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On the Fast Track
Tackle Hyper-growth without Going off the Rails
By Heather Stewart
October 7, 2014
Over the years, as we’ve interviewed companies on our annual Fast 50 list of the state’s fastest-growing companies, many founders have said dealing with strong, rapid growth can feel a lot like clinging to the wheel of an out-of-control semi-truck careening down a canyon. The ability to get that speeding truck under control makes the difference between massive success—and a spectacular crash.
Here, execs from a few of this year’s Fast 50 companies (listed in our September issue), describe how they kept their rapidly growing firms moving in the right direction.
Focus, Focus, Focus
Entrepreneurs tend to be dreamers with lots of grand ideas. But success often requires keeping a laser focus on your mission—even if that means letting opportunities fall by the wayside. The biggest challenge that comes with rapid growth is “saying no to opportunities when they don’t fit with our company’s vision,” explains Scott Abbott, CEO of Five Star Franchising.
To overcome this same challenge, CLEARLINK assembled an internal team of business development experts that winnows down the list of various business opportunities. “Prioritizing opportunities and industries for expansion continues to be a challenge alongside growth. There are dozens of industries and companies we can drive meaningful business with,” says Ben Henderson, president of CLEARLINK. “As a way to focus our attention and efforts, we built a team of business development experts [that] focuses on growing and prioritizing opportunities.”
Every company has its own unique culture, and often that culture is the pivotal difference between a successful business and its competitors. But bringing on new people at a rapid rate can dilute or even overwhelm a corporate culture.
“Ensuring each employee is connected to the business and our culture has been a challenge,” says Henderson. “To scale our culture we have created a culture statement to put words around what we stand for so employees can relate. We have also created a ‘culture ambassadors’ program to ensure each team has dedicated employees who help build team culture and connect their team to larger CLEARLINK experiences, opportunities and events.”
Preserving its culture has also been a challenge for Pluralsight, a provider of online training for IT professionals. The company experienced triple-digit growth in 2013 and worked to integrate new people into its culture.
“We’ve confronted this challenge by hitting it head on rather than thinking it will work itself out,” says Aaron Skonnard, CEO of Pluralsight. He says the company put processes in place to support its culture, and leaders talk about culture at every opportunity. “In fact, we just recently hosted CultureCon, a week-long company meeting solely focused on unifying the company and strengthening our culture. Many companies that grow fast don’t think they can focus on culture because there’s other work to be done, but we feel in order to accelerate our growth, we have to continually invest in our culture.”
Train to Maintain
Bringing people onboard and throwing them at tasks may get the immediate work done, but it won’t move the organization forward. Truenorthlogic found a more formalized training program could help new staff become productive more quickly. “We sell a complex product and it was very difficult to double our amount of implementations and staff while we were experiencing such rapid growth,” says CEO Jeanette Haren. “To overcome these challenges, we developed thorough up-front training programs to familiarize our new hires with our product more quickly. We are also simplifying our product to make the setup and implementation less intensive, thus reducing the knowledge required to service it.
Consistency is vitally important for Extra Space Storage—particularly in company processes, customer service and the appearance of facilities nationwide. “We want to make sure that customers have a positive experience at all of our sites. Extra Space has a large learning and development team, with employees across the country providing this training,” says CFO Scott Stubbs.
In addition to training new hires, it’s important to make sure the executive team stays up to the task and grows with the company. CLEARLINK has development programs for each layer of leadership and management, as well as executive development and coaching for senior leaders.
“We have also begun in-depth succession planning throughout the organization, so that we are prepared to scale in future waves of growth with tools and training to equip all employees,” says Henderson.