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Coaching leaders of High Growth Businesses

On the face of it running a high-growth business is a good thing - it points to success and an easy place to work - but how wrong that might be. Whilst high growth is clearly better than a failing business, don't underestimate the business challenges facing the leaders in a high-growth company. Do leaders understand why they are successful and how they can stay in control of what happens next?



Today, I want to talk about coaching business leaders who are running very high-growth businesses. On the face of it, this is a nice problem, on the face of it, high growth tends to go alongside high success, and that tends to mean this is an easy place to work. How wrong that might prove to be! High growth is more desirable than being in a business that is failing and collapsing. Clearly, there's hopefully a future for this business. But don't underestimate the challenges for the business leaders that high growth brings.

One of the key aspects that I like to explore with business leaders in high-growth businesses is Do you understand why you're successful? What is the magic sauce? What is the key ingredient? What is the success factor that you've created, that makes people want what you've got? Because in simple terms, if you don't really understand that, you don't really know that you're in control of what happens next. If you know what they're valuing, if you know what they appreciate about what you've got, you'll know whether or not you're going to continue to meet that need. Because you could just be like Icarus; you grow very quickly; you missed the point, and suddenly, there you are no more.

Another aspect of understanding what the client wants, and why they want it from you is that you can continue to adapt as their needs typically change over time. And the next aspect from that is that you can manage the effectiveness, the financial effectiveness of what you're providing them, if you know what they want, how much they value it, you can work out what they're prepared to pay for it, and therefore what you need to invest to support it and or to make it as better or as well as it can be compared to the ultimate competition. So, from a high growth point of view, the start point is, do we know why we're successful? Because if we do, we can then manage this situation?

The second thing is, what are the ramifications? Is it all about hiring more people, hiring and training them? Imbibing them in the culture, making them understand what the customers want? That is no small feat, particularly if you know you're tripling or quadrupling the scale, every year, even more often than that - that's tough. You're almost preoccupied with doing that. It could be you need to change the way in which you manufacture; say you started out on your kitchen table and now you've got this factory, and now you need one twice the size. Every time you make one of those decisions, you make a massive commitment to the organisation which quite frankly, translates into the word risk. Because there is a financial risk. There might be a risk that you're not going to buy something that's big enough. If you're growing very quickly, you're going to commit to something with oodles of spare capacity, which you hope the trajectory of growth will fill quickly. But it might not, and what happens if it doesn't?

Another aspect of high growth is whether you are actually profitable. Are you actually making money out of this or are you simply reinvesting every penny to keep up with the growth? Or indeed, are you successful because you're too cheap - you're just giving it away compared to the competition? That will lead to issues around cash flow. Do you have the funding in place to support this level of growth? And if you don't, what is going to happen? At what point do you run out of cash? Or what point do you run out of time to support this level of growth? So, very strong financial management in high-growth companies is essential, even though you would think it's the least of your concerns because you're successful in growth terms.

Another aspect of growth is that it can be taking you beyond the business leaders' experience, beyond areas of control. You might have more than one place of work or several factories, you might be in new markets with different time zones. So, you've got to develop whole new levels of leadership skills, as well as recruit seriously capable people to look after those parts of the business that you simply aren't going to be able to reach. So, it becomes very demanding as a business leader on your ability to stay ahead of this growth curve, to stay ahead of all of the changes that are going to be coming down the tubes at you.

As a coach, when dealing with business leaders, in high-growth situations, it's quite important that you ask these questions, it's quite important that you get them to be sure that they're in control of this very fast-moving Formula One car rather than just sitting in it, and anything could happen as the business grows. The growth won't necessarily slow - you could still be growing very, very quickly, but now it's on a different scale. Because you've now grown an enormous business. 20% growth of an enormous disease is still enormous growth. It doesn't mean you’ve suddenly peaked, it just means it is now an enormous business with enormous growth.

That ultimately cements all of the things I've just said about the need for a growth culture, a growth culture in the mind of the business leaders, but right the way, through to the most junior people in the organisation. If the organisation doesn't accept, doesn't understand, doesn't want, or doesn't embrace the need for continuous change, and continuous growth, then this growth will ultimately fail. Because the one thing about growth is that particularly high rates of growth over a sustained period of time are highly accelerated change programmes, you are constantly looking to do things differently to cope, looking to do things differently to move to the next phase.

When you are as a coach helping these business leaders focus on high growth, very often you're asking very fundamental basic questions that get them to move away from the day-to-day management issues, the day-to-day cut and thrust issues that occupy their time because the one thing's for sure is in our high growth business, that business leaders are busy.

So, there we have it; coaching business leaders in high-growth businesses are harder than it looks, but it can be a lot of fun.


That was the latest edition of The Coaching Conversation. I hope you found it interesting. I hope you found it useful. You can find out more about our coaching programmes at

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