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  • Writer's pictureTammy Pham

From Start-Up to Grown-Up: Managing the Evolution of Sustainable Growth

Updated: Nov 28, 2019

Without the formalized structure and bureaucracies of a developed organization, teams with a "start up mentality" are usually empowered to utilize their talents to think outside of the box. This may be deceiving though - because while the financial growth of the company may seem great, the deception is the increased risk of growing the company without a strategy or clear direction. In my experience, this can lead to improper decision making (i.e.: being more reactive than proactive).

So at what point does the “laissez-faire” attitude for running a company become detrimental to growth? And what are some common mistakes companies make that impede sustainability?

When “laissez-faire” becomes detrimental to growth...

The “laissez-faire” methodology to propel the growth of a company is positive until the trade off between growth and management is offset. Without proper strategic planning, as the company continues to grow… so does the mismanagement of operations. When operations are mismanaged, financial and human resource capital are negatively impacted and overtime becomes increasingly detrimental to long term growth. If you’re experiencing any of these issues, most likely the company has created a few mistakes that impedes growing sustainably:

  • Project deadlines are often missed or late

  • Issues with human resource capital such as resource capacity constraints

  • Issues with operations namely time management amongst and between teams

  • Major talent gaps amongst and between teams

  • Lack of talent management

  • Low engagement

To avoid this from happening, management should pay attention to the growth stage and the importance of decision making accordingly. Growth can be described in 3 stages: driving, working, and maintaining.

Stage 1 - Driving Growth

In this stage, management should support and adopt the “start up” mentality by unlocking the bureaucracies and empowering staff to propel the company forward. However, it is still critical for management to identify the growth strategy early on. This way management can be ruthless in decision making. With nothing to lose, staying true to the strategy is easier - if it doesn’t fit with the strategy, don’t do it. This will help drive business development while still staying on course with the overall long term direction of the company.

Stage 2 - Working uphill but avoid the hamster wheel

In this stage, growth is happening but has not reached its peak. During this stage, it is important to continue to propel growth without too many organizational constraints. However, it is also in this stage that prudent decision making may increasingly become difficult. As more business opportunities arise, the temptation to make a decision based solely on revenue could also increase. The issue overtime with repeatedly making decisions based solely on revenue only creates the illusion of success when in fact the company is now caught “working the hamster wheel”. In doing so, the company has fallen victim to short term gains without proper long term assurance. Therefore, during this stage, it is critical for management to frequently revisit the growth strategy to ensure decisions align to the overall direction and vision of the company. Additionally, during this stage strategic planning and execution should be prioritized and implemented in parallel to the growth strategy. This will help ensure that growth is supported from an operational perspective as the company continues to expand.

Stage 3 - Maintaining the growth velocity

During this stage growth continues at a healthy rate and management should be more focused on long term objectives. By this stage, the company should have a developed system in place to plan, implement, and execute the strategies to maintain the growth velocity.

What are some common mistakes companies make that impede sustainability?

They say hindsight is 20/20 and in retrospect, the biggest and most common mistakes companies make that impede long term growth are:

Mistake #1: Starting with no vision or intention

A mentor once told me to “begin with the end in mind” and this advice has helped drive my career and success in many ways. Similarly, companies that start with a clear vision are more likely to succeed because a clear vision creates conviction in how the company will effectively accomplish their long term goals. Implications with not having a clear vision in stage 1 of growth include:

  • Ineffective decision making

  • Ineffective financial controls (i.e.: increase in financial losses) as a direct result of poor decision making

How to avoid this situation?

  • Clearly identify objectives for each growth stage and pivot the strategy where necessary but always start with a clear vision.

  • Stay committed to making decisions that align to the overall vision of the company to avoid making short sighted decisions.

Mistake #2: Creating lynch pins

When you have great talent, it is hard not to rely on their skills. However, if not careful, too much dependency on specific resources creates long term dependency that is detrimental to growth. Some common implications caused by resource lynch pins are:

  • Increase in staff burnout

  • Decrease in flexibility in resource capital

  • Negative impacts on talent management either because there is no plan to train potential ‘A’ players into ‘A’ positions; or no opportunity for ‘A’ players to grow either personally or professional (i.e.: pigeon-holed doing what they do best)

How to avoid this situation?

  • Regardless of the position (from A to C players), always have a back-up in place and back-ups should be paired accordingly based on skill level.

  • Don’t keep great talent in the same role for more than 2 years without a talent management plan. This reduces dependency and closes the talent gap between players. Additionally, having a talent management plan in place ensures staff are motivated to grow with the company.

  • Always dedicate time on a regular basis to knowledge share amongst the team. This not only decreases the risk of creating resource lynch pins but also increases engagement.

Mistake #3: Creating resource waste

When the trade off between growth and the organization of operations is offset, what tends to happen is resources have to wear “many hats” - particularly for the key players within the company. This creates resource waste because you are not using the right resource for the right reasons. Often times, executive and senior management are not focused on growth and development but rather bogged down with day to day operations. Some common implications caused by resource waste are:

  • Inability to effectively plan and strategize which perpetuates the mismanagement of operations

  • Increase in staff burnout

  • Perpetuating the issue by creating resource lynch pins

How to avoid this situation?

  • Be clear with objectives - Identify early on what the transitional growth peak is (i.e.: financial break-even point or a specific amount for ROI). By identifying this earlier on, the team clearly knows when to transition from the ‘start up mentality’ to long term strategic planning.

  • Once the transitional growth peak is met, set up consistent strategy meetings to identify key issues and objectives. This helps align the organization on goals and creates the space to ensure the executive team is still focused on propelling the company forward in a smart and sustainable way.

  • Prioritize strategic planning no matter what. Business happens fast but when strategic planning isn’t a priority, it can easily fall off the wayside. Once growth has reached a positive point (i.e.: perhaps break even point has been reached), set up strategic meetings where the executive team identifies key issues and objectives.


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