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For sustainable growth, look to the managers of your organization

By Ali McAnaney / July 30, 2019

At some point in time, every business will experience growth. It’s the only natural course of action for any organization that expects to stay relevant and competitive in today’s marketplace.

Achieving and sustaining a high-growth phase is another matter. Some businesses may find themselves struggling to scale at the pace they want, and misalignment between the C-suite and frontline employees is often a source of friction.

In order to achieve rapid growth, everyone from the entry-level associate to the board of directors needs to be bought into the same vision. McKinsey recently found that 70% of complex, large-scale change programs never meet their end goals, with two of the top challenges cited as inadequate management support and a lack of employee engagement.

The C-suite may be the ones calling for growth, but they won’t be the ones actually implementing and refining the steps to scale a business. At the risk of being an organization that sees their expansion initiatives fail, business leaders need to leverage those on the front lines—senior managers—to turn their sustainable growth goals into reality.

The voice of the people

It’s no secret that periods of growth are chaotic, messy and unpredictable. Processes are changing, new people are joining the team and current job functions are transforming.

In these periods, let the C-suite focus on high-level strategic goals, and lean on your senior managers to maintain stability by keeping their teams focused on the right objectives and filtering out unnecessary noise.

The senior manager is like the connective tissue between frontline employees and leadership. They bridge the gap between the C-suite’s strategic need for change and the operational steps that are required to scale a business. And with one finger on the pulse of their direct reports, they can immediately identify when growth is met with resistance or embraced by frontline employees. By relying on senior managers to coach employees through obstacles hindering progress, businesses can build team-wide enthusiasm for favorable, sustainable growth.

Not only are senior managers able to secure greater employee buy-in and support, they can also surface any concerns raised by their teams early on in the expansion process. Senior managers are acutely aware of how projects and workflows will be impacted during expansion and provide recommendations to avoid surprises, mitigate attrition and communicate effectively. They can also filter employee feedback up to those making strategic decisions, giving the C-suite the full picture of how their growth plans will transpire in practice. Through transparency and open communication, senior managers can better support their employees and their company’s leadership during times of transition.

Filling talent gaps & uncovering new opportunities

As headcount increases and operations evolve, individual roles and expectations will inevitably change. Amidst all the reshuffling, senior managers can help leadership teams address things like filling open positions and allocating existing resources in a more efficient way.

Senior managers are the eyes and ears on the floor, able to forecast challenges and determine where their team’s strengths lie. With this insight, upper management can better understand what’s working (and what’s not) and create new opportunities for employees aligned with a business’ growth goals.

Consider what happened when a high performing individual on my own team mentioned the career limitations she felt as a mother during a period of rapid expansion at Sprout Social. The demands of people management weren’t conducive to maintaining balance in her personal and professional life, but other career advancement options weren’t readily apparent.

Instead of confining her to a management role she didn’t want, or only looking at other lateral moves in the business, we worked together to outline a new individual contributor role aligned with Sprout’s expanding enterprise strategy. This collaboration created an entirely different level of support for the growing list of customers we were onboarding as part of our business expansion plans. The result was a win-win: my direct report felt she had a clear opportunity to grow into her new position, and Sprout was able to immediately address a business need to better serve our customers.

In a similar fashion, scaling our Customer Success department was only possible because senior managers identified a champion who consistently sought ways to proactively address problems before they arose. We saw the opportunity to emulate their workflow and organizational skills across teams in a way that would improve team members’ interactions with customers and cut down on the time they spent seeking answers to resolve queries. This representative went on to create and scale Sprout’s success enablement efforts to help us quickly empower new and existing contributors while reducing the time spent getting teams up to speed.

Growth is more than a numbers game

Revenue isn’t the only metric businesses are concerned about during a high-growth phase. Members of the C-suite also need to factor in how the addition of new hires will either sustain or hinder aggressive growth goals.

During periods of scalability, a static culture may not be ready to support new hires who run the gamut from parents with kids to the recent college graduate. As conduits to the team, senior managers are in tune with these cultural shifts and can bring attention to problems that don’t make themselves readily apparent to the C-suite. What worked for 100 employees might not work for 1,000 employees; similarly, policies that supported a younger workforce may not always resonate with a workforce that’s more diverse in age. With the goals of the broader organization and frontline employees top of mind, managers can spot problem areas in a company’s culture before employees decide to leave.

At Sprout, for example, we previously didn’t have a strong structure in place to support parents returning from parental leave beyond “welcome back!”. Had it not been for the initiative of an employee and her manager, the C-suite may not have known about the need for a New Parent Business Resource Group. Addressing these gaps in real-time meant we could continue growing the company without fear of losing high-performing individuals in a culture that wasn’t supporting their personal growth.

Sustainable growth starts from the middle

Every employee is an essential piece of the puzzle in a business’ quest for growth. But as high-growth companies expand at a faster and faster rate, it’s all too easy for information and ideas to get lost in the shuffle. Empowering senior managers to bridge the gap between individual contributors and leadership is a necessary first step toward widespread business growth. While the C-suite may be the first to champion scaling a business, it’s the senior managers who are testing, refining and sustaining that growth over time.

Ali McAnaney

Ali McAnaney

Ali McAnaney is a Manager of Enterprise Customer Success at Sprout Social. As a leader, she's passionate about supporting her team in building and maintaining valuable customer relationships. When she's not discussing all things social media with Sprout's customers, you can find her at her favorite workout class, cooking a healthy-ish meal, traveling to new cities or finding ways to contribute to the Chicago community.
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