How to Stay Agile and Increase Momentum for Growth
Listen to Episode 71:
Episode 71 Transcript:
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Inc. − enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of Success. On the web at BusinessAdvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated, and with me is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi, Pam. It’s always great to join you here, and it’s a pleasure to welcome our many regular listeners − and our new listeners who are increasing in numbers every month.
Pam Harper: It is so rewarding to see people discovering us, returning for new episodes every Wednesday, and sharing on LinkedIn, Twitter, iTunes, and more.
Scott Harper: It is. And if this is your first time listening, the purpose of Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders to accelerate themselves and their companies to their next level of growth and success.
Pam, this episode builds on the themes we explored in episode 66 in the secret of achieving game-changing results.
Pam Harper: It does; and as we said, in a constantly changing business environment, it’s easy to get disrupted by competitors. That’s why it’s critical to keep finding opportunities to change the game − and to do it fast.
The question many CEOs we speak with have is “how do we stay agile yet intact while scaling for growth?” That’s our focus for this episode.
Scott Harper: This is a bit of a paradox − scaling agile but getting big at the same time. What are your ideas about the paradox?
Pam Harper: The paradox is that staying agile enables companies to grow; however, as companies grow in size, the organization that supports you also constrains you.
Scott Harper: What do you mean by that?
Pam Harper: It’s common to address agility by focusing on the infrastructure side of the growth equation through things such as introducing policies, procedures, technology − all the things that enable you to be agile and scale. OR it’s also common to focus mainly on the cultural side and the morale issues. I’ve spoken with many people and have seen that they will assume that this takes care of the infrastructure side of the equation. Happy people and all of that…
Scott Harper: “Keep people going. Keep people happy, and they’ll do what they need to do.”
Pam Harper: There is truth in both sides of that, in one sense.
Scott Harper: In one sense; but you know, sometimes when we’re looking at infrastructure, people can feel stifled by the policies, procedures, technology. It’s different; it’s not what they’re used to, and agility and momentum can break down because no one wants to do the things that actually could increase agility and capability as the company is growing.
On the other hand, if people want to move fast and are jazzed up, but there’s outdated or missing infrastructure, they don’t have the capability. They have the willingness but not the capability to do what it takes to support the growth and stay agile. What happens then? Everybody develops their own systems and processes; it’s a hodgepodge. This can lead to starts and stops, or even downright chaos, and momentum grinds to a haul.
Pam Harper: That’s right. We’ve seen this in the news. You see it when products are being recalled, being pumped out faster than they can come out in a quality kind of way.
Scott Harper: Honda has been plagued with this very recently, for instance.
Pam Harper: Exactly, but it’s not just them. It’s critical to pay attention to both sides of this growth equation and make sure that there’s a complimentary relationship between these initiatives − and that’s such an important thing.
For example, one of our clients − a very successful client as you know well − was faced with this very paradox of agility and momentum for scaling. They had a very aggressive growth strategy, and when I met them, they were a very successful middle market company. They were having their most successful year ever financially, in fact. However, they were also facing a mysterious morale problem.
Scott Harper: I remember that it really impacted momentum. Why? Why did it do that?
Pam Harper: On the one hand, if you take what we’ve been talking about, people were not productive. They weren’t leaving. The morale was low. There was a lot of time that had been spent by this company addressing the infrastructure side of the equation. There were a lot of policies and procedures being put in. Technology was coming in. People could see this, but they also really were confused by what was happening. It was hard for the people who are leading the company to understand what was going on, and in fact, they had tried addressing it with some cultural initiatives. This was the side I was being brought in on initially. They were absolutely sure that if they didn’t do something different from what they were doing that it was going to threaten their growth strategy.
Scott Harper: Okay, so we’ve already said that you’ve got these two sides of the growth equation. The infrastructure can do − capability, and the cultural willingness − engagement and commitment. It sounds like this company was addressing both sides of the equation. So why wasn’t it working for them?
Pam Harper: Here’s the interesting part. What happened was they were definitely doing things on both sides of the equation, but those initiatives were not complimentary. For instance, there was a new pressure for having people work in cross-functional teams, but then there were still old policies in place that were reinforcing the fact that people actually would not do well if they worked in teams.
Scott Harper: They reinforced silo thinking and silo behavior, even though the management was saying, “We need cross-functional teams.”
