Why People Get Scared in Fast-Growth Companies
Growing companies tend to be full of uncertainty and ambiguity caused by constantly changing employees, job demands, structures, systems, products, and markets. Uncertainty can and does create problems at every stage of growth.
Some people will inevitably begin to worry about how the changes in a fast-growing company will affect their future with the organization. Everything seems increasingly unfamiliar. There are new people joining the business with very different skills. At the same time, some old timers have been reassigned or have left the organization. People can become quite anxious about their future because they don’t understand why all the changes are taking place, so they cling to the “good old days.”
Fear and Paranoia Become All-Consuming
People see how the firm has grown and become concerned that their skills may no longer be adequate enough for the future. They begin to silently question their value to the company. Individuals who once had a certain position in the organizational hierarchy based on loyalty and longevity now find they are competing based on merit. Managers and supervisors who became so by receiving quick promotions in the early stages find that expectations of their management skills have increased exponentially.
Over time, people may begin to hoard information to prove their worth. Entire departments can become consumed with unfounded fear and paranoia about their future. Individuals and departments alike may attempt to isolate themselves from the rest of the organization. People avoid drawing attention to what they are doing. Those that feel anxious about their future often slip into survival mode, spending much of their time worrying about what might happen next.
Productivity and Morale Suffer
When companies are moving quickly communication tends to suffer. When poor communication is combined with rapid growth, many people begin to feel uneasy. To lessen the feeling of uncertainty, people begin to create their own informal networks to get the information they need.
Productivity can tumble as people spend more and more time speculating and discussing the latest rumors they hear through the “grapevine.” In the face of uncertainty, when information is ever changing, most managers don’t take the time to communicate with employees about what is happening and why the organization is changing. Management often assumes that employees will simply trust that management knows what it is doing. A lack of information, however, erodes trust. People left in the dark fill in the blanks with their own, mostly negative, interpretations of what is going on. If this particular problem goes unaddressed, morale begins to suffer.
Most employees will have no concept of the changes that an organization must go through as it grows. It is a highly confusing, worrying period when it seems as though the very fabric of the organization has been torn apart by dysfunctional management. You will even find that some or even most managers feel the same way.
Healthy Turnover is Okay
For people in the organization that were recruited in earlier stages, major transformations in the organization’s culture can be a step too far. Despite all of your best intentions, a number of employees – possibly even a large number – will find that organizational change is simply too much to take. A combination of those who don’t like the new culture, those who feel marginalized or forgotten, and those who don’t have the skills required to move to the next level may leave.
It is important to recognize that this is healthy turnover: The organization is moving on, and some people are not cut out for the next stage of the journey. Expensive as it may be in the short term to absorb the impact of such turnover, in the medium and long-term the business is better served by having an organization full of people that are motivated and inspired to move the company forward.
Manage the Story
Focus on opening and maintaining clear lines of communication, with the entire organization, so everyone understands what is coming and how it will impact them. Leadership involves getting people to act in unfamiliar and unwelcome ways. The only way to prevent your organization from creating its own stories about what is going on is to manage the story proactively, consistently, frequently, and through multiple channels.
Are you preparing your organization for the changes that come along with growth?