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“Our company is in growth mode, and we are feeling ‘pains’ due to how we have handled growth to date. We are trying to prevent the growing pains from getting worse but are having limited success.” Does this sound familiar?

The amount of growing pains experienced by a company can be impacted by a variety of factors. This does not mean that you should simply throw your hands in the air and assume that growing pains are just something you need to endure. If you take a closer look, the size and intensity of growing pains depend on how much forethought has occurred, what the organization’s comfort level is with risk, and how well the organization executes. With this in mind, there are four elements you can use to help minimize the size and intensity of growing pains.

Diligently Map Out Your Destination

If your company doesn’t know where it’s going, it will be hard to know when it gets there. This starts with having a target end state in mind (a.k.a., a vision) of what the organization should look like along with a robust strategic plan in place to make it a reality. While in years past companies may have used a five-year horizon for a strategic plan, the Great Recession has led many to focus on a shorter time frame (e.g., three or four years). Of course the further you go out from present day, the more your plan involves estimates, projections and approximations which entail some risk. Whatever time horizon you use, the end state and strategic plan are essentially the guides that will help you assess business needs and the practicality of decisions that impact growing pains.

Forecast Who is Needed to Get You There

The vision of your company and the path to this destination are of little use if the organization lacks the right individuals in the right roles with the right skill sets at the right time. Strategic workforce planning addresses these issues which helps to keep growing pains in check. At a minimum, workforce planning should be done for critical roles that enable the company to continue to operate. Once this is done, look at the potential pipeline of talent the organization has built to sustain growth that occurs.

Ready the Talent

Once strategic workforce planning is completed, it comes down to getting the individuals that are needed, onboarding them, and helping them be productive as efficiently as possible. This includes deploying current employees in different roles as well as bringing in new blood to fill specific positions. From a talent management (TM) perspective, the parts of the TM process that become essential for reducing company growing pains are talent acquisition and deployment followed by talent development and succession. This also involves making sure the right leaders are in place to oversee the various parts of the organization.

Methodically Implement Changes

As you work on the three preceding elements, you should be thinking about how the company will handle all the upcoming changes. How many changes can be done simultaneously? Would it be better to systematically execute them over time? Consider how the organization should be structured as well as what needs to be done to ensure efficient work flow. Then determine the best way to enable the employees to adjust to the organizational modifications that will take place.

Keep in mind the “gulp rate” of the organization to digest changes so that you don’t make the size and intensity of growing pains worse. In order to find the sweet spot related to the gulp rate and prevent additional growing pains, try using “criticality to business operations” as a litmus test. Anything that is crucial for keeping the business running should be a high priority. This litmus test will help you determine changes that need to happen now versus those that can be done later.

Managing growth is a challenge most companies welcome. When growth is not effectively handled, it is easy to get overwhelmed by what seems to be an endless list of initiatives and activities. Large and intense growing pains are the result. By focusing on the preceding four elements, growing pains can at least be reduced to a minor ache.

Related insights:

Increasing Stakeholder Commitment to Strategic Planning

Implementing Successful Change

Strategic Workforce Planning?

Determine Your Talent Management +/Δ


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: Sears Tower, Flickr)