Pam Harper: That’s right, but there was more even on the cultural side. One of the issues on the want-to side was people truly didn’t understand what was happening and so there were issues there to, but the good news was that we were able to figure this out together. It was very much of a joint effort and they were able to pull these two sides of the equation together for a very powerful outcome. You can read the full story by going to growthignitersradio.com episode 71 and scroll down onto resources and you’ll be able to see the whole thing.
Scott Harper: Okay.
Pam Harper: Just to sum it up here in this first segment, the biggest issue, the biggest thing we need to do to stay agile in increased momentum to scale for growth is to discover and address the issues of both the infrastructure side of the equation and the cultural and morale side of the equation. However, we need to do it in a way where it’s complimentary, so that each side reinforces the other. When you pull that together, it’s powerful.
We’re going to take a quick break now, and when we come back, Scott and I will dig deeper into the scaling issues you need to look out for on both sides of the growth equation so you can stay agile as your company scales for growth. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You’re listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − on the web at BusinessAdvance.com. We enable successful leaders and their companies to accelerate to their next level of growth and success. And if you like what you’re hearing, spread the good word. Go to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, select episode 71, and use the share links for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter at the top right of the page to tell your social media communities all about us. While you’re there, sign up for our weekly alert of upcoming episodes so you’ll always be up to date.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. Scott and I are talking with each other today about staying agile and increasing momentum as our companyies scale for growth. You can find links and other information by going to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, episode 71 and scrolling down to “Resources.”
Scott, in the last segment, we discussed the paradox of scaling for growth, and we emphasized the importance of addressing both sides of the growth equation − that is culture and morale and infrastructure, in a way where it’s complimentary and all the initiatives work together so that performance really is at a level that is going to take you out of the successful status quo and into that next level of growth. Now, let’s talk specifically about the issues.
Scott Harper: Okay. One of the big issues that we see over and over is trying to figure out what the company’s capacity for growth is at new scale. It’s obvious − although sometimes we overlook at that as companies grow − that their capacity for further activity to support the growth does not necessarily scale evenly with company size. “I double my business − do I have to double my infrastructure or triple it or grow it by half?” Figuring that out is not always easy. In order to do this effectively, we have to focus on getting everybody together really concentrating on the basic mission, vision, and purpose of the company. Then you can use that as a nexus for prioritizing resourcing for people, processes, and systems, and really figuring out what it does take to get things done.
Pam Harper: I agree. What’s not discussed enough though, is that when things are changing, there’s always an unvoiced ambivalence about the new priorities that may involve letting things go or passing on emerging opportunities. This is tough.
Scott Harper: Yeah. People may even want to do the new things, but not be, as you say, they’re ambivalent.
Pam Harper: That’s right. What this can result in is consensus decisions and to me, that is weak agreement.
Scott Harper: Yeah. “We’ll do it that way. Yup, that’s good…”
Pam Harper: “…Won’t stand in your way, but I’m not necessarily going to do what it takes to make it happen,” and of course, there’s so much that goes on when you’re doing this. This puts the company at risk of either under or over estimating its capacity to sustain growth at its new scale.
Scott Harper: That’s true. We’ve seen this a lot, and this is laid out really well in a very well-publicized example in Dan Lubetzky’s book, Do the KIND Thing.
Pam Harper: That’s right. We reviewed that in a previous book-pairing episode.
Scott Harper: We did indeed. He’s laid out that as they were growing and becoming more and more successful, it was very important to pace and to get a feeling for what they really could do. When they moved into Kroger Stores − a very big grocery chain − rather than blasting out all over the country, they did pilots so they could figure out how to scale up and do all the process things that were necessary. Lots of people had to talk. Then they had an ability to go into Walmart, and Lubetzy who was CEO said, “Yeah. Walmart. For goodness’ sake, let’s do this.” His president, who was fairly new at the time, said, “Wait a minute, if we’re going to do this, Walmart requires a lot of stuff we don’t have a place yet. We have to put in processes, and controls, and data systems because that’s what they expect.”
Pam Harper: It took a lot of courage for him to say that.
Scott Harper: It took a lot of courage indeed.
Pam Harper: Awareness too, of what was really happening.
Scott Harper: That’s right. People at all levels in the KIND Company, were reinforced and were encouraged to do this. It was built into their culture.
Pam Harper: It is built into their culture still.
Scott Harper: It is. Absolutely.
Pam Harper: That’s what I understand.
Scott Harper: That’s true. Imagine what happens if that doesn’t occur. A good example − a counter example is what happened to Blackberry, a very, very successful company, as we’ve said before.
