even the most promising team is uncontrolled growth. Growth that a team isn’t ready for can overwhelm and stretch resources, leading to lower quality services and even innovative burnout.

Let’s say that upper level management consists of strong leaders with innovative ideas. We could probably safely surmise from this that the reason the company is successful is because of these leaders’ influence, that the company’s culture is directly shaped by the ideals and personal styles of each of these people.

Struggling To Keep Up

If the company were suddenly in a position that they had to grow quickly — more quickly than was comfortable — they’d likely have to resort to giving new hires a crash course in their given job areas. It wouldn’t be a slow, steady process where new systems were developed and adapted to the work flow or the way departments work with each other. Those parts can be tough to predict ahead of time, especially when things are moving at a sprint. Instead of planning, each department is reacting.

An upper level manager, let’s call him Bob, does his best to train a new manager (Alice) to report to him and assist in running new team members as they are added. Bob tries to imprint his ideals and personal philosophies on management and how to regard the customers upon Alice, but time is limited and the team is growing fast. Before Bob knows it, Alice is overseeing a small division composed of multiple departments, each with their own team leaders.

Learning in the Trenches

Because Bob’s ability to impart the company’s core culture to Alice was limited before she had to take on a lot of management responsibility herself, she’s probably had to develop certain systems herself. Her time spent “in the trenches” with her own boss was brief, so the majority of her time spent completing projects is with her team. They look to her for guidance and order. Maybe she’s successful, but if she’d joined a startup early on she may or may not have an extensive resume of management experience.

Even if the company is lucky and Alice has made good judgement calls and leads her departments successfully, there’s more of Alice that bleeds into the daily routines and team culture than Bob. After all, with the rapid growth some of the new employees a few levels down may not interact with Bob much at all. This isn’t necessarily negative inherently, especially if Alice has a knack for leadership. However, as the company continues to grow in that pattern Bob may find that less and less of what made the company Bob-like in the beginning is true. Potentially, this could mean putting aside certain core values that shaped the company initially.

Let’s look at the reverse scenario…

Bob hires Alice and paces his training, ramping her up gradually into handling accounts and helping to pass on what she’s learned to the next new employee. Bob is actively involved in her day to day tasks as well as helping her train new employees, so Bob’s own style pervades in the formation of departments and procedure.

The teams run tighter, and the first couple levels of employees feel more connected to leadership and to Bob because they all worked in the trenches together for a time. The development of systems and procedure happened with time and were adapted at least in part to the team using them, which allowed them to take ownership of their roles and their places within those procedures.

The company culture was easier to maintain, and each procedural revision could be adapted comfortably and based on realistic future projections rather that fighting to stay afloat in raging waters. Growth and culture are more intertwined than we often think, and ultimately it’s up to leadership to set the pace for both.

  1 comment for “The Growth That Can Kill A Business

  1. Marty Watkins
    March 17, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Very well said. I’d love for the powers to be where I work top read this.
    As always, your an artist with words.

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