Key on keyboard with a Return Key labeled "growth."
Growing a business is never easy, but it does get harder as your company gets bigger. PHOTO: Kai Kalhh

Why do so many companies experience growth and success when they’re small, but struggle to maintain that growth on a larger scale?

The answer is this: what it takes to succeed as a small company is different than as a large company.

While there are many reasons why so many businesses find it hard to replicate the success they initially enjoyed, many struggle to sustain growth simply because they find it difficult to recognize and accept that they are no longer the same company. Growing businesses sometimes don’t want to face the fact that they are changing and need to respond to that change by shifting their way of thinking in order to sustain their growth.

One key difference between what it takes to be successful as a startup versus a larger, more established business is process discipline. 

Business processes are easily known and readily shared when your company is small, but those processes are more difficult to convey and practice as your company grows.

When Your Business Spans the Globe

At one point the entire team at my own business could be housed in one office. I could literally walk down the hall, get into a conversation about some aspect of the business and change our processes on the spot.

The whole team was on the same page and understood not only what the new process was, but why the change was made. That simply isn’t possible when a change is made in our New Zealand office while our U.S. team is having dinner and our European team is going to sleep.

Process can serve as one of the pillars that assures your company maintains its core values, its soul, even as it grows. Properly implemented, your business process should be the glue that holds together your company’s assets and resources — from its people and its technology to its suppliers and customers.

How can growing companies invest in process? There are four key considerations:

  1. Start with leadership and governance. There needs to be clear and visible support from the top that process is essential, and that “how” the company operates is important to retaining its vision and culture as it grows.
  2. Process ownership should span teams. As your company grows, multiple teams are involved in end-to-end processes, all of which need to work in concert with each other. This is harder to do as the company gets bigger, but it is not impossible. Clear process ownership and accountability is key.
  3. Process is no longer in everyone’s head. It’s a lot easier for everyone to be on the same page when you have five employees instead of 500. Processes should be managed and communicated in a central knowledge base that is not only easily accessible to everyone in the company, but also easily understandable.
  4. Maintain a culture of challenging. As your company gets bigger, it’s sometimes easy to fall into the trap of settling for a “that’s the way we’ve always done things” mindset. Always ask why. Constantly challenge the accepted way of doing things. Teams should be encouraged to continually innovate. In doing so, they will sustain the same kind of philosophy responsible for the company’s growth and success as a start-up.

In the early days of any organization, process is implicit knowledge that the team knows inside and out. You may not even need to bother writing down processes when you are a small team. But that’s simply not the case when you have multiple people in multiple countries trying to work together as a single team.

You Can Defy the Odds

Making the leap from a small to a bigger company is a fantastic challenge, and entirely different to that of creating a successful startup. Constantly investing in process can provide the solid foundation which enables a great start-up to transform into a global success.

Rather than the perception that process is an innovation constraint or administrative burden it is, in fact, one of the critical growth enablers required to help organizations scale effectively.