Young, growing companies are thrilling places to work—until they are not.
You and your team launched a great company. You commercialized an idea, secured funding, found customers, and delivered what you sold. It hasn’t been easy, but due to your extraordinary efforts, your plans have stayed on track.
Recently, there’s been a change. The demands have begun to outstrip your capacity to deliver. Your attempts to brute strength your way to good results no longer work.
The growth has slowed. The thrill has turned to frustration.
You can easily dismiss your concerns as normal growing pains. But that would be a mistake. Growing pains, while common, are also serious. They require your attention.
Which of these seven growing pains are you experiencing, and more importantly, what are you doing about them?
1. Customer complaints have spiked
Customers complain when their expectations go unmet. Your job is to figure out why. Here are the possibilities:
- Employees are overwhelmed.
- Employees don’t understand the expectations because they’ve never been made clear.
- Employees don’t have the skills or the resources they need to do the job.
2. Confused responsibilities
When you and a couple of people work side-by-side, it’s easy enough to figure out who’s doing what. As you add people, complexity increases while transparency decreases. If you don’t find a way to make roles and responsibilities more clear, you will be stuck dealing with these problems:
- Employees will step on one another’s toes, creating inefficiency.
- Important tasks will fall through the cracks.
- People will waste their efforts working on tasks that aren’t important.
3. Power struggles
You can create an authoritarian company with clear chains of command. You can also create an egalitarian company that emphasizes shared ownership. What you can’t have is a company in which authority is not clearly spelled out. When power and authority are vague, employees attempt to sort it out on their own. This process rarely goes well, unless it is skillfully guided.
4. Mistakes are the norm
Yes, mistakes happen, but they should be the exception and not the rule. Every business has some sort of mistake that tears away at its bottom line:
- Software company: Releasing a product that’s full of bugs.
- Medical lab: Misreading test results.
- Furniture delivery business: Causing damage in the customer’s home.
When mistakes occur, you need to find the underlying causes and address them. For growing companies, my prime suspects are inadequately defined processes, poorly trained employees, or a shortage of people you need to do the job correctly.
5. Hiring mistakes
When growing fast, you need help right now. Under these conditions, you may not have adequately screened your applicants and hired the wrong people. Any manager or HR pro will tell you that it takes some time to hire the right employee. It takes far more time to get rid of one that you no longer want.
An even more fundamental problem is that you never thought about what kind of person would best fit in your company. Cultural fit is an important factor in determining an employee’s long-term success.
These are exciting times, and yet employees no longer seemed as jazzed as they once did. Even you have lost some of your enthusiasm. Running on adrenalin is possible in the short term. Over time, it’s not a sustainable strategy. Loss of energy is one thing, but when it turns into people performing below their potential and possibly even below minimum expectations, you have a real problem on your hands. Your employees need resources, structure, and your attention.
7. Unreliable cash flow
This “growing pain” should more accurately be labeled “company killer.” When the operating mode is full steam ahead, the strategy might be to grab as much revenue as possible now and worry about profits later. That could be the right decision, as long as cash flow stays positive. When paying the bills becomes a dicey proposition, it’s time to bring some order to the chaos. Unlike the first six growing pains, problems in this area will most certainly get your attention.
Are you ready to take action?
You have a business to run, so likely don’t have the time to give these issues your full attention. If you need the help, bring in outside resources to assist you in establishing the business processes and human systems your company now needs. I can partner with you to identify the key issues and lead the charge in helping you build a sustainable business that scales.
Image credit: Peter Alfred Hess