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Managing the turbulence of rapid growth

Module 2: Stages of growth

As a company shifts gears and moves from initial growth to rapid growth, everything begins to accelerate. The closest analogy is white water rafting. It’s very exciting, there’s lots of adrenaline and you’re in considerable danger if the pilot fails to steer the raft correctly. To survive the transition from initial to rapid growth, the CEO needs to act quickly, make rapid changes in the organisation and be agile about shifting into new roles.

What happens in rapid growth?

Unlike the initial growth phase, you won’t have as much time to make decisions or test and learn new things. Instead, you’ll need to respond quickly to opportunities and challenges and be right more often than wrong. The faster the speed, the more important it is to choose the optimal course and have systems and controls in place which enable you to steer and make changes quickly. You can only do this if you have the right people in place, and systems and frameworks in that aid quick decision-making and execution.

You’ll need to respond quickly to opportunities and challenges and be right more often than wrong

During rapid growth, one of your tasks is to build a strong management team of professionals who are experts in their functional areas (e.g. finance, marketing) and can take on more responsibility for hiring people, developing the company’s growth plan and executing the plan. As one CEO said, “I see so much opportunity for growth, but I do not have people who think for themselves. They keep waiting for me to tell them what to do. I am getting tired of making all the decisions and pushing growth. I need to find senior-level people who can think for themselves and help me drive this business forward.”

Classic signs the company wants to grow

There are plenty of tell-tale signs that the company is ready to move from initial growth to rapid growth. Perhaps you feel the need for faster and more efficient systems to manage sales pipeline, product development or inventory. Maybe customers are requesting exciting new products or services you know you can make, but you don’t have the capacity to respond. Or perhaps you realise you need people with higher levels of functional expertise but are unsure where to find them. Maybe you have the opportunity to make an acquisition, open a new store, or renovate your facility to increase production – if you only had the financing in place. If you’ve noticed any of these signs, then as CEO you owe it to your company, your employees and your customers to figure out how to get your company ready for rapid growth.

One of your tasks is to build a strong management team of professionals who are experts in their functional areas

How you need to change as a leader

It’s not only the company that must change; your leadership roles need to change as well. No longer are you the just the delegator and direction setter. Your new roles are team builder, coach, planner and communicator.

You need to quickly hire, perhaps promote, and then develop a management team of functional experts who balance your strengths and weaknesses. Look for people who match the company’s values, are self-motived, results-driven and who believe in the mission and vision of the company. You’ll need to delegate responsibility as quickly as possible to people who have more knowledge and expertise than you, then take a step back from managing those areas.

Your new roles are team builder, coach, planner and communicator

As coach, you need to define each executive team member’s role, clarify what they’re accountable for, set goals, and define which decisions require input from who and when. Give your team frequent informal feedback and hold everyone accountable individually and collectively, with clear measures of success.

You need to lead the executive team in creating a strategic roadmap for the company’s growth, based on the company’s mission, vision and values. While you need to lead the process, rely on your executive team to drive planning deep into the organisation so that every employee understands how their performance contributes to the success of the company.

When it comes to communication, your responsibility to embed the company’s values in everyday activities, reinforce the company’s vision and plan in all communications, and make sure everyone understands what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and the goals we expect to achieve.

Lead the executive team in creating a strategic roadmap for the company’s growth

Moving from initial growth to rapid growth is a big shift. It’s likely that your company will experience some turbulence as the speed accelerates. But if you understand what happens at each stage of growth, know your roles and responsibilities as leader, and clearly communicate the mission and vision of the company, then you and your executive team should be able to lead the company through the turbulence and up the growth curve.

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