Remember growing pains as a kid? Toe-crushing sneakers and awkward length sleeves, muscle aches and thinking to yourself, how can I have arthritis? I’m only 13. Maybe you grew a foot overnight, then none of your clothes fit the next day. So, you just went into class hoping the about-to-rip pants trend would somehow catch on while you learned to navigate the new struggle of hitting your head on doorframes and tripping over petrified underclassmen. When your startup becomes a hypergrowth, that’s what it can feel like.
Growing pains indicate progress, even though it may feel like something is wrong.
Much like an all-too-fast adolescent growth spurt, startups that experience an extended period of rapid growth often struggle once they “grow out of their clothes.” Maybe this looks like having too much work and not enough hands on-deck, challenges executing big decisions, or struggling to expand overloaded systems.
It can feel counterintuitive and costly to reprioritize and make change during a success streak, but it’s vital to sustainable growth.
Let’s look at three ways to maintain momentum through the disruptive growing pains experienced by leadership, IT, and employees.
1. Leadership: Vision, Decision, Buy-in
Maintaining momentum starts at the top. Let’s look at a few strategies leadership can implement to keep the ball rolling.
The first is vision-casting.
According to Forbes, in a survey of 30+ innovative startup CEO’s, vision was voted the most valuable leadership trait as the initiative that fuels change, drives innovation, and excites stakeholders. Author Ray Pritchard says, “Good leaders have a vision; better leaders share a vision; the best leaders invite others to join them in spreading this vision.” Aka vision is good. But vision-casting is best.
Vision-casting is the strategic process of communicating and involving others in the vision to define next steps and collect buy-in. Elements of effective vision-casting involve proposing a problem, then discussing solution, price, and collaborative action required to succeed.
So how do you connect the dots of your vision? Define a decision-making process.
Hypergrowth startups comprised of only a handful of people can easily make decisions in the short-term but later struggle with follow-through once they begin to scale. Growth requires accounting for the increased number of people affected by and involved in the decision-making process. Outlining a process begins with a few key elements such as identifying an objective, collecting information, and evaluating risks.
Finally, buy-in doesn’t stop with your employees.
You may be familiar with the "valley of death,” the early days of operating solely on initial investment capital, blood, sweat, and tears. Once you overcome the valley and update your status to super-hot successful hypergrowth, it may seem like raising investment capital is a thing of the past. Don’t bench financial buy-in too soon—acquiring ongoing financial buy-in through Series B, Series C, and corporate venture capital investments can open the door for opportunities in product development, M&A, and high-profile relationships.
2. Structure: Effective Digital Transformation
First, what is digital transformation? Cisco’s Digital Transformation Expert, Kevin Yarnell puts it simply as “taking something very manual and turning it into a positive experience through the useof technology.” For example, migrating on-premise applications and servers to the Cloud, improving data management to capture insights, or implementing workflow automation like AI website chatbots to improve customer experience.
Hypergrowth startups laser focus on their product and go-to-market strategy which means things like digital transformation often take the backburner. You’ve made it through the valley of death, so now is the key time to focus on paying off your efficiency debt. Efficiency debt is the result of scaling beyond what the foundation in place can support, caused by inattention to under-developed business operations. It can be difficult to slow down long enough to ask, how can we maintain sustainable momentum? How can we get from where we are to where we want to be? Transforming these questions into actionable tasks calls for a redirection of motivation, enthusiasm, and energy toward addressing obstacles before they snowball.
Through digital transformation, hypergrowths can pay off efficiency debt with workflow automation, eliminate risk, and innovate the delivery of value to the customer.
David Cancel, successful founder of multiple fast-growing startups and author of “Hypergrowth”, highlights a customer-driven approach as the ultimate driver of hypergrowth success. He cautions, “every company in the world will tell you they are customer-driven,” but that means nothing, “unless you actually make the structural decisions to ensure it.”
Many fast-growing startups are only in the planning phase of digital transformation and need help facilitating first steps. The key to translating vision into digital infrastructure is through baby steps:
> Identify the first step
> Collect buy-in to promote success and gain momentum
> Document everything to define a clear process
It probably won’t be, and shouldn’t be, an all-at-once transformation. On the journey toward implementing digital improvements, constantly revisit underdeveloped structure and process to identify new opportunities.
3. Culture: Employee Alignment
Just as conceiving a vision is distinct from casting the vision, company culture is distinct from cultural alignment. Cultural alignment is the union between culture and strategy across a business to keep everyone mission-ready and in-sync. According to LSA Global, “workplace culture accounts for 40% of the difference between high andlow performing organizations…effective leaders assess their level of cultural alignment to help remove cultural barriers, to simplify decision-making, and to create organizational harmony.”
Misaligned culture can cause a web of confusion, weaving unintended consequences among employees such as poor communication and poor integration of new hires. Employees who are not aligned with company values can hurt customer experience and brand image. Uniting the how and why things are done with what needs to be done ensures everyone, from leadership to new hires, move forward together.
Try performing a quick alignment assessment. Start by looking at a few different cultural dimensions of your company such as loyalty and atmosphere. Are employees loyal to each other? Loyal to the company? Is the atmosphere balanced between social and disciplined? Is it skewed? Check in with a few colleagues. The answers may surprise you. Asking the right questions will uncover steps toward implementing change.
In early stages, startups may implement company-wide meetings to bring everyone together in a unified, transparent setting in addition to one-on-one check-ins as methods of alignment. As the startup grows, alignment efforts will also need to expand: for example, alignment tools such as an employee intranet can help centralize resources, make announcements, and keep everyone on the same page.
Startups can embrace growing pains by persistently evaluating the why, how, and what next of their organization. Through redirecting focus and asking some tough questions, startups can better self-assess and effectively respond to the evolving needs of their organization.
Let’s recap 3 ways to maintain momentum:
1. [Leadership:] Vision, Decision, Buy-in: Strategically communicate and implement vision, define a decision-making process, and don’t stop seeking financial investments too soon.
2. [Structure:] Digital Transformation: Manage workflow efficiency, eliminate risk, and innovate the delivery of value to the customer by minimizing manual tasks.
3. [Culture:] Employee Alignment: Unite the how and why things are done with what needs to be done to ensure everyone, from leadership to new hires, move forward together.
Remember, growing pains are a part of a unique, success-bound-journey to a healthy organization.
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