Growing a company at breakneck speed requires avoidance of common traps and a constant state of evolution that challenges old thinking.
Let me share with you some of the insights from talking to the hyper-growth minded CEOs of the Inc. 5000 list -- who have an average revenue growth of 2,731 percent in the past three years. These CEOs were forced into new situations that caused them to push beyond their comfort zones. (Get a quick view of the data from all this research in an infographic on the six disciplines of hyper-growth.)
These CEOs have navigated some massive shifts in their journey to hyper-growth. Here's how they did it.
1. They're not firefighters, they're CEOs.
One of the biggest struggles leaders endure is the transition from employee to entrepreneur to CEO. Gregg Fisher, the founder of global health care network The Stem, said making his own shift from entrepreneur to CEO has been important in his company's astounding 2,305-percent growth over only three years.
"Overcoming that shift helped me build a team that is empowered to serve clients," Gregg says. Since then, The Stem has blossomed into a unique business to serve the health and life science sector. Gregg and his team have reinvented health care customer engagement through technology. This has also been Gregg's passion as a consultant and speaker over the past 12 years.
Many hyper-growth CEOs express the challenge in making this shift. In early stages of company formation, entrepreneurs focus on product market fit and validation of ideas. They look for blue oceans and markets to disrupt. As the ideas get traction, the growth causes a myriad of "fires" that must be addressed. The typical approach is to put your energy into solving problems and putting out the fires so the company can grow. This makes the entrepreneur more of a "firefighter" than a CEO.
In talking with the hyper-growth CEOs, a pattern emerged of leaders struggling to make the transition from entrepreneur to being the CEO of the company.
Firefighters are heroes -- but great CEOs let their employees be the heroes.
2. They put people before profits.
When you put your teams before the numbers, you get more from them than you ever would if you focused only on Key Performance Indicators.
Chris Rickerson, the founder of Elite Staffing Solutions, experienced a 2,548-percent growth in three years -- largely because his mission is to put people before profits. This positive philosophy has created a staffing firm with incredibly thorough, people-friendly screening processes, candidate assessments, and even on-site evaluations to make sure the placement is a good fit for everyone involved.
"This drives our success," Chris says. "Our people feel like they are part of the journey."
When you have a handful of employees, culture is not the top-of-mind concern. In many cases, you are talking with your team daily, or in some cases, you all sit in the same room. But hyper-growth causes all that to change.
Hyper-growth forces leaders to focus on culture -- but this is not done through traditional training. It is quite common to see more of a focus on the development of employees' softer skills. Leaders encourage concepts like social competence and personal development as ways to stay aligned with values of the company.
"Each new employee reads two books that reinforce the tribal culture we want," says Jacob Munns, CEO of Boomsourcing, an outsourcing company that uses Perfect Pitch technology and other resources to help companies grow their customer base, improve customer experience, and streamline back-office operations.
Largely because of Munn's people-first, personal-development approach, his company experienced a 5,889-percent growth over three years.
3. They encourage employees to be like entrepreneurs.
Encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit at all levels of the company is also essential for hyper-growth. This does not mean leaders want their employees to start their own companies -- although some do encourage it. The spirit of the entrepreneur is about the ownership of their projects and the client experience. It is also about encouraging employees to push the boundaries of innovation -- and letting them know that failing is a good thing when they learn from the experience.
In the follow-up survey, 94.1 percent of Inc. 5000 List companies see developing a culture with an entrepreneurial spirit as a critically important factor in continued growth.
"We have seen that one activator to our growth has been cultivating the entrepreneurial spirit, and that requires radical transparency to make each employee feel as if they are part of what we are building," says Amrita Grenal, CEO of innovative staffing and recruiting agency TalEx. The result? A 2,698-percent growth over three years.
Anthony James, the founder of Linux Academy, an online training resource for technology companies, also says that cultivating real ownership in each team member has fueled his company's hyper-growth -- 4,654-percent over three years. Each decision his team encounters is connected to a company goal that makes employees feel like they are impacting the overall goal.
This is how the amazing people behind these hyper-growth companies push beyond their own comfort zones. These companies are where they are now because of their ability to serve their clients and their ability to develop employees as they continuously develop themselves in the hyper-growth journey.