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The risks associated with sudden growth and how to mitigate them

The risks associated with sudden growth

Catching the final episode of this year’s The Apprentice (BBC TV), I was struck by how one of the finalists appeared to have made the final two despite losing almost every challenge, primarily because his family-owned pie business had seen a roaring trade during Covid. It even seemed that his business had not maintained anything like that success since the pandemic, which does rather question the finalist’s actual business nous and may explain why he ended up as runner-up, and not the winner of Lord Sugar’s backing.

It did get me to thinking about all the businesses that were fortunate enough to benefit from the pandemic and lockdowns – and there were many – and how they’re faring now. Sudden and rapid growth can often lead to significant issues for organisations, let alone during as peculiar and unprecedented a time as we went through with Covid.


It’s kind of obvious that with sudden, unexpected and/or rapid growth or change, there is precious little time to forward-plan or evaluate current structure and ways of working. The chances are decisions are more knee-jerk and less considered than is ideal. It’s also likely that these sudden changes will affect the whole of the organisation, potentially resulting in widespread issues across multiple departments, and taking many different forms.

A few examples of this might include:

  • Rushed recruitment, resulting in sub-standard hiring choices

  • Shortcuts at induction, with multiple new starters given insufficient training and support, and being ill-equipped to take on their new roles effectively

  • Leaders placed out of their depth and not knowing how to grow as required.

  • Leaders stretched too thin, whether through managing suddenly expanded teams of new staff, taking on additional responsibilities, or having to split their time between working on and in the business. Or all of the above.

  • Staff going off with stress because of expanded workloads and new responsibilities. To compound this, this can disproportionately affect pre-existing and experienced staff, too.

  • Structural or hierarchical issues, with uncertainty around roles, responsibilities, and decision-making accountabilities.


This is why, amid the chaos, and even with time-pressures at their max, it’s so important to find (or make) time for listening and getting feedback from your people, focusing on the barriers and challenges they are facing. Some of this can be done electronically, via surveys or other interactive tools, but if things are really chaotic, one-to-one or small group sessions cannot be beaten for getting to the bottom of the problems, and for offering reassurance to those struggling. People need to believe that their views and experiences matter enough for leader to invest time in hearing about them.

There’s also a good chance that those at the coalface will have some sensible and workable suggestions and solutions to some of the problems. Leaders need to be open to hearing these and to feeding them forward. This is not the time for foolish pride or brash arrogance from anyone in a leadership role. This is the time for asking, listening, and acting upon feedback from a wide range of employees.

The importance of listening to employees during periods of change

Here are some Guru tips for mitigating these risks and realigning your organisation.


Develop a clear strategy as soon as possible

Whilst the growth and change may have arrived relatively unannounced, there is a lot to be said for defining a clear vision and strategy that aligns with the (new?) goals and (existing?) culture of the business as soon as is possible. This strategy should outline objectives, priorities, and action plans to guide decision-making and resource allocation moving forward.


Communicate clearly and constantly

You need to take everyone with you when transitioning through change or rapid growth. People need to understand why things are changing, what the expected timescales are for the changes, and what the destination will look like. They also need to understand the benefits of the changes to the organisation and to themselves.

If your organisation or the scale of the change is large enough, this may benefit from its own comms strategy and/or designated communicators.


Centre your comms on how you want your people to feel

Just as important as, if not more than, what you want your people to know and do is how you want them to feel. Start with the final piece of the puzzle and work backwards, carefully considering how people in different teams, roles and departments will feel as a result of the changes and what you’re communicating to them. This is one time when having others’ input and feedback can really help, ideally from people with quite different experiences and viewpoints.


Prepare, empower, and support your leaders

It’s vital that your leaders have the knowledge, skills, and confidence they need to tackle their expanded roles or larger teams. Leaders trying to blag it because they don’t know vital information themselves, or burning out because they’re stressed half-to-death will have dire consequences for the people they lead and the wider business.

If you have a tiered management structure, ensure leaders at every level are empowered and informed to support those that they lead. And that should start at the very top.


Make sure everyone else has the knowledge and tools they need to do their jobs

It sounds so obvious but is easily overlooked when growth is unexpected and rapid, but it’s crucial that employees have all of the necessary tools, resources, and autonomy to contribute to the company's success.

This may also involve investing in scalable infrastructure, processes, and technology. This includes systems for managing increased workload, upgrading technology to support expansion, and implementing efficient workflows to streamline operations.


Manage cash flow and finances

Manage cash flow effectively to support growth initiatives and ensure financial stability. This includes closely monitoring revenue streams and controlling expenses. (These, incidentally, are two things that it seems our friend in the final of The Apprentice had not been doing post-Covid-related-expansion!)

If the growth is significant enough, it may also involve securing additional funding to fuel the new growth without compromising the financial health of the business.


Periods of change or rapid growth can cause problems


So, while sudden business growth presents exciting opportunities, it also comes with inherent risks that must be carefully managed. Rapid expansion can strain resources, lead to (or accentuate) operational inefficiencies, and strain cash flow if not handled effectively. To mitigate these risks, businesses should prioritise strategic planning and effective internal communication, invest in scalable infrastructure, and focus on their existing teams as well as new talent acquisition.



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