Scaling Up Excellence: The Problem of More

November 24th, 2013 / No Comments »

By Bob Sutton, Stanford Professor and Author

Start talking about the challenge of “scaling” with people, and you’ll find the term gets used to mean a lot of different things. For example, when entrepreneurs talk about it, they are usually struggling with matters of organization. Take Citrus Lane CEO Mauria Finley, whose company was experiencing some growing pains, appropriately enough; the startup sends monthly packages of great baby products to moms. After raising $5.1 million in capital in 2012, it grew from 6 to 20 employees.

Back in 2011, in Citrus Lane’s first six months, its small founding team worked in a house and ate lunch together every day around a big table. Any problem or opportunity that arose was dealt with right then and there, lest misunderstandings fester or business prospects slip away. Growing to 20 people working in a more traditional office setting did not strike anyone as extreme change, yet the team found it had to work a lot harder to unearth problems and opportunities. Even more tricky, they had to learn to articulate something that had been tacit: a shared understanding of goals, culture, and what it takes to succeed at Citrus Lane. Today, they constantly remind each other to spend time with newcomers and, as Finley emphasized, not just tell them these things when they are hired or remind them a few times. The scaled-up organization needs to hear about what matters most at Citrus Lane over and over, to live these beliefs every day, and to observe her and other leaders living them, as well. Deliberate effort is required because “it isn’t something that just happens naturally at lunch every day any longer. We are too big now.”……