Growth: The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly

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It’s a safe bet that if you do a quick internet search on business priorities that increasing topline revenue, improving sales performance, and increasing company value will show up in the top results.  Growth matters.

To misquote Gordon Gekko:  growth is good.

Growth tells us you are meeting a need in the market and customers see value in what you do. Growth gives your team more opportunities and expands your horizons. Investors are happy. If you ever watch ABC’s Shark Tank, you know that history and forecasts of growth are major areas of concern.

But it’s not all rosy. You must be prepared for growth and have realistic expectations.

Growing your company may require capital or decreased profitability while you invest in the future.

Your team may need to find newer, better ways to accomplish their tasks to be more efficient and maintain profitability. What got you here may not support you at the next level.

The company may outgrow the capacity and capabilities of its employees. This is especially true of leaders as the company moves from an idea to a company to a professionally-managed firm.

Strong leaders can navigate these obstacles by taking a long-term approach and making tough decisions at the right time.  You must be prepared to protect the business.

However, there are two challenges of growth that can be devastating if you aren’t intentional about protecting them:  maintaining culture and customer satisfaction.

Customer satisfaction is obvious. You won’t stay in business if your level of service drops. Customers have other choices.  Can you maintain your current level of satisfaction while adding more customers?

Culture, however, is easy to ignore if you aren’t intentional. Rapid growth may mean rapid expansion of your team. Hiring strategies must include finding new team members who embrace your values.  Leaders must work harder to model, foster, and communicate values as the team gets larger.  “Culture eats strategy.”

Growth is vital, but exceeding your ability to absorb growth is dangerous.

Lessons from a reality show

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I’ll admit I’m a fan of survival reality shows like Survivorman and Naked and Afraid.  These shows are entertaining to watch and you can learn lessons from them too.  I find The History Channel’s Alone to be one of the more engaging ones.  The contestants aren’t just fighting the elements for their survival – they do it by themselves.

If you aren’t familiar with this show, individuals are put in remote locations where they will have no contact with any other humans.  They are allowed a limited number of survival items including a satellite phone so they can tap out.  They must find food and build shelter.  The last one remaining wins.

Having watched several seasons, there are lessons that the survivalists learn that apply in our businesses too:

Priorities matter.  Survival means finding food sources, having fire, and building a shelter.  Most contestants begin with either building a fire or creating a rudimentary shelter.  They know that when the evening comes these will be the two most important items they need.  Catching food, exploring the area, and other things are important but they must do what’s most important first.  Otherwise, their ability to remain in the contest is quickly diminished.  They can’t do it all at once, which leads to the closely-relates lesson of…

Pace yourself.  One of the first lessons that the contestant learn is to pace yourself.  Survival isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon.  One Day 1, everyone is full of energy and excitement, but reality kicks in as soon as they are dropped off.  These men and women are in it for the long haul.  Sustainable food supplies and a warm, dry, secure shelter are paramount.  With limited tools and possibly small amounts of food, they can’t operate at 100% every day to secure those needs.  They pace themselves so they have the energy and resources to reach their long-term goal.

Adapt.  The contestants, like many of us, may catch a lot of fish one day and none in the same spot for days after.  Long rainy days may limit what they can do outside their shelter so they do what they can inside.  As the weather changes, a warmer shelter may be needed.  The survivalists change their tactics when the environment or the situation changes.  They stop doing what doesn’t work.  Doing the same thing when it no longer serves their purpose or meets their needs is a poor survival strategy.

Going it alone is difficult.  The emotional toll of being alone wears on the contestants.  Their video diaries show the emotional and mental battles they wage in addition to fighting the elements and nature.  Many of the contestant drop out for emotional reasons rather than physical ones.

Entrepreneurs and business executives face the same challenges.  We must prioritize what’s important and ensure it gets done above all other things.  We can’t run ourselves or our teams hard too long without time to recreate and regenerate.  We have to change our tactics, services, and markets to stay relevant.  And we need others – both internally and externally –  to help us shoulder the burden of leadership.

Why? Why not?

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These may be the two most important – and least-asked – questions.  “Why?” makes you think about purpose.  “Why not?” opens you up to new possibilities.

Let’s start with why. The answer to this question identifies the reason behind a decision or an action.   It is purpose.  Motivation.

If you are making sound decision, your why for anything you do is based on your values, your passion, and your goals.  A trifecta of motivation.  The reason for doing something is due to your strong belief that it is right and good to do based on what is important to you, and it helps you reach an objective or milestone.

In business, why has huge implications.  Every action your team performs, every product or service you sell, and every decision you make should move you toward your goals and be in line with your values and purpose.  If not, you are wasting both time and resources.  Can you afford to do something simply because you’ve always done it that way without considering a new approach?  Should you even be doing it at all?

Of course, to answer these questions you must know your purpose, values, and goals.  Not in some vague way but with specificity and clarity.  If you can’t do that, this is your starting point.

Let’s move to why not.  Asking this question forces you to consider new ways of doing things.  It gives you freedom to think of alternatives, to try new methods, to reinvigorate your team, to reach your goals faster.  It helps you stay relevant.  It allows you to dream and try new things.

Why not keeps you from becoming stagnant, stuck in the same place.  Markets, customers, technology, and trends are always changing, and your business must adapt.  You must find new ways to be more efficient and effective.  You must reach new customers.  You must stretch yourself and your team.

Author Louise Penny says, “Life is change.  If you aren’t growing and evolving, you’re standing still, and the rest of the world is surging ahead.”  Asking “why not?” can be scary but it is necessary.

When you do consider new options, your why and your why not must be in alignment and compliment each other.  In other words, your new possibilities should reflect your passion and goals.

I encourage you to take the time to reflect on your why and consider your why not.