This is a series that I feel prompted to blog about for a few weeks. On this website, we will talk about organizational elephants, and on micheleaikens.com, we will talk about personal elephants.
It is a wonderful, skydiving-type sensation to start a new endeavor. There’s the challenge of wondering, “Can we actually do this?”, to learning how resourceful your team is, 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 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 blunders, sleepless nights and 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 our 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, that big hit could bankrupt the label. In launching, we must allow time, space, and organizational 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 strong position for granted as you pursue other growth opportunities could cause you to forfeit your unique organizational standing.
· 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, those deputies help free you to do what is most important for the health of the organization 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 address the elephant in the room that might be uncomfortable for you to face. You may decide to pull back from some things and re-direct your focus to what is best for your customers. The pain of growth doesn't always mean you have done something wrong, but it can teach you the right way to expand and insure the long-term vitality of your organization.
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.