I am immersed in a world of hyper-growth. All hyper-growth companies struggle with the unrelenting demands of rapid scale. There is no smooth sailing when your company is doubling, tripling, or quadrupling in size each year.
However, some companies make it through hyper-growth and come out stronger, while others fall apart, unable to cross the chasm of such a massive and rapid change. While each company does have its own unique magic, there are at least five keys to success during the hyper-growth stage.
Stop holding back and start investing.
This is the time to buy or lease systems that do more than you need them to do, because they’ve been designed for the size you’ll be in two or more years. It’s time to take all of that grey-market equipment to the e-cycling bin and replace it with supportable, high quality products. It may seem like over-engineering, but you have to put in place today what you’ll need in the future, not just scramble to keep up with current demands.
And, no surprise coming from me, it’s time to stop throwing people into leadership roles hoping that they’ll just catch on, and instead, start investing in conscious, strategic development of leaders at all levels. Then expect these leaders to focus on developing their teams and supporting the career development of individuals.
All of the hacking, the improvising, the “just figure it out” approach to development, and extreme resourcefulness that made you successful so far will kill you if you try to keep it up as you rapidly scale. You have to make a shift in what you value and reward in order help your hardworking employees ride the tidal wave of hyper-growth.
Hire for the future.
Just building the leaders you already have isn’t enough, though. Successful hyper-growing companies also hire leaders at all levels who’ve already been very successful doing what they do at the scale you expect to reach in the coming years.
Hyper-growth is its own animal. Leaders who have never done it bring a lot of risk to your company. That risk is fine in the founders and employees who’ve brought you this far, and who will continue to add enormous value, but you need to add the experience of people who have led a much bigger team through the unrelenting challenges of hyper-growth.
Headcount is one way to look at it. If your engineering headcount is at 400, for example, look for leaders who’ve successfully grown their collective functions to 1200 or more.
You may be accustomed to valuing people who fit the classic entrepreneurial profile, but once you head toward and beyond four figures in headcount (regardless of valuation), you will need a more diverse and seasoned workforce and leadership.
Be very clear on your values, and task everyone with living the values day-to-day.
Your values drive your culture. Much of your culture can be retained despite the massive level of change you’re going through. Day-to-day processes will change, access to founders and popular leaders will change, level of individual involvement in decisions will change. A whole lot will be different.
However, despite all of this change, if you reward people for living and breathing the values, and hold yourself strictly accountable for doing the same, you will maintain a great deal of the cultural magic unique to your company. Values drive behavior and behavior drives culture. Don’t focus on your culture. Focus on the behaviors that embody your values, and the culture will be maintained without additional special programs or initiatives.
Ultimately, the senior leaders of the company are the only people who can own full responsibility for maintaining the culture. Consultants can all provide guidance on how to maintain it, but the ownership rests with the senior leaders. This includes the founders, but is not limited to them.
Massively ramp up the effort you put into strategic alignment.
It takes exponentially more effort to keep exponentially more people rowing in the same direction. Now is the time to begin a regular discipline of management off-sites to step back and ensure you’re making the same assumptions, planning for the future, working through your conflicts, and going back out to the organization with a shared message.
This is also a perfect time to consider alternate means of establishing multi-directional communication about strategy. For example, should you be crowdsourcing input on the strategy? How will you ensure robust participation from offices around the globe, if you’ve been accustomed to having nearly everyone in one city? I rarely see hyper-growth without simultaneous globalization, and it is too often treated as an afterthought in the strategic alignment process, to the great detriment of the company.
The need for organizational discipline in strategic alignment applies to all levels of management, not just the E-staff. Every team should be examining how closely their mission and strategy align with the vision, mission, and strategy of the company.
Intentionally have fun.
Many leaders find it fun to work, and work, and work. They really, truly do enjoy it. Is this you? If so, you’ll need to make an intentional and regular habit of encouraging fun, which may not feel very natural. Believe it or not, many people would find your unabashed love of work to be a little strange!
People work incredibly hard during hyper-growth, and often sacrifice time with loved ones to build the company that they believe in. Encouraging them to have fun, and being willing to have a little fun yourself, goes a long way toward avoiding the dreaded employee fear that “we’ll go totally corporate.”
Your people understand that without implementing better systems, tools, and processes, they will have chaos. They know that more structure is necessary. However, the implementation of discipline and repeatable processes does not require the implementation of a 24/7 serious face. Show them your humanity by joining them in having a little fun.
So, what constitutes fun? This varies considerably in different industries, countries, age groups, and even between companies that otherwise appear similar. My guidance is to start by asking your best HR business partner (or generalist, if you don’t have HRBP’s) for input and feedback. Contrary to the common stereotype, your best HR people are not trying to squelch all fun and self-expression. That’s what mediocre HR people do. The best HR pros nurture the fun that everyone enjoys, not just a select few, and have an excellent sense of what will work for your organization.
What have you done to manage hyper-growth? Please share your tips with others in the comments below.