Your business has grown. What once was a small office of 10 people has expanded to 200, and with that comes a whole lot of adjusting. While growth is great, not everything is sunshine and roses. We call these tough adjustments “growing pains,” and they can throw your business way off its trajectory if you aren’t prepared to face them.
What Are Growing Pains In Business?
Remember going through growth spurts as a child? The too-short pant legs were embarrassing, but the achy limbs and joints made it miserable. Just like when you were 10 years old, your business can experience growing pains when it’s scaling too fast.
A business may face these challenges when change comes a-knockin’:
- Reduced morale
- Unclear priorities
- A decrease in productivity
- A lack of camaraderie
- Siloed departments and individuals
Growing pains are inevitable, especially when a business is facing rapid growth. Sudden changes across your organization can lead to discomfort, uncertainty, and tension. How your business tackles this makes a difference between a couple of bumps in the road or an entire roadblock.
Ways To Manage Growing Pains
Change can be scary! When your team grows from one employee to 30 overnight, it can be downright overwhelming. Take a deep breath, a big stretch, and then build a plan. A few easy steps can help guide you as you adjust to your growing team.
Build A Direct Strategy
Your scrappy startup can’t stay that way—it requires a whole lot of planning and organizing to grow to a small business and then to an enterprise. Your strategy should reflect that, from operations to personnel.
Start with the good ‘ole SWOT analysis. What are your business’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats? Outline what will be helpful or harmful to your business. Then make a long-term plan that anticipates both downturns and successes.
From that analysis, start building out objectives and key results (OKRs). OKRs are an efficient way to parse out your goals into “what” and “how.” The “what” is your objective, or goal. Let’s say you want to increase your business revenue in the next quarter—that’s your objective. Your “how” is your key result: the quantitative benchmarks you’re aiming to achieve. You’ll probably want to increase leads by 150%, increase cart price by 30%, and increase revenue by 80%. Now you have measurable goals that you can track.
Then… sprint! Take some lessons from agile project management. Set a hard deadline for the tasks you’ve designated in your OKRs. Organization-wide, everyone should agree on the work to be done and the deadline. Having everyone work on the same objectives in the same frame of time helps build team-wide cohesion, no matter how big that team is.
Open Channels Of Communication
Zoom, face-to-face meetings, phone calls, text, Slack… the methods of communication are endless. But that doesn’t mean your employees are communicating. Fostering open and honest discussion in your company goes a long way. If your team members are going to work together, they have to learn how to do so efficiently. It’s up to you and your leadership to make that happen.
First: find ways to build cross-functional collaboration. Your sales and marketing team likely already meet once a month, but do they ever meet with engineering? Keeping camaraderie across your departments ensures they will work well together as they grow. Even if engineering only meets marketing once a month, the information flows more freely. This lets engineering tell marketing about a new product development they can advertise and gives sales a chance to tell engineering all about the pain points customers are facing. Once that channel of communication is open, it will stay open. That becomes an incredible resource your company will benefit from long-term.
Whether you practice radical candor or mum’s the word in your office, it’s important to get people talking about the not-so-fun things. Train your managers to go in-depth in their 1:1s, asking the hard questions like “what did you struggle with this week?” and “what kind of work do you want to do less of?” to identify the real sticking points and see what you can address.
Sometimes a push from management can be too stressful—as workers, we’re inclined not to blindly trust our bosses. And that’s okay! Supplement your hands-on management with a comprehensive HR solution. Platforms like 15Five and BetterWorks allow your employees to provide feedback without the fear factor. The important part is asking those questions and getting honest feedback.
Give Away Your Legos
Let’s tap back into your inner child. Molly Graham knows a thing or two about scaling businesses, from Google to Facebook to Lambda School. She gives the advice to “give away your Legos,” which, in her example, are the different pieces of your job.
In the early stages of your business, you use your own set of Legos, building a tower of work as you go. When you start to scale, others are building around you, and your instinct may be to grab onto your Legos—all the tasks and responsibilities that you managed before you scaled. But that’s not sustainable work.
Graham says you need to learn to share the work as more people join your team. By handing over that work to others, you free yourself up to tackle the next project. And you give the newcomers a chance to build something even bigger and better. “It means trusting other people with something you care about,” Graham says.
And trust goes a long way beyond those building blocks. Empowering your team to make their own decisions and build their own towers helps them come up with new ideas and thrive on their own. That autonomy—and the lack of micromanagement—is what your business needs to succeed while scaling.
Grow, Baby, Grow!
One thing about growth spurts remains true: if you stretch, rest, and prepare, the pains aren’t so bad. Every rapidly scaling business should remember that. Preparing for change before it happens is key to managing it. Even if you can’t see it coming, packing a toolkit that you can unleash when you suddenly scale will help reduce those pains when they hit. Once you get through, your team will look a whole lot taller—and the growth will astound you.
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