Pam Harper: Right. This was in another book we had in our book pairing.
Scott Harper: Yes, the book was Losing The Signal. One of the things that happened to them as they grew and faced new competition is that communication was not always free. There was not always a welcoming ear for push back, and we know what happened to them.
Pam Harper: Elephants in the room…
Scott Harper: Elephants in the room grew and squashed the company, and its not there anymore.
Pam Harper: It’s true. So often I’ve seen over the years we’ve been doing this, how many elephants and how many different types of elephants there are about all different things. Whether it’s on the infrastructure side of the equation, or whether it’s in the cultural area about how we’re doing things, and the values we hold near and dear, it happens in a lot of ways.
Scott Harper: It does and, of course, it’s not the only thing that happens that can get in the way of agile scaling.
Pam Harper: Yes. Another issue of staying agile as a company grows is estimating the level of risk that you’re willing to take. This is a go-big or go-home decision that can make it feel very lonely at the top.
This is because too often, especially in the smaller and mid-market companies were some of the CEOs, and especially owners are still used to being very hands on, they make these decisions either on their own or with a very limited team. This actually puts you at risk.
Scott Harper: As you grow, it becomes even more critical because there’s more at stake.
Pam Harper: More moving parts…
Scott Harper: More moving parts for sure. So what’s an alternative?
Pam Harper: In my view, it’s to use the asset of the organization itself as a source of intelligence. This is where it really makes sense, and is a real positive about that larger organization. If you think about all the different areas, every function has something to contribute in terms of intelligence. For example, customer service can talk about complaints or customer wishes, suppliers and partners can talk about the intelligence that they have, especially up and down the supply chain, people who are in the front line could talk about their experiences, and purchasing has their experiences; accounts receivable − it goes on and on. Every single function has a part they can play in gathering intelligence.
Scott Harper: That’s right. This is where the larger organization that people sometimes complain about, “we’re stifling under all this weight and it’s becoming lumbering and too big to manage,” − if you get the management part right you now have a really powerful, intelligence and analysis system indeed. The thing that constrains you also, as you say, provides tremendous support. This is where the scale really can pay off.
Pam Harper: I agree. Another way that companies increase their agility and momentum while they’re scaling for growth, of course, is through outsourcing and strategic partnerships. On the one hand, this seems like it should be an easy way to address the scaling issue, but even that has a lot of issues that go along with it. Even if you find a partner that has the capability and the capacity, and the reach, here is where a lot of expectations are not always lined up.
Scott Harper: What do you mean by that?
Pam Harper: What does it mean to be an outsource provider or a strategic alliance? We did a study, as you recall, where 50% of the respondents, who were senior executives, had different views about what they expected from their alliance partner or outsourcing provider.
Scott Harper: Right. Some people thought that an outsourced arrangement was a buyer-vendor relationship. Other people thought that it was a real partnership where there would be a free exchange of information. Imagine the disappointment when I have one view, and you have another as my outsource provider, and we’re not necessarily talking about it. In fact, over 60% of the executives we talked to and surveyed expressed disappointment with the overall performance of their partnerships.
Pam Harper: Which doesn’t have to be the case. What we do have to make sure of, though, is that the expectations are clear on what we’re really talking about. We have a lot of other learnings that came from that study as well.
If we sum it all up, the more that we break out of our traditional habits of thought about what people and/or organizations can and cannot do − what they are and are not capable of − the more we can stay agile, the more we can increase momentum, and the more successfully we can scale for growth.
We’re going to take another quick break, and when we come back Scott and I will talk more about immediately actionable ideas you can use to stay agile and increase momentum as you scale for growth. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: You’re listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, on the web at BusinessAdvance.com. If you’d like to learn more about our study of strategic alliances and partnering that we were just discussing, you can download the complete special report describing our findings, conclusions and recommendations. Just go to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, episode 71, scroll down to the resources section and click on the link that says “download strategic alliances report.” You’ll also find links to other useful resources related to this episode. If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of the issues we’ve touched on, just click on the Contact Us button at the bottom of the page.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I have been discussing staying agile and increasing momentum as your company scales for growth. You can find links and other information at GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, episode 71; scroll down to “Resources” for all the links for this episode. This is our favorite part of the program in some ways, where we talk about the immediately useful ideas.
Scott Harper: “How do we put the ideas into practice?”
Pam Harper: That’s right. Everything we’ve been talking about really leads to the need for new types of conversations which result in defining decisions that shape agility and increase momentum for growth.
