Updated: Sep 22
It is a wonderful, skydiving-type sensation to start a new endeavor. There’s the challenge of wondering, “Can I actually do this?”, to learning how resourceful you are, to seeing the first buds of what you have been working on. For some, it seems almost magical how the pieces and people fall into place. For others, the process is more arduous, but after a lot of hard work, you see progress. The business is growing. The non-profit is making headway. The book is almost finished. The clients are coming.
And then the unexpected happens: a worldwide pandemic hits (remember when that was science fiction stuff?), supply-chain issues slow production, funding to pursue a vital initiative dries up, writer’s block sets in with a vengeance, the part of your business you were known for becomes mired in bureaucracy, or for these or no apparent reason, the phone stops ringing. You look around and realize you are doing everything you have always done, but it’s not working anymore. What’s going on?
Could you be experiencing growing pains? According to Yoco.com, “Very few entrepreneurs are open about the fact that their trajectory from a one-person operation to a team of twenty was riddled with false starts, costly blunders, and more than a few sleepless nights.” Nobody is talking about it but we all have them -- the sleepless nights and the growing pains.
Growing pains, in its simplest definition means the pain of growth. Just like shoes that are too small won’t accommodate your feet, an organizational system that can’t accommodate growth gets painful. You can relieve the hurt from a too-tight shoe by getting a larger size. You can relieve the pains of growth by identifying the source of the pain, and making room for what is needed.
I worked for a media company some time ago, and the head of the music division said something that I use all the time with leaders:
“The worst thing that can happen to a small record label is to have a big hit.”
Bernie McLean said this as we were watching the growth of our companies. If a big hit comes before the label can pay the production and related costs of a big hit, that big hit could bankrupt the label. In launching, we must allow time, space, and mental capacity for growth. Here are four things you can do to accommodate the “pain” of growth:
· Make sure you continue to do what your customers value the most. If you have developed a unique market position because of something you do exceptionally well, make sure you keep that position strong. Taking your position for granted could cause you to get lax as you pursue other growth opportunities.
· Hire help when finances allow. According to Forbes hiring a senior deputy or two to be your surrogate in times of crisis can help build a company of employees who feel more invested in your vision. And of course, that help frees you to do what is most important instead of fighting "little fires everywhere".
· Don’t be afraid to look head on at “what hurts.” Is the growing pain coming from inadequate organizational systems? Are there obvious conflicts between your mission, company values, and operations? Can you sit with your team and courageously explore the pain together? You can change what isn’t working to accommodate what you need, but that requires the bravery to admit you might have missed something in the flurry of corporate growth.
· Anticipate what your customers will need five years from now, today. Talk with your customers about their business today and their five-year plans. How does your organization need to grow so that you can meet their needs now and in the future?
Learning from your growing pains, instead of avoiding them will give you the opportunity to position yourself for success like few things can. The pain of growth doesn't always mean you have done something wrong, but that pain can teach you what is right for the future.
Michele Aikens is CEO and Lead Coach of Sepia Prime Communications & Coaching. Our Re-Writing The Script Team Coaching program can help your team navigate those growth pains and develop strategies for your next moves. If you want to know more, you can email her here.