December 30, 2019

Four unforgiving mistakes I made when scaling a company

Michel Gagnon
Michel Gagnon
CEO of Stun&Awe

The year end is always a good time to look back at what we’ve accomplished. It’s also the perfect time to learn from our mistakes. Well, I’ve had my fair share of mistakes. It turned out to be one of my best year in terms of personal and professional growth.

People marvel at rapid growth. When numbers keep going up month after month, Slack channels get filled with lots of “hoorays”, “booyahs”, “bams”, “whoo-hoos”, and “bugger mes”. Hope you get the point. But with growth comes a whole bunch of strategic and operational troubles.

Here are 4 key lessons I learned along the way, and that you should avoid not to screw up.

1. Trying to do too much too fast AKA not prioritizing

When I took the lead of a tech company, I saw so many things that needed to be fixed. Improving lead generation, tackling our massive technological debt, coaching and growing our people and making sure they were at the place place, narrowing our focus, etc.

Being myself a bit of an impatient lad, I wanted everything done yesterday. I wanted to scale the business as fast as possible.

So I started launching a series of initiatives to fix what was broken. The mistake I made was not taking into account what I now call the “organization’s bandwidth.”

Just like any individual, organizations have a limit to what they can take on, cope with, and get done. That limit differs from one organization to another.

Instead of quickly fixing some of the issues I had identified, I ended up freaked out a few folks who got massively overwhelmed and stressed.

Instead I should have worked on keeping my team focused and reducing stress.

2. Not taking the team with me on my mental journey

As a CEO or entrepreneurs, when you make a decision, you usually should have weighted a few key elements, i.e. data you saw, discussions you had, thinking you did by yourself, criteria your deemed essential. I have frequently assumed that my team would see problems, priorities, and strategies the same way I do.

The problem is they most probably rarely followed the same mental process I did.

After a good weekend of thinking, I would come in on Monday morning and make a bold strategic statement expecting everybody to say something like: “OMG, this is the most brilliant idea I’ve ever heard. I think I’m going to cry as I’m so touched by your wisdom and magnanimity!”

What I got was more like a very passionate push back.

If we dig a bit deeper to understand, here’s what happened.

I don’t work 100 hours/week, but I definitely think about the business almost all the time. I’m ok with that. That’s my mental process. That means that I’m constantly reviewing past discussions, analyses, data, meetings in my mind and evolving my perspective on our key challenges and what needs to be done.

What I forgot was that no one else was with me in my mind (except for Bobby, my imaginary friend) while I was doing that mental work. What I should have done is put on paper my thinking process and walk the team through it before dropping my “bold strategic statement” bomb. Then I could have asked them to contribute to the decision-making process and chip in on the solution.

3. Getting distracted by the noise

This one's a no-brainer. But although everyone knows about it, putting into practice strategic and operational focus is pretty hard.

When you’re leading a company, there’s noise literally everywhere: at the office, within your team, in the market, etc.

It’s so easy to lose track of what truly matters and start chasing another shiny object or opportunity.

As Tim Ferriss once wrote, “being busy is a form of laziness”. Focus and good strategy require making choices. And that’s a pretty tough thing to do when you’re a human being.

We launched markets we shouldn't have launched and developed features we shouldn’t have developed. I did this because I wanted to hedge my bets. Some markets take off, others don’t. Some products or features become successful, others die a slow or sometimes sudden death.

But my thinking was flawed. There were too many moving objects and too much to deal with.

I basically forgot to keep an eye on the only thing that really matters: solving our customers’ problems and keeping them happy.

4. Mistaking symptoms for problems

With all the stress, noise, and firefighting, I also found it difficult to see clearly. As the company had scaled nicely,it became increasingly tough to know what was really going on in the organization.

Everybody had an opinion, a bias, an agenda. What should have been a simple operational problem to troubleshoot quickly became a 4-season TV drama with dragons, swords, and broken hearts.

I often made the mistake of jumping to conclusions to fix an issue as fast as possible. Many problems that I had to deal with were just a symptom of something deeper, i.e.:

  • Not having the right leaders onboard or the right behaviors
  • Having broken processes
  • Lacking the tools to automate and improve productivity

For instance, I was not happy with the commercial focus and speed of our product development. Instead of taking a few hours to dissect the team, the process, the skills, the tools, etc. I tackled what I believed what needed to be fixed without a proper 5 whys analysis.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn

Making mistakes is part of the learning process. If you’re smart enough to reflect and learn from them, you’ll come out as a stronger leader and better equipped to successfully scale your business.

For 2020, we wish you all a lot of success, learning, and sustainable growth in your business!!!

As always, if you need help, check out our Growth Leap Online Course , tools, and services.