Things that grow change.

It’s a universal truth that applies to our bodies, plants, and yes, even organizations.

As head count rises, maintaining a company’s culture and aligning people with its values gets harder. The effects of Dunbar’s number kick in. Rules, policies, and procedures become necessary to promote order, unity, and consistency for both employees and customers alike.

We demand more from established companies than we do from startups. There are certain expectations of quality and reliability that come with success that must be met. Consistency becomes even more important as investment rounds are raised, and the stakes rise even higher. It helps promote stability, preserves unity, and builds confidence in the future of an organization.

But it also puts organizations at risk of growing stagnant. And in our fast-moving world of rapid innovation and disruption, stagnation is a death sentence.

Grow or Die

Moving fast, being scrappy, and innovating are keys to growth and success for most companies. Ironically though, as that success is achieved, agility and innovation are often neglected for the sake of consistency.

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As companies grow, they begin to focus more on internal stability than external vigilance, losing touch with their rapidly changing environment. They become rigid and stiff in their ways. Even when they are aware of the threats, they’re unable to respond competitively. They fall victim to active inertia — the tendency to follow established behaviors that may have at one time brought success but now result in failure.

History is littered with the carcasses of companies that didn’t keep up with the pace of change (RIP, Blockbuster Video, Radio Shack, Borders, Sears, etc.). These companies grew to be lumbering giants and were quickly overrun by smaller, nimbler competitors. Of the original Fortune 500 list published in 1955, only 11% of those companies still exist.

But consistency and growth are not mutually exclusive. Leading brands like Nike, Sony, Coca-Cola, Apple, and Amazon continually push boundaries and disrupt themselves, while at the same time maintaining a mature level of quality and consistency that is unmatched by their rivals. So how can leaders ensure their organizations continue to grow and innovate while maintaining a high level of quality and consistency?

5 ways leaders can help their organizations balance consistency and growth

1. Identify your strengths and weaknesses

As a team lead, you set the tone and pace for others. Take a long, honest look at yourself and try to identify your dominant traits and leanings. Are you an improviser that’s comfortable with change and ambiguity? Or do you prefer stability and structure? Do you tend to experiment and try new things, or would you rather focus on improving existing processes and workflows?

By identifying your own strengths and preferences, you can be more conscientious of the impact you’re having on the organization and take a more well-rounded approach to your leadership. The best leaders are able to balance agility with consistency. They’re able to generate quality results from their teams, but are also able to switch gears and lead their teams in new directions when situations call for it.

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2. Build a well-rounded team

After identifying your own strengths, it’s time to build a team that has complementary skills and diverse perspectives. Depending on the size and phase your organization is in, you may need to adjust your hiring strategy to meet organizational needs.

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Different personalities and skill sets become necessary at each phase of growth to set the foundation for the future. The goal, though, should be to hire a mix of divergent and convergent thinkers.

 Divergent thinkers…  Convergent thinkers...
 Open up problems  Hone in on solutions
 Explore possibilities  Focus on the best options
 Enlarge perspectives  Seek clarity
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While divergent thinking can push your organization to experiment and innovate, it could come at the cost of follow-through and execution if there aren’t enough critical thinkers on your team. Conversely, convergent thinkers will create stability and well-optimized processes, but it’s doubtful you’ll break new creative ground without a few divergent thinkers to try new approaches to common problems.

3. Create flexible processes

Processes are essential to maintaining consistency and become increasingly important as your organization scales. While workflows should be clear and well defined, this doesn’t mean they should be rigid and unyielding. Every plan should have opportunities built in that allow teams to evaluate progress and course correct when needed. Templates are a great tool for maintaining consistency by providing a unified starting place, but they’re still flexible enough to enable teams to explore new paths.

The challenge here is to promote ongoing experimentation and exploration even when a set of processes have yielded success in the past. Teams can easily become blind to processes that they feel comfortable with but that are no longer as effective as they once were.

The key to maintaining flexibility is visibility. When a process is mapped out and everyone on the team understands each component and how they fit together, they can begin to identify opportunities for improvement. Without visibility, roadblocks and bottlenecks are difficult to spot.

Additionally, a form of the bystander effect can take hold. With no clear person or piece to hold accountable, it’s rare for someone to take action and improve the situation. Regularly evaluate your processes as a team to ensure their efficiency, and encourage the exploration of new tools and methods periodically. Collaborative work management tools can help you build visibility into your organization, map out your processes, and identify areas where flexibility can be introduced.

4. Build strong lines of communication

Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Encourage your well-rounded team to voice their input before you set course. This will only happen if there are lines of communication open at all times and they feel the psychological safety to express their views, no matter what they are. Additionally, people need visibility into the work and have to feel that they have the ability to influence it before they’ll be motivated to speak up.

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Share work openly and often, no matter if it’s finished or not, and keep the feedback flowing. Avoid the “big reveal” at all costs. Continuous feedback is necessary to keep work from straying too far off course. Small and fixable errors balloon in size when work is done in isolation. When team members only share their work in its finished state after the hours have been invested, criticism is unwelcome and feels personal. Sharing work at all stages of completion softens the blow of feedback and helps remedy errors before any serious investments of time and resources.

5. Eliminate the fear of failure

The greatest enemy of growth in any organization is the fear of failure. When teams stop experimenting and taking risks, they stop innovating. It’s only by working through a volume of ideas, good and bad, that true innovation can take place. Failure becomes necessary to success.

Combating the fear of failure should be a top priority for all leaders in your organization. The best way to do this is to build a culture of trust and psychological safety.  

Adopting a growth mindset can help your team embrace failure and persist in the face of setbacks. People with a growth mindset believe their talents can be developed and that new skills can be learned. Not everyone is born with a growth mindset, but it can be taught. When an entire company adopts this way of thinking, little can hold the organization back from reaching their goals and objectives. Any obstacles are seen as temporary, and solutions can and will be discovered.

A useful tool for building problem-solving skills within your team are the 5 Whys. Asking “Why?” 5 times gets us past the assumptions, logic traps, and distractions that surround problems to uncover the root cause of the issue, not the just the symptoms. And once the actual cause of a problem is exposed, it can be addressed more successfully. Getting your team in the habit of solving challenging problems will give them the confidence to pursue growth even in the face of uncertainty.

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Becoming a nimble giant: Balancing consistency and growth

As your organization grows, the stakes inevitably get higher. You don't have the same freedoms small organizations have. People will hold you to a higher standard. But this doesn’t mean you can’t still be nimble. Balancing consistency and growth is not only achievable but vital for your organization to thrive in our ever-changing world.

Implementing the right tools, processes, and culture can help you maintain a high quality of consistency while promoting business agility and growth. These investments have a high rate of return. Teams that have trust in each other develop strong processes and are equipped with tools that enable better collaboration. They are able to adapt to change more easily than the competition and are more likely to achieve success.

Interested in learning how you can maintain consistency AND agility at scale?

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