Dealing with a Midlife Crisis - for Your Business
We've recently talked to a number of CEOs who share a similar challenge. They've aggressively grown their respective businesses as energetic entrepreneurs. They've hired experienced and capable leaders to take over key customer relationships and organizational roles. But now they are wondering whether they've reached a plateau. They're unable to drive growth through their own brute force, but they're still not ready to fully rely on others to create sustainable growth.
These stories are eerily familiar to us. This year, we grew beyond 30 people, a 5x increase in staff over the past three years. We are still growing, but we find it harder to use the same tricks and techniques to push the organization forward.
Our experience, and that of our fellow CEOs, hints at a possible mid-life growth plateau. So we came up with a list of diagnostic questions that any CEO can use to determine if business is approaching a similar plateau.
- Are you juggling so many priorities that you are unable to focus sufficient effort on any of them?
- Is the staff spread across many distinct business lines or major segments?
- Do team members on one part of the business have trouble understanding the goals and strategy of other parts of the business?
- Are you struggling to balance and create synergies across separate parts of the business?
- Do you find yourself looking for process and structural solutions to work better together as a team?
- Do you find yourself constantly moving toward the next best opportunity without fully equipping the last opportunity for success?
- Are the organizational objectives listed as multiple bullet points, rather than a singular goal?
If you answered yes to many or all of these questions, then your business, despite its past growth success, is likely to experience a plateau unless you steer it back in the right direction. It's likely that the growth you created in the past was based on a much simpler and smaller organization than the one you have now. In many ways, your previous organization was set up for growth, but your current organization is spread in many directions and, without action, is set to level off.
If it's any consolation, we would answer yes to all of these questions for our own company. As Avondale has grown, we've found many new opportunities for growth. Instead of being choosy, however, we've typically pursued all of them as "must have" opportunities. We've realized, with the help of many of our peers, that we have to focus and simplify in order to grow.
It's against our DNA as growth company CEOs to behave this way, but we realize it's necessary to take our company to the next level.
Has your business hit a plateau? Share your thoughts and concerns with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll answer your questions in an upcoming column.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART | Columnist | Co-founders, Avondale
Karl Stark and Bill Stewart are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.