Geeks With Blogs
Blake Caraway

I've picked up more experience recently in dealing with the issues that face a company as it deals with the pains of growth. It's a phase of business that all successful companies have to go through at some point. Moving from "survival focused startup" to "growth oriented performer" exerts some interesting forces on a company.

In a company's early years, the "startup mentality" is in full effect. Some qualities of this mentality are as follows:

  • People's time and effort are cheap...therefore Heroes are required
  • Little to no focus on process, much less process improvement
  • Most/all time is spent "Keeping the lights on"

When a company begins enjoying some initial sustained success, many of these qualities are validated and even reinforced. Indeed some or all of these qualities are often described as reasons for initial success or even perceived as part of a company's competitive advantage.

Heroes Work Here

As customers and their needs increase, the approaches in dealing with these demands begin to strain the current organizational capabilities.  Unless changes are made, working harder is the primary if not only method of maintaining the same level of success. Working harder takes on different forms. This is where we typically witness things like swivel chair integration, as well as entire organizations that accept (indeed relish) manual and tedious processes. These processes involve the usage of half-baked and misguided technical solutions, where business people, IT nerds, and maybe a warehouse worker or two constantly engage in unrepeatable, heroic efforts to help keep normal day to day business going.

Grow Up and Work Smarter (Duh)

So how can a company mature? I think one of the most important qualities about a company's culture is it's commitment to continuous improvement. At every level there should be an almost hostile aversion to inefficiency and waste. If you have worked on Agile teams before, you know many of the XP practices promote the concept of helping to eliminate waste through consistent feedback on progress of work being done. Through constant team collaboration Agile teams have a much greater ability to frequently assess their performance to ensure the optimal amount of business value is being realized as early as possible, taking every opportunity to eliminate things that don't deliver value.

lundbergLundberg says: Ask yourself...Is This Good For The Company?

Lundberg says: Ask yourself...Is This Good For The Company?

Clearly this drive for excellence isn't only reserved for technology teams. EVERY person in each organization within a company should be encouraged and inspired to continuously improve how they provide value to the company. It sounds silly, but it's apparent we have to continue to remind ourselves to work smarter, not harder. When we begin to value our time and effort, the repetitive and tedious tasks become more apparent and should be addressed by either instilling a more defined process around these tasks (to help reduce risk) or simply improve the work being done (or even eliminate altogether) by using a combination of process and technology to achieve efficiency through automation.


This part might scare some employees because they may perceive the effort and toil of carrying out business functions by working harder (rather than smarter) as their main value add to the company. This is where good management really earns the country club membership fees because this is an opportunity to promote and inspire change within his or her organization by helping direct reports to break free of the usual toil and instead visualize and transform a particular business function to better align with the company's long term vision and goals (presuming they have a long term vision and goals).

Company Maturity Is a Difficult Process

Difficult changes facing a growing company is one of the main reasons for turnover in an organization at this stage. Some people yearn to work in "startup mode". The prospect of high risk, high reward with a tactical approach brings out the best in some. Others might want a more controlled, repeatable work environment where all efforts are measured and the perceived speed of the organization might be more stable. Promoting and inspiring this change isn't easy. Human nature is involved. If the majority of a work force is too set in its heroic ways and unable or unwilling to think differently and adapt, a change in personnel might be necessary in order to mature effectively. By the same token, if real change is being blocked by management at any level, a change in leadership may be called for.



Bring It

Regardless of how high or low on the organization chart you might be, make every effort to foster an environment of continuous improvement. Be mindful of wasteful behaviors and/or processes. Be a leader, inspire positive change, and see what happens.

Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2008 10:55 PM | Back to top

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