Reluctance to Grow

The benefits of growth are fundamental for all types and sizes of companies. Investors—and employees, customers, and vendors—are all more likely to do business with you (and on your terms!) if your company is growing. Getting your company on a faster growth track is the only way to make it far more valuable.

There is a barrier, though. People, and whole businesses, act to avoid growth even as they say growth is what they want. Look and you will find people with a secret sense of relief when the flow of leads does not materialize, when a certain big sale falls through, when a product release is delayed, or when a key prospective employee rejects the offer.

It turns out there are good reasons for this. Aside from a natural avoidance of change and effort, there is a reluctance to grow that is rooted in rational caution. We acknowledge growth as the source of value, but we simultaneously know that when badly executed, growth kills companies and sidetracks careers. Tackling the root cause of this rational caution is the key to successful growth.

Wave Your Magic Wand

If you could magically make each individual element of your business twice the size overnight, your business would have—voila—100% growth. Management teams I have served with have found it amazingly clarifying to remember this is the simple essence of growth, and to ask what it would take to quickly make each separate element twice as big.

In real life it takes time, and work, to make each element of the business grow. This is challenge enough, but the more significant challenge is that growth in any one isolated functional area cannot last and is a waste. Isolated growth also means making commitments to customers, vendors, or employees that will eventually be broken. Seeing this, managers and employees in each part of the company hang back to see whether other parts will grow. Growth sputters, just as a meeting sputters if each person aims to arrive only after all the other people have arrived.

Marketers are reluctant to do the heavy lifting to double lead generation if salespeople can’t follow up on leads. Salespeople are reluctant to stretch to close more sales if the product or service cannot be shipped. Production departments are reluctant to build faster when they are not sure more can be sold. Every manager is reluctant to hire, if there’s high risk of being forced to fire later because growth in other areas does not keep up. This reluctance protects the business from harm in many cases. The status quo is comfortable because all parts of the business have settled into the same pace.

Coordinated Growth of Four Processes

Coordinated Growth Planning (CGP) attacks the roots of the reluctance to grow. CGP synchronizes generating more leads, closing more sales, delivering more products or services, and putting in place more capacity (be it people, buildings, bandwidth, or equipment). A plan for growth that leaves out any one of these four processes is not very believable. Managers must competently plan the growth of their individual areas, and this plan must win the trust of each other manager. Only detailed, realistic plans will win the confidence of colleagues, who are a tough, savvy audience. The individual plans must be woven together to show a consistent result the company can achieve without running out of cash.

Monitoring is as important as planning. As they execute their plans, managers need periodic evidence that the other managers and processes are on track. Inevitably, some area will fall behind. When this happens, trust in the growth plan begins to drain away, fear of growth rises, and there is less urgency to do what it takes to stay on plan in other areas. Contain the damage by focusing resources on the faltering area, while reassuring everyone that the company as a whole is still committed to the planned growth. If an important area falls seriously behind, and cannot get back on schedule, the planned growth of the whole business becomes a fiction. At that point, it is better to revise the plan, including the detailed plan for each area, so that it is again trustworthy.

Will Life Be Better?

The growth plan works better if it visibly promises a better existence for each person. Many companies make the mistake of structuring growth so that in the short run, the main practical consequence of growth is more work, more risk, and more pressure for the people growth depends on. This neutralizes growth incentives such as pay, job security, and stock options.

If people have good reason to believe that coordinated growth will happen, and good reason to believe it will make daily life better, they will embrace growth. Since there is such great value in growth, it’s worth doing what it takes to get it right.