As companies get larger, there is a tendency for them to lose some of the innovative edge and versatility that defined them as start-ups and young enterprises. Several factors common to larger firms contribute to this, including increased bureaucracy and more rigid, hierarchical command structures.
Accordingly, one of the challenges that growing businesses face involves keeping the company nimble, and ensuring that the workforce and leadership alike continue to adapt to technology and changing market conditions.
Encourage experimentation, with some margin for error.
All businesses strive to offer products and services that are commercially viable, and for larger firms in particular, a preoccupation with maximizing shareholder value can intensify those commercial pressures. Unfortunately, a drive for immediate windfalls can undermine more sophisticated forms of innovation that require time and capital investment to develop.
Major innovations cannot happen without experimentation, and experimentation is inherently risky. Many successful businesses have invested in products and technologies that never really took off. (Think of Google Glass, or QR codes, for example.) To genuinely innovate, managers must be willing to take risks on novel concepts that may not always pan out.
Consider the potential, and not just past achievements, of job candidates.
In applying for a position at your company, job candidates will typically emphasize their past experience and achievements that are relevant to the role—and well they should. But in looking to hire and promote, don’t get so fixated on the past successes of a candidate that you overlook the potential of applicants to grow as individuals and expand their skill sets.
In the recruitment stage, in interviews, and in personality surveys, try to incorporate questions that will reveal whether a candidate is curious, open to new approaches to old problems, and believes in h/er own potential to cultivate new skills.
One question that may reveal all of these attributes is: “What new skills or knowledge have you gained in the past year, and what did the learning process involve?” Alternatively, the common interview question “Do you have any questions for me?” can help bring out the curiosity, level of engagement, and preparedness of the candidate. Consider giving job candidates an assignment that will test their skills and approach to problem-solving.
Personal accountability matters.
One of the most important attributes of strong leaders is a capacity to assume responsibility when something goes wrong. In other words, they believe the locus of control is primarily internal rather than external. These are the types of individuals you should seek to hire and promote.
Personal responsibility is important from the perspective of organizational growth. Individuals who are willing to assume primary responsibility for their own shortcomings are more likely to learn from them and modify their approach. By contrast, those who convince themselves that their errors are entirely attributable to bad luck or circumstances beyond their control risk missing the lesson.
Reflect on your performance.
It’s not enough to merely work harder or put in longer hours when your business faces a challenge: you need a plan to help steer your efforts in a productive direction. Real learning requires not only hard work and persistence, but also active mental engagement.
One practice that can help is daily reflection—over the course of the work day, what did you do well, what would you have done differently if offered a second chance, and where do you see room for improvement? To facilitate this kind of reflection, you can encourage staff to keep a work journal, and set aside time (10-15 minutes of the workday) for entry-writing.