Fast Growth Challenges for CEOs

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Fast revenue growth is a goal of many organizations.  It does not come without its challenges.

I recently facilitated a discussion with three bright, engaged C-suite leaders.  Each has experienced fast revenue and headcount growth and everything that comes with it.  The discussion was hosted by the Raleigh-Wake Human Resource Management Association (a great local resource for people professionals).

The 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. CAHEC  is a nonprofit social impact company that raises investor equity to finance affordable housing and other community based real estate development.  CAHEC has experienced 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 fast growing venture.

Lessons Learned:

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’s revenues grow, the culture is also quickly evolving and changing.

Everything can break!

Doug Kaufman, CEO of TransLoc shared they ‘broke 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. Further, internal business models were constantly being tested, evolving and changing.

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

Communication is everything.

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 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.

Embrace Clear Values and Live By Them!

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 – he feels it is what has allowed them grow so quickly.

Stay Nimble as You Grow

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 mindsets that highly influence a culture.

Recruitment and Onboarding that Reflects 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’.  Dana wants to share the vision, mission and values of CAHEC in a more deliberate way.  He wants new hires to 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.

Letting Go: the CEO’s Role Changes with Growth

Dana has recruited team members with more capacity than ever this year with the potential to help CAHEC thrive and better compete.  As the team can do more, Dana must let go of tasks and functions best left to others.  He faces forward into the unknown to discover how his role will evolve to benefit CAHEC. 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.

 

 

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