Growth Can Be a Killer

Don't let growth kill your company.

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Growth is good and should be the ultimate goal of just about every company. "Build it and they will come" to your corporate field of dreams. Just be careful that you know how to keep the weeds out.

With growth comes:

- Interdepartmental Politics

- Individual fiefdoms

- Envy and greed

- "Not my job" syndrome

- What's your name, again?

- And a host of other demons

Growth under those circumstances can be a hollow victory for company founders, who have fretted, sweated, bled and given their all to the enterprise. Surely, the financial success, reputation and strength of the company are satisfying, but they can be overshadowed when the internal workings become less harmonious.

In the early years, everyone was too busy to do much of anything except get the job done. There was no time for petty differences, turf wars, personal conflicts. There was just one team pulling with the same set of oars.

Fast forward to today when there are multiple teams within the company, each responsible for an important piece of the puzzle that makes up the whole of the corporation. "Internal customers" is an accurate way to describe many of the departments that depend on the output of other departments. So, what happens when the "one set of oars" mindset breaks down? What happens when the internal customers go unserved and cannot do their jobs properly? Disharmony at the very least -- disaster at the worst.

Barbara Corcoran of Corcoran Real Estate and Shark Tank fame was quoted in reference to poor performance of any kind saying, "Shoot the dogs early." Meaning that accepting less-than-full commitment of employees should not be tolerated even for a minute. Her position is that infections spread rapidly and need to be addressed, before an epidemic results.

Open communication, airing of grievances, respect, professionalism and harmony are the ideals within all organizations. Of course, these are difficult to maintain at all times. If you think of corporations as a living organism made up of people who spend massive amounts of time together, it's clearly understandable that there will be momentary disputes and flare ups. Just like a family, feelings get hurt and reactions can be unpleasant, but just like a family the wounds heal through mutual respect and a desire for harmony. Unlike a family however, workers come from very different backgrounds and cultures that react very differently. The challenge is to distinguish between a flare up and a blazing fire, not only with individuals, but with whole teams and departments.

Personnel coaching and training, paying attention to corporate culture and making sure everyone has the tools they need to do there jobs are important as a company grows. They go a long way toward creating a favorable environment. Personal interactions with employees are just as important as work-related directions and task assignments. Personal involvement communicates respect, validates the individuals and supports openness -- all of which push back against some of the detrimental issues that can arise.

Quick detection is key. The sooner it becomes evident that there is a continuing problem the better. Early action can go a long way toward establishing a plan to intercede in breakdowns of decorum and good performance. The "who" and "how" should be standardized. Executives need to know how to deal with individuals, teams and departments that report to them. Determining "who" is straight forward: C- level executives deal with the VPs, VPs deal with the AVPs, AVPs deal with Managers, Managers deal with supervisors, etc. The "how" is a bit trickier. Without scripting or being overly controlling, the methodology and steps necessary to take should be understood up and down the line.

A clear policy will guide the people who are at the front lines. At this point, a uniform approach will mitigate any overreacting, which would only exacerbate the situation and turn a flicker into a flame or a blazing fire.

A quality HR department can handle most of the heavy lifting in many of these situations but the C-level, executives and management should be aware of where the lines are in attempting to reconcile the elements harmful to the company's smooth operation and continued success. It's only fair to attempt a fact-finding effort and reconciliation first, but be prepared to take summary action, if necessary. Be forewarned that delaying action can cause more damage than a strong response to a disruptive situation.

Disputes, bad behavior and poor performance are growth killers; they can become malignant rapidly and must be excised quickly.

The author is CEO of a fast growing marketing and communications company, more of his insightful business commentary and articles can be found on his company website lorrainegregory.com

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.