Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Here’s How to Manage Your Company’s Explosive Growth

You’ve launched your business and things are going well. ...Maybe too well.

Near the top of any rational business owner’s list of “good problems to have” has to be explosive growth. If your sales are shooting up faster than you can hire, scale and expand, you’re liable to run into some serious problems — and, if events break the wrong way, could become a victim of your own success.

How do you ensure that your company doesn’t get too big too quickly? That it doesn’t swell its britches to the breaking point, and then blow right through? (No one wants to see that.)

Steve Cody at Inc Magazine has some thoughts on how to address the semi-problem of explosive growth. Here’s how to manage your company’s success and turn breakneck momentum into something more sustainable.

Foster a Healthy Corporate Culture from the Very Start

Corporate culture is akin to your garden’s soil: If it doesn’t have the right mix of nutrients, ample moisture and plentiful sun, it’s not likely to be very productive.

Your company’s culture might not need moisture and sun — although, to be fair, a day at the pool never dampened anyone’s morale. But it does need a firm foundation that prevents internal rot from taking hold. Tips for instilling a healthy culture include:

  • Lead by example: Your employees are always watching you. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want them to do.
  • Lay out ground rules: Put your company’s bylaws in writing before you even have a company, then update them as needed. Your employees will appreciate the fact that you’ve spelt everything out, and written rules make it easier to discipline and terminate problem employees.
  • Have zero tolerance for malfeasance: When everyone is guilty, no one is guilty. Don’t let problem employees hide behind one another or pass the buck. If someone’s doing something seriously wrong, investigate quickly and terminate or discipline as needed.

Hire for the Company You Want, Not the Company You Have

In retail and foodservice, operations managers are often told to “staff for the sales they want, not the sales they have.” In other words, if you want to attract customers, make it worth their while to come back by providing superior customer service.

The principle is the same in higher-end industries, too. If your sales and revenues are rising geometrically, chances are good that you’ll have to revise any long-term projections you do make. Instead of taking a strictly by-the-numbers approach to hiring and staffing, assume — know — that, as long as you continue to execute, your company is going to grow into its hiring.

In other words, go big early. If you hire the right sorts of people and make sure they feel welcome, you’ll have no trouble absorbing them.

Make the Right Hires

What do “the right sorts of people” look like? The answer varies by organization, of course, but a few archetypes in particular are likely to serve you well:

  • Entrepreneurs: These folks are a lot like you — smart, driven and just a tad myopic. They’re willing to think outside the box, implement creative solutions and (perhaps most importantly) fail. As your organization scales, install these types as team leads, senior managers and boardroom-dwellers.
  • Go-getters: These people are passionate about your organization and its success. They’re willing to come in early, stay late, work weekends — whatever you need to get it done. They’ll happily work for equity, too, which makes them cheaper to attract and retain (at least at first).
  • Fast learners: As your company grows, the demands its employees face are likely to change many times over. Seek out generalists who already know a little about a lot and demonstrate a willingness and aptitude to learn new skills in a hurry.

Welcome New Ideas

As upstarts evolve into market leaders, they often ease back into — and eventually rest on entirely — their laurels. Don’t let this happen to your company. Even after you’re an established player in your field, make sure you’re hiring and promoting folks on their basis of their ability to surprise and engage you. Never accept a yes-man or -woman when you can turn to a fearless iconoclast who isn’t afraid to tell her superiors what they don’t know.

Encourage Internal Collaboration, Not Competition

As organizations grow, they tend to become more complex. That’s understandable and, to an extent, unavoidable. To reduce the negative aspects of operational complexity, take steps to promote teamwork, collaboration and cross-departmental idea-sharing. You can do this by:

  • Holding frequent whole-company meetings, with non-HQ employees Skyping in
  • Schedule lots of extracurricular programming — happy hours, sporting events, retreats, volunteering sessions — and pair teams or individuals with people they rarely interact with at work
  • Schedule inter-departmental “pitch days,” where teams present what they’ve been working on with coworkers in other parts of the building

In other words, break down the barriers that hinder communication between disparate divisions and teams — or, better yet, prevent them from being built in the first place.

Planning Makes Perfect

Starting a business involves a lot of legwork. Even the most organized entrepreneurs are bound to find themselves stretched thin at points. Like any stressful situation, there’s no way to know exactly how you’ll react when faced with a crushing order backlog, impossible deadlines, or the general pressure of a company that feels like it’s rapidly spinning out of your control.

Still, you’re more likely to meet these challenges — and come out personally and professionally stronger — if you put a comprehensive plan in place well before you’re faced with a do-or-die moment.

It might not be wise to count your chickens before they hatch; even the most numbers-oriented business owners abhor a jinx. But the alternative — falling before you’ve ever really taken flight — is much worse.