We’ve all heard stories of meteoric growth from companies like Shake Shack, Uber and Slack. And while many of these stories serve as inspiration for entrepreneurs and leaders at all levels, the reality of navigating a company through rapid growth never plays out as smoothly as these stories would have you believe.
Anyone who’s ever been a part of a rapidly growing organization can tell you that it presents many unique challenges not found in other organizational contexts. These challenges can test the mettle of team members and put mounting pressures on a system that is evolving quickly to try to keep pace with the ever-changing situation.
Members of rapid-growth companies can often find themselves left wanting when the cadence of the organization outpaces their sense of identity and values. Immature systems and processes, increasing complexity, a lack of alignment across stakeholders and an inability to maintain focus on what’s most important to the next stage of growth are just some of the challenges and risks that can stunt a company’s ability to sustain growth.
Those organizations that are best able to clearly articulate and preserve the essence of what has made them successful are those that tend to outperform and outlast their competition in times like this.
This is not to suggest that business leaders should seek to preserve the way things have been at all costs. Quite the contrary, in fact. These rapidly growing organizations must be able to evolve to meet the changing demands of the market. This often means clearly identifying and engaging in honest assessment around what may need to evolve or possibly even be left in the corporate museum in order to facilitate success and continued growth in the new operating environment.
You must be able to shed your skin—evolve into a better version of your current company—in order to successfully grow while preserving what made you great in the first place.
So how do rapidly growing organizations preserve those key factors that make them what they are?
How to Preserve What Makes You Great While You Grow
Here are five ways to lead your organization through the growing pains, while keeping its essence intact:
- Get clear about who you are, what you stand for and how you’re different. Establishing a clear sense of your collective non-negotiables will help people hold onto what’s most important and help guide their decision-making when times get tough and the water gets murky. Everything under the sun can’t be non-negotiable so be selective about what will define your organization at its core.
- Engage your stakeholders (all of them) in a continuous dialogue of actively engaging around these fundamental values so they have a clear understanding and alignment of purpose can occur in a natural way. It takes real face-to-face engagement with live people to really embed these core principles throughout an organization. An email won’t do it. Thirty emails won’t do it. Get out there and actively engage your people by looking them in the eye and engaging in a two-day dialogue about what’s most important and why.
- Ensure your business strategy clearly links to these non-negotiables in ways that help employees see how their day-to-day activities link to the bigger picture. The better people understand the core, foundational elements that make up your organization the more prepared they’ll be to carry on when things get tough. Understanding the mission, the values, and how they contribute to the bigger picture helps drive clarity during the storm.
- Don’t go all in with everything. While some core values are so fundamental that they will act as a north star for your organization despite changes in the market, companies must also learn to put temporary value in certain things in order to focus attention where its needed most to thrive. For example, an organization may need to laser-focus on evolving and perfecting processes in order to set a firm foundation for continued scaling but this doesn’t mean that they can’t switch their attention to another area down the road as they continue to evolve. Going all in on certain things can leave you with blind spots that can spell the end for you if you’re not careful.
- Don’t be too proud to admit when you’re wrong. It takes a courageous leader to admit that they made the wrong call and to lead their organizations in a new direction. This is not uncommon in rapidly growing organizations. Bad news doesn’t get better with age and neither do bad decisions. Correcting quickly and adjusting fire can be painful but it’s a fact of life that leaders must get used to.
Every few months in a rapidly growing company can almost feel like working at a completely different place. Growth can certainly generate a great deal of excitement and opportunity. But, if you’re not careful to take the time to set a firm foundation of principles that guide you and your team when times get tough, it could spell disaster. Or at least make your growth path much more uncomfortable than it needs to be.
Take the time to bring people into the fold by provided them opportunities to actively engage in discussion about what’s most important as a company. They, in turn, will be able to carry on and make effective decisions in the nebulous environment that is rapid growth.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.
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