Rapid business growth can be an incredibly exciting experience. It also usually tends to be VERY overwhelming for the business, its leaders and its employees.
If you want your business to maintain its growth AND be successful (of course you do!) it’s critical to get out in front of the typical potential challenges that accompany rapid business acceleration.
The first step all leaders must take is to realize that the way you’ve always done things at your organization simply won’t cut it anymore.
Imagine if your small company grows by, say, 120 percent — the average first-year growth for startups according to EQUIDAM. That means your current number of employees has probably more than doubled. Now, think about how your business currently runs.
Do you really think if you continue with your status quo that your business will continue to grow, and your employees will continue being happy? That everything will pleasantly stay the same and you don’t have to change anything?
It’d be great if that was the case, and if so, you should definitely share your secrets with the world. The hard truth is that scenario rarely happens.
Here’s a perfect example:
I had a call recently with a company experiencing a multitude of challenges due to their fast growth.
In this organization, many people had been catapulted into their first manager roles, out of necessity. This created many challenges for the individual managers as well as team members who didn’t feel they are getting what they need.
On top of that, new departments have been established, and silos are being formed because the communication channels are not clear. The employees, and even the leaders, began to think project-to-project and lost sight of the larger organizational outlook.
The company reorganized earlier this year to try to address these communication issues (which has helped in some areas), but they're still experiencing siloed structures where people are sitting right next to each other and still aren't collaborating the way they should.
Their biggest goal for bringing Fierce into the organization was to start breaking down some of the psychological walls that have been built due to landscape that was created from their rapid change.
When new teams or departments form, there's a risk of silos forming that didn't exist prior to the business’ growth. Methods of communication may also need to shift, via:
What worked before may no longer be efficient or effective in an environment where expansion is happening quickly. Conversations between certain people or teams may need to happen now (if they're newly formed), or more often.
Quick expansions can also, unfortunately, create psychological walls that negatively impact culture. The important aspect to remember is that tackling this issue is not just an issue reserved only for HR.
When communication suffers, so does the cultural health of the company, and it affects everyone. This can include lack of clarity around roles, frequent miscommunication, and decision making without collaboration.
When the conversations that need to happen aren't happening, it leads to silos and separation that have a negative impact on culture.
As the company grows, leaders will need to develop the conversation skills needed to effectively manage the evolving needs of their teams and the organization. What we see often are internal promotions that are based on tenure, but many of these leaders being promoted don't have the training or the skills to manage other people.
If you don't have a strategy to accommodate the expansion of your company, it's not a matter of if, but rather when and how it will cause problems for your organization. The more you grow, the more your problems will, too. Bottom line, you need a plan.
Fortunately, the problems many companies face in the midst of rapid growth can be remedied, and your organization doesn't have to go to the dark side. Here are some steps you can take:
One way you can assist in this process whether you're a leader or individual contributor, is to offer feedback in the moment. If, for example, a current method of communication isn't working, provide an idea for a better method. If something you see is working or you're happy with a recent change, offer praise for reinforcement.
If you or one of your team members are struggling with feedback, keep this in mind: More than 75 percent of employees believe that feedback is an incredibly valuable tool, according to PwC. That said, only 30 percent of people say they receive feedback...that’s a huge disconnect.
Feedback is an opportunity to see what we may not see, and a single conversation may be what saves your organization from chaos during this time of change. We recommend training and practicing what great feedback looks like.
If there's currently no way of taking a company pulse or team diagnostic, that's a BIG problem. It's important to know what people are thinking and feeling, and to find out, you must seek regular input and feedback.
Sending out short surveys on a regular basis will help you determine the health of your culture and overall employee satisfaction.
Pulses will also help prevent "fires" via Glassdoor and the "dumping" of harsh truths during exit interviews. If employees don't feel comfortable expressing themselves in the workplace, they will express themselves elsewhere or during an inopportune time, and it's not always pretty. The question to ask is, how can we have these conversations sooner?
The most honest, transparent cultures where there's a sense of psychological safety and trust address this question by communicating directly to employees. "We want to know what you think!" And, we want to offer avenues where you are able to share your thoughts honestly without fear of retaliation.
Keep in mind that there is some grain of truth in the feedback contained in pulses and surveys — AND be sure to take concerns to heart and put solutions in place as quickly as possible to address them.
Again, this is not just an HR issue. To implement solutions, leaders have to buy-in, as well as be informed and on the same page. This will require conversations to set intentions and next steps.
When companies need strong leaders to help navigate change, they may need the help of an external program to train leaders in how to do this. Our clients bring in Fierce because their leaders need to know how to coach, give feedback, and have confrontational conversations.
Training is also a great tool to help you avoid an important tipping point in your organization. For example, another organization I spoke with recently felt they had no choice but to fire one of its employees. They didn't want to do this, but at the time, they didn't see any other solution.
Consequently, it created a negative atmosphere within the company and was cancerous to the entire team. Bad culture move. And training could've prevented the entire situation from happening because employees would have had the communication skills to tackle these negative issues before they snowballed.
If your company is in the process of rapid growth, I can't stress this enough: take action now rather than later.
It's harder to create new pathways once bad cultural habits have formed. You have a chance RIGHT NOW to shift your culture in a positive direction now and prevent an unfortunate cultural catastrophe down the road.
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