Leadership in Times of Growth
Written by Mike Kane, December 2021
Over the years I have been fortunate to be in the position of leading several teams through times of growth. It can be challenging to sustain the growth, while also ensure the enabling functions of the entity develop in parallel. During these experiences, I have learned lessons that can best be summarized in four areas: 1) Timing is everything. 2) Focus on core strengths. 3) Be forward thinking. 4) Build your team intentionally.
Timing & Sequencing: this is the most critical set of decisions you will make across a myriad of areas. The decision to consume resources, deliver a service or product, align with funding or attain an ROI is critical. Quickly and constantly evaluate a new initiative or investment. Do not put additional good money after bad if it is not working. Don’t hesitate to stop and reevaluate how to do this better with the desired result. "It is not about being right, it is about getting it right."
Focus on Strengths vs Trivial Many: Play and continue to build-on your strengths to fuel the ability to address areas for improvement, which are often many at this time in the organization’s maturity. If you focus the organization’s energy and resources on areas that may need improvement, but are not core, you may miss the opportunity to really strengthen the organization. Areas that need improvement are often resource intense, while taking focus off the lifeblood of the entity: growth. Leveraging strengths can quickly generate more cash/resources, which will then allow you to address those other areas. Also, in non-core areas/functions, never have a fixed cost when you can make it variable one.
Time Horizon: You as the leader have to be constantly evaluating the organization’s capacity, risks, and contingency plans. While the team is focused on delivering the short-term goals, you have to be the forward thinker to sustain the environment for them to accomplish the goals and targets. On the other hand, the “watch-out” is that you as the leader are always 5 to 10 years out in front and lose the connection with the present. Balance is key, but your role as leader is to make sure some level of time is spent assessing and understanding these areas.
People decisions: Some leaders that are founders or entrepreneurs have difficulty bringing in a new person with the right skills for today - and the future - and instead continue to promote someone that has been with them from the start or a long period of time. I have often seen the “bookkeeper become the accounting manager…. then the controller…then the VP, Finance, and finally the CFO". However, they still have the skill level of the accounting manager. It is difficult to communicate these changes and individuals can struggle with not reporting directly to the leader anymore. However, I encourage you to think of the mission of your organization and ability to achieve its goals. Often times that new person with higher skills can spend time with the legacy team member and advance their development, especially when it is function specific.
When I think about building the right team, I have found it helpful to think about decision making as a general model consisting of concentric rings. The leader in the center, the team as the next ring, and the most outward one as the customer or constituents.
As the leader, how do you need to change in order to lead this growth? You wear many hats ranging from interpersonal to informational to decision-making roles. What level of detail do you need to delve into? Which roles should you keep? Delegate? Eliminate?
- What are you currently doing that you should continue?
- What new things will you be required to do? What do you need to start doing?
- What things do you currently do that you should stop doing or transition to others?
Your team is a critical asset in order to grow successfully. Will your team develop rapidly enough to have the skills required by the larger, rapidly evolved organization? It is also important to consider that you have both values alignment and the ability to perform the future work.
- What skills do you need that you do not have?
- What skills do you need less of or can you outsource/ automate?
- Will you promote or hire new people?
- Are those on the journey with you the ones who can advance your mission?
The business exists to create value and meet the needs of a certain set of customers or constituents. Consider how additional value can be created or additional needs satisfied by achieving new levels of organizational growth.
- What can you do more of to help serve/ meet their needs?
- Are you and your team actively listening?
- What can you change or introduce that will meet unmet needs or meet existing ones in a better way?
- Can you build relationships on new ways? Do the relationships scale as the organization scales?
I hope these lessons that I have learned and reflection questions will be helpful to you now or during times of future organizational growth.
Michael Kane is the Chief Operating Officer of the International Vitamin Corporation. Throughout his career, Mike has both operated emerging high-growth companies and provided advisory services to portfolio companies/clients. Spanning pharmaceutical, food & beverage, and footwear industries across vertically integrated business models, he led them in launching and scaling new ideas and initiatives. Mike is an EMBA graduate of Notre Dame  and has served as an advisor to Business on the Frontlines teams in Puerto Rico, Kenya, and Brazil. He has also served as a Captain in the United States Marine Corps.