Surviving the Shift to Growth Mode


A Growing Company

In the 14 years I’ve been with the Fool I’ve seen us take on a huge amount of capital from venture capitalists, septuple our workforce on a fragile business model, turn around and reduce our workforce seven times after said model collapsed, slowly build a sustainable business model, get to cash flow positive, and, recently, payback our VC’s. All without having to go public or sell the company. In short, we now own our future and are heavily reinvesting back into our business.

Surviving

In our early adolescence we developed habits and behaviors specifically geared towards nurturing our cash machine. Quality, Robustness, Craftsmanship, Uptime, and Process Improvement all mattered. And they still do, but they are the very same behaviors that tend to work against us now in our growth initiatives.

As we seek out new revenue streams, and scale existing ones, we find that it requires a different set of habits and behaviors from our workforce. Move fast, try new things,  try a lot of things, use some duct tape if you have to, are the orders of the day as we look for the next new thing that we hope will delight customers.

We realized quickly that we faced a pretty big cultural behavior challenge. How do we change a workforce of highly skilled craftsmen and women into business thinkers?

Here are a few things we’ve done to address it:

Shout it from the rooftops! – <Insert your best halftime speech here> but make sure it includes a message about how you plan to grow and what new behaviors are needed from your employees. “Win one for the Gipper!”

Get them training – We have a companywide business education program. It teaches business fundamentals and the nitty-gritty of our business model.   Every Fool has to complete it in order to receive a certain percentage of their yearly bonus.

M.V.P. – If you’re not familiar with the acronym, it’s  Minimal Viable Product. Put another way, “What is the bare minimum I need in order to see if my idea has legs?” Your employees should be intimate with the term. BTW product documentation is NOT part of MVP!

Turn the org chart upside down –Change starts from the top. Make sure you have the right players in your leadership ranks.

Incentives – Consider incentive programs for behavioral change.

Coaching – Any kind of change is uncomfortable. Some of your employees may need someone outside of their department to help guide them through it.

Don’t discount the old behaviors – There is a time and place for slow and deliberate just as there is a time and place for fast and furious. Help your employees understand when and where to apply them.

Carefully building robust solutions for unproven products is wasteful until they become…well…proven. Don’t ignore that your workforce needs help understanding this context shift and don’t neglect helping them develop the new behaviors that go along with it.

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