There’s a really wrong idea out there called “got too big” or “grew too fast.”
What usually happens is that awesome people work hard at a smart idea and succeed. They grow. There’s more money and more winning and more orders and more people. It’s awesome.
And then one day they cross some mysterious line and suddenly there are mostly more problems. They work hard but no matter how hard they work they can’t seem to get caught up. Things start to slip. Important balls get dropped. Good people act dumb. Bad people act out.
Work starts being less fun and more work.
Success, it seems, kind of sucks.
People look at them and SAY they “got too big” or “grew too fast.”
People are wrong.
Three inches of snow in Chicago is no big deal. Three inches of snow in Atlanta can shut down the city for days.
Atlanta shuts down because Atlanta doesn't have snowplows or salt. People who live in Atlanta mostly don't have the right tires, they're not trained to drive in snow and ice.
But when a storm hits Atlanta all anyone will talk about is how big the storm was and how fast the snow fell.
THE SNOW IS NOT THE PROBLEM.
The problem with growth is not size or speed.
The problem is that you’ve outgrown your infrastructure and probably don’t have the training to recognize it or the management skills to deal with it. So your managers run around fighting more and more fires, having longer and longer meetings but they still can’t keep up.
The problem is that size compounds, making every existing problem worse and harder. Small issues with making decisions or managing money, any holes in your management team, and ALL of your people problems will feed on the chaos, grow and multiply like Gremlins after midnight. Things can get out of control fast.
The problem is that what you’ve done in the past to fix things won’t work. You can’t solve these issues by working harder or hiring more people. Your business looks a lot like it always has, but it doesn’t work the same way anymore. You’re playing a different game with very different rules. It’s like going from playing baseball to playing football. If you try to play by the old rules people will get hit and people will get hurt.
The good news is that this problem isn’t new and it isn’t impossible. It’s not an easy fix or a simple one, but there is a way.
I call it THE MACHINE.
The MACHINE is a nickname for the collective impact of all your efforts in three critical areas:
1) INFRASTRUCTURE: Systems and processes sometimes get confused with rules and policies, which most people hate. It’s more useful to think of infrastructure like roads and traffic lights and teaching people how to drive. You need some basic order. Without it, you’ll find yourself basically playing a very ugly, very frustrating, very confusing, very EXPENSIVE game of high speed bumper cars. You need the SYSTEMS and PROCESSES.
2) MANAGEMENT SKILLS: Forget about vision for a minute. What most leaders really need is tactical leadership skills. If your team doesn’t know how to confront people and delegate, how to keep track of who is doing what, if they can’t run meetings where things actually get done they will create more problems than they could possibly solve. Get your leaders TRAINED.
3) WORK CULTURE: CULTURE is not about fun. It’s not about foosball tables or casual Fridays and it’s damn sure not about birthday cake. Culture is WORK CULTURE. It’s about creating an environment where a lot of good work can get done.
If foosball helps relieve the stress of long days and late nights, get one. But don’t make the mistake of thinking fun is the goal when it’s actually a strategy. Think beyond how a teenager would run things and figure out what kind of behavior and standards help good people do great work and WIN (which is SUPER FUN last time I checked.)
It’s time to shift from solving problems to building structures, from helping people to training them, from keeping people happy to showing them how to WIN. It’s time to build your MACHINE not just so you can survive right now but because building a strong MACHINE is the foundation for building a great organization that can do great work for a long time. It’s worth it.
So get to work.
About the Author: Alecia Huck specializes in working with fast-growth companies who need to learn the block & tackle skills of leadership--the kind of tactical support that it is really hard to win without. Find out more HERE.