Growing pains: Transitions can be tough

Some companies swing open their doors with visions of grandeur. Some find their genesis with the goal of staying local. Some take pride in the mom/pop shop model, while others behave like a pinball machine, finding growth and success with any path of least resistance.

Our company, now four years old, started off modestly in an aged medical building in Pueblo. We had a little money, a big vision and even bigger goals. I can’t say we had a business plan or even an ideal staffing model on day one, but we had the foresight of creating a future that was beyond what faced us on a daily basis in the early days.

The work ethic of our core group in a startup culture, in combination with a product that people wanted were so well-received that we adjusted our growth plans to open clinics in multiple locations, soon taking us to other states.

Along the way, we put our patients, clinics and clinic staff first. Marketing, management and management staff were all a “second” to the clinic needs, as management and often marketing was defined early on as “overhead.”

As a result, there was a painful rolling of the eyes among our staff whenever the management group was referenced (for the record, the management “group” was comprised of me, an operations officer, a finance officer and a creative consultant).  Because we were so limited with hands-on-deck, our response time became slower and the challenges with rapid growth became bigger. 

I sought out people with expertise whom I considered smarter than me to kickstart the next phase. It wasn’t easy to introduce new leaders into a staff used to reporting directly to me. We are now well underway with our “transition,” or as I have read in business literature, our “metamorphosis.” Operations are starting to focus and responsibilities are narrowing. Our management group offers four lines of service to our clinics and medical staff (Strategy, Finance, Risk/Compliance, Clinic/Operations), and entering 2014, we have more challenges than ever – just more “grown-up” ones than in the beginning.

The new complexities and divisions of labor challenge the morale of the original startup staff, who loved the rally cry, the action, the speed, the late night meetings, the shared roles and big dreams of the time when we worked in a tiny, cramped facility and could discuss challenges and solutions without ever requiring a scheduled meeting.

Originally, it was all so organic and natural. But now we have policies and procedures, and we are buttoning up what we do and how we do it. Despite the productivity and general happiness of our staff, I hear rumblings that we are “becoming corporate.” At first my heart sank – I don’t want our culture to be “corporate,” starchy and strict. But at the same time, I recognize this as a sign of success: We have survived the “craziness” of startup, and we are moving forward into maturity. 

Today, our business functions are more fluid and understood, our finances and forecasting are more stable, and our marketing and messaging more clear. In trying to understand our growing pains and why our culture is so challenged, I came to realize that a startup is not just a small version of a big company – it is a unique company in itself.

When the startup begins to mature, the culture does as well, and not everyone likes that change. Clearly, growing up is not easy. With more employees and more locations, it has become more difficult for staff to reach me in a timely manner in the home clinic where I used to spend my days and nights.

That said, our business continues to renew itself, while we also strive to retain some startup mentality as we continue to grow and open new facilities. This is the energy that keeps people on their toes, and forces us to be resourceful and innovative.

I expect our transition to be natural and organic – it’s meant to be. As a shout-out to all those parents out there: just as an infant moves from keeping us up all night to eventually learning to sleep through the night independently, so too does an organization mature from all-nighters to structure and discipline in its operations. So as we move into “corporate,” if I get to sleep more… well, then, I guess that’s okay by me!

Tips for the Transition

• Recognize change as it’s headed your way – and over communicate to your staff what is going on.
• Find the “right seat on the bus” for valued employees who might not be in the right job anymore, but who are committed to the organization and mission.
• Respond quickly to emails and calls, even if it’s only an acknowledgement that you are swamped and an answer to their question will take time. Communication and staying in touch is key.
• Trust who you delegate to… and let them do their job.
• Culture trumps strategy. If you don’t have the people and the culture to support your plans, your strategy will fail.

Categories: Management & Leadership