Managing Growth

This post comes from a question I responded to yesterday as a panelist at a CEO conference in NYC.  The audience, all CEO’s of PE funded growth companies, asked “what tips do you have for managing acceleration of growth”.  I preface my comments below with that introduction as they didn’t need me to tell them how to find “growth” — they were focused on the “acceleration” part of the question.

I offered three suggestions:

1) Know what you suck at and do less of this.  Working on things you suck at takes more time and more energy — as a person and as an organization — energy that could, and should, be spent on growth initiatives.   All growth companies (and their executives) have a pretty good handle on what they’re great at — what they spend a lot less time on is understanding what they’re not just not great at — but what they really suck at!  Things that we need to do, or get hauntingly drawn into doing by our own perverted sense of necessity or duty, but that at the end of the day we’re just plain lousy at.

Study yourself and your company and identify these things (long meetings, committing things to writing, managing deeply valued but seriously flawed employees, designing product packaging, documenting sales calls, nurturing R&D ideas — they vary widely but they all slow us down and drain valuable time and attention that we can and should be spending elsewhere.  For example — if your company doesn’t have the patience (or temperament or interest) to nurture small tangential but potentially very important R&D projects — either outsource these, or find other companies that have already done similar work and are ahead of you.  Partner/acquire them instead of trying to grind it out yourself when you already know its something you “suck” at.

Once you figure these out, you personally and everyone else organizationally, must be “eyes up” and just stop doing them — behave differently, organize differently, outsource, find partners, whatever.  Sucking at stuff slows you down.  And PS:  We all suck at some things — even you!

2) Focus on eliminating dysfunction.  Rapid growth creates chaos — and there’s good chaos and bad chaos.  Inventive, spontaneous customer service is good chaos (at least for a while) whereas having 14 ways to get an expense report reimbursed is always bad chaos.  As the leader, learn to spot the difference and celebrate the good chaos while relentlessly eliminating the bad.

One of your big contributions as the leader of a rapid growth company is making the wheels go round and round faster.   Taking friction out of the system and reducing unnecessary non-value adding behaviors and activities helps clear the decks for more success and focus on growth initiatives.  It also signals other important things to your team — like challenging the status quo when you outgrow what you “used to do”.

3) Develop (and communicate) metrics for measuring “winning and losing” not just “wins and losses.”  Think about it — when you’re building a high growth DNA the natural tendency is to focus on “outcomes” like wins and losses.  Revenue growth, new customers, cash collected — all good stuff but all the result of an effort, not the measurement of the effort build itself.

As you’re building growth you need momentum metrics more than outcome metrics — stuff that tells you you’re making progress building the things that help make you great.  For example, don’t just measure revenue dollars on a new product — measure (and report) things like days to build, errors found and fixed during beta, # of prospects currently testing — milestones you have to pass before you can actually achieve a “win”.  Learn to measure and celebrate the journey if you want to speed things up.

These will change by department/functional area and over time — but these scorecards are measuring the performance intervals that are vital to high growth outcomes.

Here’s to growth — Cheers!  DC

About dougcurling

a compassionate capitalist
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