Joys and Perils of Fast Growth – From CEOs who’ve done it

Fast Growing ForestEarly this year I was honored to facilitate a panel of three bright, engaged C-suite leaders in the Triangle who are leading fast growing companies. It was hosted by the Raleigh-Wake Human Resource Management Association (a great local resource for people professionals).

Two companies, TransLoc (in the tech/social impact space) and Precision BioSciences (in drug development space) received Series A investment financing in 2016. As a consequence, their revenue and headcount  exploded. The third was CAHEC, a nonprofit social impact company syndicating low income housing tax credits to support community based real estate development. They have seen more gradual and steady growth over the years with similar increases in revenue and headcount.

Each company has different circumstances and markets. The discussion was quite lively as these leaders generously shared the challenges and opportunities of leading a high growth venture.

Each expressed how important it was to ‘get the people right’ in 2017 if they are to meet their critical business objectives.

A big part of this is ensuring there is a good cultural fit between employees and the company.  The challenge is that as a company grows quickly, the culture is also quickly evolving and changing.

Doug Kaufman, CEO of TransLoc shared that it was simply pretty much not possible for them not to ‘break everything’ as they grew at such a rapid pace. Well-laid plans for good lines of communication, systems, policies, procedures, roles, and responsibilities simply did not hold up when growing at 100% per year or more.

What is good for ten people does not work for fifty or sixty. Furthermore, internal business models are constantly being tested, evolving and changing.

What is a CEO of a high growth company to do?

Looking back, Doug reflected that the more the he communicated, shared information with the entire company, and empowered all level of employees to participate and make decisions, the faster they overcame the challenges. Setting expectations that things are changing quickly is important; the key is to help the company make positive internal changes to match the external opportunities as they are happening.

The most valuable employees are those who can quickly assess a problem or bottleneck and do something to quickly alleviate it – good communication from the CEO enables that.

TransLoc values people, product and profit – in that order. Doug is intentionally building the structure of the company with these stated priorities. As such, he is about to hire a Human Resource leader who will report directly to him. He anticipates this new team member will contribute significantly to helping the company stabilize and prepare for its next stage of growth.

Todd Melby, COO of Precision BioSciences has similar challenges.

As they grow, it is a priority to maintain the company’s entrepreneurial and family-oriented culture – it is what has allowed them grow so quickly.

This is balanced by the need for at least some formal structures as the company’s headcount grows beyond sixty-five. To keep its entrepreneurial edge, the executive team often finds itself asking ‘Who are the best people available to tackle a particular problem?’

Their goal is to keep the organization nimble, adaptable, and humble. They want employees who are willing to do both the big and little things required for growth regardless of title.  They strive to be service-minded, not title-oriented.

Indeed, these are very different mindsets that highly influence a culture.

Two big challenges for Dana Bole CEO of CAHEC are talent recruitment and retention.

As the company matures, it recognizes the power of its vision in attracting top talent as well as the challenges in retaining talent when a culture naturally and necessarily changes due to growth.

A key objective for the company this year is helping new team members (who have extraordinary potential) ‘drink the kool-aid’, share the vision, mission and values of CAHEC in a much more deliberate way, and help them understand their position is much more than a job, but an opportunity to create on-going system-wide positive change in communities across the southeast.

Dana also shared that as he has recruited team members with more capacity enabling CAHEC to thrive and better compete, he must consciously decide what he is willing to let go of, and then face forward into the unknown to discover how his role will next evolve. Simple, not easy.

Thanks to Doug, Todd and Dana for sharing a little of their journey.

Are you a CEO of a high growth organization looking to navigate new territory? Check out Essential Elements of Sustainable High Performance to help steer you in the most positive direction possible.

 

 

Comments

  1. Hi Teri, Great info. Thanks for the synopsis.

    Question for you: I loved your comment: “What is good for ten people does not work for fifty or sixty.” So true. Would you maybe give a quick list of the top 3 or 5 things? Would love to hear your perspective on this.

    Hope you are well!

    • Hi Monique- great to hear from you. Good question. As a company grows one thing to really watch is whether team leaders mind sets are growing with their responsibilities. Often people are hired with excellent technical skills, but quite limited leadership skills. Change becomes unnecessarily difficult for everyone. A CEO who is thinking strategically challenges her team leaders and gives them support in broadening their focus to include the strategic concerns and goals of the company- not just their team or projects. This makes scaling from 10 to 60 employees much easier. Communication structures also need to change as a company grows. The nature, frequency and types of meetings change, ideally always with an eye for not too much and not too little communication, exchanged at exactly the right time for the best result. Certainly their accounting systems need to evolve too – would love your thoughts on that! Hope this helps. Great to hear from you.

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