Scott Harper: Okay. What’s the first piece of advice?
Pam Harper: I think the first thing is to bring people together in a safe environment in person for conversations that unite them, because when people feel safe, they’ll be more open to sharing what’s really happening.Tthey’ll be more able to co-create responses that overcome the obstacles and take advantage of opportunities. We see this time and time again. This is where you get into issues having to do with elephants in the room. You can bring people together, but if they do not perceive that the environment is safe for them to really talk about what’s on their mind, they’ll clam up and it becomes just a waste of time for everybody.
Scott Harper: You get superficial conversations, and that consensus, that’s the weak agreement that you’ve referred to. Here’s the question: “All right, great. We want a safe environment. How do you do it? How do create that safe environment for the probing conversations?”
Pam Harper: One of the ways is by making sure that you’re paying attention to things that increase people’s level of trust. We’ve had a number of conversations with our good friend Judith E. Glaser who’s the CEO of Benchmark Communications and author of the book Conversational Intelligence. She’s done a lot of research on the neurochemistry around trust and conversations and effective conversations. What’s fascinating is that when we can lower our stress responses in an environment where we feel that there’s a certain level of caring that’s going on, and respect for different points of view. This enables different parts of our brain to function − those are the parts that can take us to the areas where we can co-create.
Scott Harper: That’s a very important thing. In fact, we had a discussion with Judith a couple of months ago where we talked about that very thing, and people can go to our resources section and look that up as well.
And as long as we’re on this subject of having effective conversations in a safe environment − this is really, really important when you have the need to combine a bunch of different perspectives as we talked about earlier. The different functions, as the company grows, can be a true asset for intelligence, and also for the very act of creating and refining the processes and systems that are so important to making sure a larger organization can run effectively and efficiently.
Pam Harper: That’s right.
Scott Harper: Cross-functional teams are a huge part of this, a great example, and there you need to be able to get all of the different aspects together, really thinking about a well-focused functional question, because the questions you ask define the answers you get.
Pam Harper: Asking the right questions so that that meetings you have with your cross-functional team can actually address the different things that are happening in these different areas and create something that you wouldn’t be able to do alone.
Scott Harper: That’s right. You have all the specialties. I think we talk about “you can’t see forest for the trees.” But the point is that if you have each specialty area looking at their own trees − you put those together and then you have the forest. Boom!
Pam Harper: Synthesis.
Scott Harper: Synthesis. That’s right.
What’s the last piece of a practical advice we can give?
Pam Harper: It builds on what we’ve been talking about. For those companies that outsource or are engaged in strategic partnering, it’s important to go beyond whatever your agreement is, and the contract and to really learn how they do what they do. It seems like that’s a no-brainer, but we’re talking about what does it actually take for them to put together, say a piece of the product that you’re going to need on a timely basis. How many people does it take? How long does it take? What priority does it take?
Scott Harper: What does their supply chain look like?
Pam Harper: Exactly. That’s a huge issue as we’re getting more and more involved with companies that have very far reaching supply chains.
Scott Harper: That’s right.
Pam Harper: It’s also important to understand how they make decisions. What are their values? How do they prioritize when everything comes together all at once? It’s not just a once and done. What we’re talking about is that it’s important to know how often you’re going to check back with each other. They are, of course, part of your organization in a very real sense. The quality of the conversations that you have with them as well as with your employees will have a huge bearing on the success you have with increasing agility and momentum as you scale for growth.
Scott Harper: To have that kind of conversation, again, we come back to the issue of the safe environment, of feeling respected, and feeling a sense of mutuality. That comes out in the report that we have available on the episode page here.
Again, and again, and again, in so many circumstances that affect successful growth, we come to the need for creating powerful defining conversations that inform the decisions that will take you forward.
Pam − any final thoughts on staying agile as we scale for growth?
Pam Harper: Staying agile and increasing momentum when you’re scaling for growth is a paradox that can be mastered. While there’s truth that with size comes more complexity, there’s also truth that the extra intelligence and resources that come with increased size yield their own unique rewards.
Scott Harper: Thanks, Pam. And thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, read our bios, share on social media, and access the reports that we’ve referred to in today’s episode, go to at GrowthIgnitersRadio.com and select episode 71.
Pam Harper: Until next time. This is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success and leaving you with this question to discuss with your team.
Scott Harper: What parts of the growth equation do we need to adjust and balance to stay agile and increase momentum for our growth?