Grow while staying great

Growing your business is an indisputed sign of success, but unless companies scale sensibly, they may lose the very thing which sets them apart

If you’re going to grow your business, you might look to scale it to grow quickly, and maintain all of the elements that make your company great. Some organisations take on third-party investors, some look at mergers and acquisitions, and others might look to franchise their offering.

One of the theories behind franchising is to grow and scale in such a way that every store creates the same experience for every customer everywhere every time. The thought being that by creating a repeatable experience you can maintain what makes you great, and grow your brand.

Starbucks makes an excellent cup of coffee. In-N-Out makes an excellent burger. But neither are franchises, both are privately owned with strict standards for quality. These two are examples that demonstrate that you can scale your business and grow your brand without having to franchise.

And therein lies the rub—the existence and tension between growth, scalability, and quality.

Scaling is about getting better, not just bigger

Companies that scale well have secret formulas that are sacred to their brand. It goes beyond just marketing and taglines; it’s their very essence. Whatever it is that makes a Ferrari a Ferrari, every new model has to embody it, no matter how many new models are added each year. Ferrari has doubled its production and sales in the last decade by adding more models while keeping its exclusivity and increasing quality. Every car is handmade by artisans creating a work of art that is as much an experience as much as it is a car.

Scaling isn’t just about getting bigger; it’s about getting better. You start with something great and technology can make it easy to scale quickly. It also makes it easy to scale poorly. Speed must be balanced with precision or quality suffers. If quality suffers, you have lost what makes you special. What got you here won’t always get you there. But that doesn’t mean you should abandon what got you here if that is what makes you stand out.

If you’re going to add, you also need to take away. As you increase in size you should also increase in simplicity. Size can smother innovation and you risk losing what made you unique. In a fast growing company, if you continually add without also taking away, you risk burning out your employees to the point where they leave. And if they don’t leave, they can take the attitude of “this too shall pass” where it no longer feels like a calling to them, it’s just a job and a paycheck. The passion is gone. It’s difficult to be great without passion.

People are the secret to scaling successfully

It is easy to lose the “how” in the “what”, in the midst of a growth cycle. The “what” is the growth plan. The “how” is the people. It takes people to execute the “what”. The people ensure greatness and continued success in a company’s product or service.

Growth doesn’t always mean more people. Strategic growth involves hiring the right people for the right role at the right time. Hiring the right people is not only crucial to grow properly, it is at the heart of an organisation’s greatness. Here’s the “so what?” – there are no great companies without great people.

Hiring and retention have a symbiotic relationship. It is hard to grow a company if your best people keep leaving. If your selection criterion involves the ability to fog a mirror there should be no surprise why those tenured employees who helped make your company successful are seeking greener pastures. If you surround your best people with the lowest common denominator they will lose their passion.

Strategic hiring calls for careful selection. Targeting top talent and setting them up for success once they accept your offer is just the beginning of what should be your talent optimisation strategy. Utilising scientifically validated workforce analytics to design and benchmark key roles as part of the growth plan ensures alignment around what makes your company great.

Scale well, not just quickly

Growing well is more important than growing quickly. If you grow too fast, it becomes very hard to identify the things that are worth scaling. Leaders can become obsessed with the growth goals and have no time to deal with or eliminate the negative things along the way, which can fester and erode all the positive things.

Scaling poorly within a company that is growing fast won’t always cause it to fail. But it won’t be an amazing place to work and it will never reach its true potential because it will have lost what made it great: great people.