Growing pains are a normal part of growth. Lots of growing pains are part of being a fast-growth company. Assuming you can stop long enough to look around, how do you tell the difference between normal growing pains and something more serious?
There are five common complaints that, together, should tell you that you’re not dealing with a normal problem but a major one.
1. Important stuff is getting missed. The problem might be structural. It could be that priorities aren’t being communicated clearly enough, or are changing too often. Your people may not have a way to keep track of the sheer volume of stuff they need to accomplish. When good people (plural) start missing important things they wouldn’t normally miss, something is wrong.
2. You work more and work longer but the work is never done and you never seem to really get ahead. You’ve always worked hard but now you’re having a hard time staying on top of things and you never feel like you’re really getting ahead. It’s common to find yourself having more meetings that last longer and take up a lot of work time but don’t actually produce much. You may have even added at least one person to your executive or management team only to find it actually seems to make things worse in some ways.
3. There are a LOT of emergencies. Too many emergencies are a sign that your organization lacks stability and predictability. Even in the most chaotic, fast-moving environments, there are things you can and should control. Size destabilizes existing systems which leads to surprises and emergencies that take time away from regular work. This leads to more emergencies, creating a vicious and exhausting cycle. Too many emergencies is one of the most reliable signs that you either need to build systems and process or that you need to fix and strengthen the ones you’ve got.
4. You can’t believe your people don’t get it. Smaller organizations usually work with their team members but don’t actually formally train them to manage an area of responsibility independently. They also tend to work around attitude, behavioral or productivity problems rather than address them directly. Managers keep the peace more often than they hold people accountable to reasonable standards.
Growth means leaders have less time and find themselves more annoyed more often that people need help on even simple problems, wait for approval instead of handling an issue, make mistakes that “should” have been obvious, basically that they just don’t get it. It’s also normal to start to see, and be frustrated about seeing, the same problem come up over and over and over, problems someone should be solving or that should have been avoidable. This symptom is telling you you’re missing key leadership skills and critical elements of a healthy, productive work culture.
5. Things happen way too fast, or way too slow. Significant growth makes it harder to stay on top of everything as a group. Some teams respond by delaying actions and decisions until everyone can be looped in. Because there is so much more to keep track of, everything slows way down.
Other teams will opt to make decisions without key people in order to just “get stuff done.” This speeds up results but leaves key people out of the decision making process and constantly trying to play catch up and complaining that things are moving too fast.
Most common is for organizations to do BOTH, but without much rhyme or reason, creating an unpredictable, confusing, stressful mess.
When you see multiples of these symptoms you are dealing with significant structural problems. You are missing key systems and leadership skills. Without addressing the gaps, you’ll see the chaos and confusion and frustration continue to build. You’ll see more and more problems. You’ll miss important things.
Companies at this stage sometimes survive through sheer grit and luck. Some do not survive at all. If you want to make it, you’ll need to focus on building the internal structures that support the size you are now.
To get a blueprint for how to figure out where to start and what to do, check out the infrastructure guide I wrote for owners called There is NO SUCH THING as Got Too Big or Grew Too Fast. Specifically section #2.
About the Author: Alecia Huck is a hard person to find and a good person to know. She specializes in working with fast-growth companies who need to learn the block & tackle skills of leadership; how to hold people accountable, run great meetings, keep track of people and work--the kind of tactical support that it is really hard to win without. Find out more HERE.