In every company's life cycle, a plateau is natural. However, when the plateau stretches out with no end in sight, it's cause for worry -- and a kick in the pants to get growing or remain static forever.
For LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, the answer is a little "blitzscaling"--which he wrote about in his book (titled, yes, Blitzscaling) released in October, It means sprinting hard and fast without fueling up, looking back or stopping once.
Hoffman swears by the technique to gain relevance and high profitability, not to mention avoid landing in the startup graveyard within five years of opening, like 50 percent do. He admits his way is riskier than resting on structure, stability and careful calculation, but his legacy of success shows the approach is certainly capable of yielding fast growth.
Many CEOs would balk at almost recklessly switching gears and going from 60 to 100 when the speed limit clearly says 55--and for good reason. After all, not every business can embrace blitzscaling at Facebook's or Amazon's speed.
Fortunately, they don't have to. In fact, there are plenty of low-risk strategies that can get your company out of a serious growth rut.
1. Rethink your typical hires.
You're already interviewing to find the best of the best for your team. It's time to make sure your new hires are just technically competent and emotionally competent.
The 2016 Global Empathy Index's top 10 companies increased in value twice as much as the bottom 10, according to the Harvard Business Review. The analysis discovered an up to 80 percent correlation between high empathy and high performance.
Empathy allows team members to understand human nature, making them better natural salespeople and colleagues. It also correlates with productivity, so weed out the self-centered superstars to bring in those with impressive emotional intelligence.
One company I spoke with put off firing a toxic salesperson simply because her revenue figures were amazing. For a long time, it prioritized the bottom line over other employees' happiness and comfort at work.
After losing three employees, it finally took action and let go of the employee who was morale poison. Over the next year, it experienced a retention increase and a revenue increase, proving empathy can take you far.
2. Improve upon what makes your brand tick.
Your company has unique strengths. Ferret them out and lean on them--hard. As Martin Stein, founder and managing director of national private equity firm Blackford Capital, wrote in May, "Identify the game-changer for your company and industry, then relentlessly pursue that differentiator. This doesn't necessarily require a complete change to the business model, just a focus on customers' real needs."
In talking with dozens of leaders from companies on this year's Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America, I found a key differentiating factor for fast-growing companies was a willingness to play up "oddities." Doing something different from the rest of the market can seem like a red flag. These leaders found that if you do the same thing as everyone else, you get the same results--or a deflated version of the original.
3. Stop listening to your gut.
Sometimes, your gut is right. Other times, it lies with a vengeance. Top sales performers know this, which is why they're more apt to rely on analytics than their underperforming counterparts, per Salesforce research.
This doesn't mean you should completely dismiss your instincts. Just back them up by setting and studying the key performance indicators that matter most to you. The more objective information you evaluate, the more intelligently--and quickly--you can scale.
Take DonorsChoose.org, for instance. According to that Salesforce research, the classroom crowdfunding company increased its donor conversion rate by 300 percent after it started using data to recommend philanthropy opportunities based on location and interest.
4. Unearth adjacent markets.
If you've tapped out your current market, you can't expect it to improve. Branching out beyond your regular customer base could introduce you to people who could benefit from what you offer.
For instance, your widget may have a secondary appeal you never knew about. Survey your clients to see how they're using it "off label." Then, brainstorm how the findings could improve your total addressable market.
Maybe you've only been marketing to Millennials, and it's time to pay some attention to Gen Z. This generation is expected to account for 40 percent of the consumer base by 2020. Between their personal spending power and the influence they have on their parents' spending, it's high time to make sure post-Millennials are part of your target audience.
Growing a company requires quick thinking, flexibility and a tolerance for pushing boundaries. You don't have to throw away everything that's worked, but losing some of the extra baggage--and rethinking your hiring and markets--might be just what's required to get back to a leadership position.