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How to handle your company’s hyper-growth problems

Exponential growth can sometimes do more harm than good in a company. Here’s what you need to do if you’re going too fast.

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As entrepreneurs, we love growth. It fuels so many positive levers for us. But there can also be a dark side to exponential growth. Many companies do so well they become their own worst enemies.

Over the last six years, my company has done well. We have quadrupled revenue and headcount. While that’s been cause for celebration, it’s also produced a unique set of challenges my Grandpa used to call “high class problems.”

Organizational expert Robert Sutton calls it “friction debt.” When companies grow too fast the accumulation of unresolved issues with people, processes, and systems can fray team culture and slow productivity.

You may have heard of Sutton from his book The No Asshole Rule, about jerks at work, but in his new friction project, he’s studying the sources of organizational friction—and their solutions.

So if you develop frictional debt, like my company has, there are three things Sutton suggests you can do.

Slow down

It seems counterintuitive but sometimes you need to slow down to speed up. After you travel far and fast in business, it’s easy to lose your way. You can forget the guiding reason of your company’s existence. Maybe you realize, you don’t really know the people you’re working with anymore. Or you find you’re taking more time to explain how to get things done than actually getting things done.

Starbucks is famous for slowing down. Whenever they find their organization is out of sync with their customers, they shut down their stores—all of them—for training. The most recent example is when two black men were arrested for not leaving a store where they were waiting for a friend. After the fallout, Starbucks shut down stores for sensitivity training. In the short run, they lost revenue, but in the long run they were able to refocus on their core value of serving their community.

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Develop norms and etiquette

If you want to ease your friction debt, develop norms and etiquette for behavior in your company. In his research on organizational friction, Sutton discovered organizations with low friction had developed good norms and etiquette. These norms and etiquette encouraged positive behavior in the organization.

Portrait of creative business team standing together and laughing. Multiracial business people together at startup.
Radical candor is about managers taking the time to get to know their people. (Photo by Jacob Lund via Shutterstock)

For good norms, you can look at Kim Scott’s “radical candor.” Radical candor is not the unfiltered and unsolicited opinion giving you saw depicted in the HBO show Silicon Valley. Instead, radical candor is about managers taking the time to get to know people in their department so they can speak to them candidly about what they are doing well and where they can improve. By establishing good communication patterns, strong companies can handle challenges when they arise.

Be predictable

One of the side effects of hyper growth is unpredictability. When you’re small, each person in your organization knows their role and expectations. But with growth comes turbulence. People change roles, new systems are integrated, and new processes are developed that create instability in departments and organizations.

Zappos, the famous shoe company, grew so fast they wanted to make sure everyone in the company stood for the same thing. They knew common values would help with hiring, training, promotions, and customer service. So, they took time to figure out their values. Over a year, they solicited input from everyone in the organization to come up with the core values that represented how they did things.

So if you feel your company is growing too fast, don’t be afraid to slow down, develop your norms and etiquette, and create some more predictability in your people, processes, and systems.

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(Featured image by 24Novembers via Shutterstock)

DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation for writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.

Ken is the Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer at BigSpeak. Ken's main focus is marketing and partnering with Fortune 1000 clients to create specialized consulting programs with effective leadership development objectives. Ken is also responsible for BigTechnology, an initiative to develop best-of-breed learning management systems for BigSpeak's clients. Ken's background includes working with KPMG as a technology and management consultant, co-founding a technology company (cloud computing), co-founding an international, vertically integrated manufacturing company and working as Executive Vice President at a boutique asset management firm charged with operating real estate and hospitality assets. Ken holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership from the University of California, an M.B.A. from Babson College and earned his B.A. in Communication and Applied Psychology from the University of California.

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