Google might be a successful behemoth now, but at one time, it was a startup going through some serious growing pains. At one point in its aggressive development, co-founder Larry Page reportedly scrapped the company's burgeoning middle management level. He quickly discovered that, despite his preferences, an additional supervisory layer was necessary to successfully scale operations without major hiccups.

Therein lies a major problem with scaling: It doesn't just involve getting progressively bigger, like a blown-up balloon. Instead, its shape morphs as new needs arise, such as heightened employee responsibilities and changing customer expectations. And plenty of smart leaders ignore these red flags when they're growing at breakneck speed.

What are some of those indicators of runaway growth? Team burnout might as well be a neon sign. Another problem is dwindling capital with no real profit sources in sight. Of course, unhappy customers are a sure side effect of unhinged expansion.

If you're increasing revenue, you may be tempted to keep your foot on the pedal instead of tapping the brakes. Don't halt your forward momentum, but remain open to addressing a few issues that will make scaling less challenging -- and more rewarding -- for all stakeholders.

Here are three ways you can help your office's culture grow with the pace of your fast growing company:

1. Define and direct your team's new cultural journey.

When you're a 10-person shop, your culture may look and function like a big family. When you hit the 50- or 100-employee mark, complete with remote workers, you can't sustain the same kind of atmosphere. That's OK, but it means you need to rethink your team's collective identity.

If you haven't established your corporate purpose or vision, now's the time. Choose a few main value points, and create robust statements around them. After you've run your ideas by trusted colleagues and tweaked them as necessary, release your vision so everyone's on the same page. 

Certainly, your culture will evolve as you get bigger. Google didn't stay static; neither should your company. Nevertheless, establishing your corporate DNA before you get exceptionally large will help everyone remain true to your vision, even as changes naturally occur.

One of the biggest impacts I've seen on culture is to align everyone around shared values. The process of discussing the behaviors exhibiting each value has helped many of my clients create teams that work together toward a common goal. 

2. Keep your head in the present moment.

Although you'll need to project into the future, you can't lose sight of your current growth stage. As a leader, your job is to be both a pragmatist and a visionary. Even as your world swirls with opportunities, you owe it to your workers to take the team's capacity into account and establish a healthy baseline. 

Are your people up to the challenges you're about to face? Do they have the training and capabilities to handle emerging roles? Never make assumptions -- they'll always backfire. As you prepare for the next adventure, be open to upskilling staff and perhaps even shifting employees into different roles.

Experiment with new org charts, seeing which ones fit current and anticipated needs. Google's Page quickly walked back his experiment in eliminating middle management, yet focusing on getting the right people in the right roles was crucial to Google's success at that stage. Through trial and error, you can determine which employee, organization, revenue and profit restructures make the most sense to propel your business forward.

3. Discover and address operational bottlenecks.

When Page eliminated mid-level managers, he quickly realized that having one executive with 100 engineers reporting to him wouldn't turn out well. Situations like that are bound to result in bottlenecks. Every fast-growing business experiences bottlenecks in areas like hiring, customer service and operations. 

Some bottlenecks are relatively obvious, making them easier to fix. If an employee has so much paperwork to deal with that he's become a living traffic jam, you need to streamline your processes -- the problem is apparent, and you can intervene immediately. Other issues may be buried deep within systems and supply chains, making them tough to pinpoint. For those situations, AI can provide critical insights. AI platforms can analyze thousands of data points at once, spotting problems that might take years to bubble to the surface.

You may or may not one day compete with the likes of Google. If you stick around, though, your organization will inevitably need to scale. The more you focus on thoughtfully navigating the experience, the better your outcome will be.

Published on: Sep 10, 2019
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