This article was originally in the Buffalo News my view section.
Lots of people aspire to be their boss. I have spent much of my professional life helping others find the building blocks to create successful businesses.
In Buffalo, NY, we see this a lot today. An influx of homegrown startups, ex-pat entrepreneurs, and small business owners are taking root in this city, armed with an idea and a vision. But too many times, I’ve seen founders struggle with growing pains. With growth comes change. And with change comes the fear that you’ll lose touch with what you created. But you can grow a company you still want to work for.
Change is a great thing. I remember back when I was at University, and I studied insects. After years that included interstate travel, summer science camp programming, and a role within Clemson University. I was convinced that science education was my calling. It’s also how I met my wife. When our paths brought us back to Buffalo, I had to adjust. There were no full-time opportunities as an educator or an entomologist. So, I took a job as a team-building and recreation director. I followed what I knew while watching and observing others. It was instinctual, but it felt right.
Within three years, I was fired from my job as a team-building director, and I decided to begin my consulting firm. I ventured on my own. No budget. No cash. Like any entrepreneur, I had a laptop and ideas. I got my first check to run a college orientation; in two weeks, the rest, as they say, is history.
Of course, building a business is a little different than entomology. Entrepreneurs aspire to create companies that self-sustain from the beginning. But with growth comes rules, procedures, policies, and processes. In many cases, this leads to fears about scaling your company to a point where it loses its identity. I imagine many Buffalo companies – of any size – face this same fear.
These are typical concerns. In his book, Managing Corporate Lifecycles, Ichak Adizes notes that when a company transitions into a new stage, it reaches a point where it needs to think differently. This makes complete sense to me – you encounter a problem, solve it, learn from it, and move on.
The trouble is when business owners get caught up in “cul-de-sac problems,” driving around in circles. Management starts to feel incapable, and the organization soon loses trust in the leadership.
I love the challenge – of working with companies and organizations on building the trust, processes, and considerations that will help keep their vision intact as they grow.
I also hugely admire companies that abandoned conventions to find success. At one point, Google wondered whether it needed managers at all. As noted by the Harvard Business Review, the company thinks of itself as “built by engineers for engineers” – led by individuals who would rather tinker, design, and test than communicate in any corporate hierarchy. Another great example is with companies like Gore-Tex, which implemented a self-imposed “magic number” of 150. Once a plant reached 150 employees, a new plant would be built. This increased the collaboration and connection between people in each plant and made growth seem more natural.
If my journey has taught me anything, it’s that those passionate to run businesses need to decide what they want to be and embrace the road ahead. Change is a powerful thing, but it never means that you need to leave behind your identity. You can always grow something that you still recognize years later.