Goldilocks on Growth

Remember Goldilocks? That poor girl stumbled into the bears’ cottage and couldn’t find the right fit: everything she touched was too big or too small, until she finally hit upon “just right.”

Do you ever feel that way about your business? Sometimes the surroundings are unfamiliar and finding your bearings is difficult. First you lament that growth is too slow, but when you turn things around, it’s too fast to handle. While “just right” is an ideal, reality makes it a rare state to achieve. When you find the perfect fit, are you so comfortable you doze off like Goldilocks?

Too fast, too slow

Clients often come to me for help accelerating business growth. They need to overcome inertia or ensure they don’t lose momentum at key inflection points. Those problems are fairly common and thankfully, can usually be remedied relatively quickly.

Then there are the businesses facing rapid, unbridled growth. It’s just as dangerous as moving too slowly, but many executives don’t recognize the warning signs. “Business is great!” they say, without taking time to look up and see the wolves circling.

Out of control growth is dangerous.

Like many business owners, I have a need for speed. I love the adrenaline rush and the wind in my hair. Goldilocks might be content to sleep through the excitement, but I want to drive.

That’s why I hate roller coasters. (“Hate” is a word I use judiciously, and it’s reserved for things like free fall and coaster rides.) I’ve felt this way ever since my boyfriend (now husband) convinced me to ride an ancient wooden coaster at Circus World in Florida several years ago. That terrifying ride convinced me that I prefer to control my own destiny.

As a business leader, you need to be in command, too.

How do you manage breakneck growth without losing control?

Periods of rapid growth are a time when many leaders abandon strategy. They tell  themselves, and their teams, “We don’t have time for theory right now.” That’s a big mistake, because when growth is accelerated, the order of magnitude for strategic errors is huge.

The best approach is to have a solid strategy in place before growth takes off. However, if you find yourself running a business that unexpectedly takes off like a rocket, you need to find time to check your course. Roller-coasters run on tracks and spaceships have ground control. What do you have?

If the answer is “nothing,” fight the urge to wing it and add some structure. Schedule regular calls or meetings with key team members and advisors to address concerns and assess progress. Keep track of your metrics. Use consistent policies and procedures to preserve your culture and corporate values when making pivotal decisions.

When you must to act quickly, ask these questions:

  • What’s the downside of this decision? Can it be unraveled easily?
  • If we’re wrong, can we shift course or is there no going back?
  • What happens if we don’t act immediately? Will we miss this opportunity or will it wait?
  • Is it a zero sum decision? Does someone else win if we lose?

When you feel out of control, consider this:

  • Should we deliberately slow things down? Can we?
  • What critical aspects of our business must be controlled? Which can run with little direction?
  • What warning signs do we need to be attuned to in order to avert disaster?

When you feel compelled to forge ahead, ascertain the following:

  • What resources are most vital to our long-term and short-term success?
  • How can we ensure access to the resources, people and tools we need?
  • What do we risk losing while focusing on this burst of growth? Is that OK, or do we need to take preventative steps?
  • How long or big is this wave? It won’t last forever, and you don’t want to create a bubble that bursts when growth slows.
  • How can we prepare for what’s next? Is someone looking ahead and helping us prepare for what’s to come?

Taking the time to formulate answers for these questions will give you a better handle on rapid growth. If you find you still need guidance, give me a call. I’d be happy share additional strategies for managing through the chaos.

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