In 2007, I became MD of LinkedIn Europe and the company’s first employee outside of the US. For the next four years, I was one of the leaders who crafted and executed the hyper-growth strategy that helped LinkedIn expand into five countries, hire 200+ new team members in Europe, and sustain over 150% YOY growth.
My time at LinkedIn, and my recent work coaching hyper-growth leaders, has given me tremendous insight into the new world of rapid growth. In this article series, I share the key hyper-growth lessons I’ve learned from my own experience, from my team and from 15 hyper-growth CEOs, some of whom I’ve drawn lessons from here.
Imagine when you wake up tomorrow, your dream is reality: the hockey stick growth you’ve been planning for is here. Your customer base has doubled. Your sales are increasing exponentially. You need many more employees, and an entirely new infrastructure, just to meet today’s demand. The team is overwhelmed and looking to you, their leader, to act decisively. Now what?
You often hear people talk about “hyper-growth” like it’s a rocket ship without an operator, blasting your organization off into the unknown. Luckily, hyper-growth doesn’t have to mean a loss of control. By viewing growth hurdles with three distinct lenses (operational, leadership and coaching), you can gain perspective on this foreign terrain and step up to hyper-growth’s challenges — aligning yourself and your organization to achieve clear results.
Imagine your company’s 2014 revenue figure. Now, make it this year’s Q2 target. Flash forward 12 months: that Q2 target is your projection for November. For this to happen, how would you and your company have to step up? Are you equipped to tackle that challenge?
Welcome to the reality of hyper-growth, a state in which an organization achieves 100 percent or more YOY growth for multiple years. Hyper-growth usually brings to mind tech companies like Uber, Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp, but they’re not the only ones experiencing it. Companies like Hawthorn, in the furniture industry, and Metro International, a Swedish media company, prove that hyper-growth can span sectors and industries.
Hyper-growth usually begins with an inflection point where things in a business clearly start taking off. That’s where the “hockey stick” we all know from strategy decks comes into play. From there, it’s usually a fast build sustained for just 3-4 years. Successful hyper-growth means you’ve brought your company to sustained growth without blowing up.
But hyper-growth isn’t as easy as the hockey stick analogy would make you believe. When you hit the inflection point, the increase is so sharp that it looks and feels like there’s a mountain in front of you. From that point on, everything is magnified. “Objects may appear closer than they really are” — or more disastrous, with inevitable bumps taking on the look and feel of crises. It’s as if you’re learning to drive a car. You’re in the driver’s seat operating the clutch, the brake, the accelerator and the indicators — not to mention hearing the backseat drivers offering advice as you try to navigate.
So how do you regain control of this unfamiliar terrain? It all comes back to perspective.
Shift your perspective and “step up”
When you’re in hyper-growth, it’s not enough to be simply an operator anymore. You need to “step up” and grow right along with the organization. Leaders who “step up” do a number of things very well: align their organization behind core values, architect strong teams and infrastructure, and develop the internal strengths that ensure their organization shows clear, sustainable results year after year.
The first step is using these three lenses whenever you’re confronted with hyper-growth challenges.
1. Operations: It’s a hygiene thing
When the daily grind wears you down, operations keeps the heart of your business vibrant and alive. The operational lens prioritizes the tactical systems that allow your company to grow to its highest potential. In interviews with hypergrowth CEOs, one of the most commonly expressed regrets was failing to invest in operations early on.
2. Leadership: Build a culture, define the vision
Hypergrowth magnifies your actions and behaviors as a leader. You define what “good” and “acceptable” look like, and set the culture for others to follow.
This lens helps you focus on the horizon so your team can look past the dramatic changes experienced in the day-to-day. If you build a strong team and a “culture of possibilities,” your company will be prepared for the dramatic changes to come.
3. Coaching: Transform your organization, transform yourself
How does hyper-growth impact us as people?
It’s an extremely important question, because during hyper-growth, your personal identity must transform as much as the company itself.
Essentially, leaders must look inward to cultivate qualities in themselves, and their teams, in order to grow into their changing roles. This truth goes largely unspoken and unrecognized during a phase of hyper-growth, with much human potential and many human capabilities lost along the way.
Consider these lenses your ultimate leadership tools. Rather than being merely along for the ride, you can use these lenses to gain a new perspective on challenges and puts the levers squarely in your hands.
The result? You’re on your way to leading your organization toward its goals — whether they’re boosted revenue, increased engagement or the cultivating of talent.
If you’re wondering how to implement the three lenses, check back next week for the second installment in the series, all about how to regain control when hyper-growth causes the systems around you to break down — and believe me, they will!