When your company is growing, everything you do today can impact what you will do tomorrow. That's why it's so critical to lay a strong foundation for culture, communication, and processes. This requires clarity of vision of where your company is heading and what you need to do to get there. Any type of growth involves some accompanying pain, even if it's a good kind of hurt. And growing rapidly only makes that pain more acute. If you don't manage it up front, it can quickly snowball out of control.
As he played gigs with his band, YPO member Dan Price saw small business owners suffer at the hands of credit hard companies with all the power. In response, he founded and is now CEO of Gravity Payments, which offers simpler, less expensive credit card processing to independent companies. Price is most famous for his decision to start his employees' salaries at $70,000. Often overlooked in the media coverage that generated is the fact that his business is a huge success. It's continued to grow in the time since his initial announcement, and in September, Price announced that employees at the Idaho-based company Gravity Payments just bought would receive the same salary upgrades.
On an episode of my podcast 10 Minute Tips from the Top, Price shared his advice on managing internal growth pains while continuing successful expansion:
1. Have Clear Values
In the chaos of growth, Price tries to center himself and focus on what's most important. "I try to think about, 'Where do we come from? What got this whole thing started? Why are we doing what we're doing? Where are we now, and where are we going in the future?'" he explains. He also highly recommends meditation. It helps keep his eye on the prize - making credit card processing better for small businesses. But the prize only comes if certain standards are met. "I'd rather have a smaller company, or a less financially successful company that has stability through integrity, than to have a bigger or more financially successful company," he asserts. Living these values in your business practice can be challenging, but it sets an example that will inspire employees.
2. Prioritize Communications
One of the most difficult immediate pain points of growth is figuring out how to communicate with all your employees. Price found an inflection point at Gravity Payments: "At 200 people, it becomes really necessary to remember, 'What are the most important things in the business? And how do we reinforce that?'" It's a skill that doesn't come naturally to all leaders. "I think the difficulty with communication is that we as leaders underestimate how much effort we need to put into communication and how redundant and repetitive we need to be," Price admits. While Price says there are great tools like TINYPulse to help take the temperature of the environment, ultimately, "There's no substitute for calling, and interrupting, and getting in the ear or in the face of everyone in your organization, top to bottom." It may require the investment of considerable resources and time, but it's an investment that will produce major returns in the short and long terms.
3. Manage Distractions
When Price announced his salary structure, the media coverage was overwhelming. Unfortunately, the company became known more for Price and his decision than for what they actually do. Price laments, "We constantly now have to remind people that what our clients know us for has nothing to do with pay equity or pay equality. What our clients know us for is that we make credit card processing simple and easy." But that's not what the public knew. Price continues, "I think for us to succeed as a company in the long term, it really has to be more about our clients, not just the way we take care of or think about employee pay." As a result, Price found ways to reinforce the company's core messaging internally and externally, which has allowed the company to continue to grow.
4. Help Your People Grow
Price invests in his employees in ways beyond just salary, sharing, "We have a lot of learning activities that go on." While some are structured and formal, it doesn't have to be fancy to bring real value. Price says, "Sometimes I'll take a seminar that I go to, and think of how to translate the same message quickly [to employees]. For example, I recently took a negotiating seminar. I took that content and held open office hours for as many people as wanted to come, and I had maybe 15 or 20 people show up." He took the opportunity to share his own experience to enhance the learning of his employees, and he's seen a difference. "We directly applied the lessons that I learned in the seminar with people so they could get the concepts and go through the examples...[Now,] they'll think about having better relationships with our vendors, but also make sure we have a competitive differentiation between us and the competition on the deal we have with our vendors and suppliers," he says. There's also a lot for leadership to learn during these interactions. "I personally sometimes get more out of conversations with people on the front line than I do with people in leadership or management," he says.
5. Expect Imperfections
Price understands a truth that for some is hard to swallow: you can't do everything. "One of the things that people get caught up in is trying to be the best, or make the most money, or have the most success. I have the advantage of being the same age as Mark Zuckerberg, which means there's no possible way that I could ever imagine winning that game. So I have to pick a different game, which is really inspiring for me," Price smiles. He also understands that no one can see the future, so you can't let it paralyze you. "You need to have courage. There are a lot of 51-49 decisions. It takes courage to go forward with the right amount of force, even when the decision is not perfect," Price affirms. Things may not be easy, but they can be rewarding, so move forward.
On Fridays, Kevin explores industry trends, professional development, best practices, and other leadership topics with CEOs from around the world.