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Scaling up your business – how to systematize without stifling creativity

Have you ever been a part of an exciting new project/ start-up, which quickly became bogged down by bureaucracy and red tape as the team/ company grew?  Do you find yourself wondering “What happened to the fun and dynamic company that I used to love?”
That’s a common challenge faced by young companies and start-ups.
This chart by Churchill and Lewis summarizes some of the key challenges that young companies face as they move through various stages of growth.

SME Growth_Phases and Challenges

As the organization begins to grow, guidelines, rules and processes are necessary to create some semblance of order and system at the workplace. However, if the transition is not well-managed, the creativity and spontaneity that contributed to the very success of the start-up can get squelched.
Or, if your team doesn’t have the right attitude and discipline to begin with, bureaucracy and rules can quickly build up to make up for incompetence and lack of discipline.
So, how can you retain the entrepreneurial spirit as the company grows? How can you give people a sense of freedom while maintaining the “right” level of control and structure?
In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins identifies a “culture of discipline” as one of the critical ingredients that determine whether a good company moves on to become great. [Read more in our book summary].

The key is to instill a culture of discipline (achieved through disciplined people, thought and action), so you can let loose the spirit of entrepreneurship.Good to Great_Culture of discipline2


The process really starts with hiring the right “A-Team” players who value excellence, are self-disciplined and will go that extra mile to fulfill their responsibilities.  Working with disciplined people can be a real joy – they are intrinsically-motivated to do their best, can direct and focus their energy with the right guidance/ direction, and take responsibility for their actions.   With such a team, you need to only manage the systems, but not the people – and that’s already half the battle won.  On the other hand, with the “wrong” people, managers often try to use rules, regulations and processes to maintain some sembalance of order and control, which only build up to create stifling red tape and bureaucracy.

Next, you build on this culture of discipline, by providing a framework or system with clear parameters.  The principles, philosophies and guidelines need to be clearly laid out so there’s no ambiguity on the do’s and don’ts.  It’s equally important to ensure that your team understands what is at the “core” of your company (i.e. your “Hedgehog Concept”), and adheres to it fanatically (read more about the Hedgehog Concept here).

In short, the combination of self-discipline and a clear framework/ system sets a strong foundation, so you can cut people some slack to experiment freely, fail forward, and exercise their entrepreneurial spirit.

Here’s a quick summary of what to look out for if you are looking to deliver great performance in your organization:

Good to Great_Culture of discipline3


Developing a Culture of Discipline is important not only to bring your company from start-up to strength.  In the Good to Great “sequel”, Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras look at how visionary companies like 3M, Hewlett Packard, and Walt Disney can transcend time and generations (over 50 years) to maintain a leadership role in their industries.  One of the key success factors common to all these companies is how they concurrent embrace control and freedom as a philosophy.
Indeed, we find evidence of the Culture of Discipline at work from Google to the Navy SEALs.  In Work Rules! Laszlo Bock gives us an insider look at Google’s stringent process of hiring only the best, developing a crystal clear mission, equipping its people then giving them the freedom to create. In E​xtreme Ownership, retired SEAL officers Willink and Babin share why how discipline created more flexibility and freedom for the U.S. Navy SEALs to perform at their best.
Take a look inward at your team and company – do you have a culture of discipline and clear parameters which set a framework for creativity and entrepreneurship in your organization?
Take a look inward at your team and company – do you have a culture of discipline and clear parameters which set a framework for creativity and entrepreneurship in your organization?
A “culture of discipline” is only one of the 6 key ingredients that the 11 “good-to-great” companies used. Find out more about the other 5 ingredients in our Good-to-Great book summary bundle or read our books summary online.  Register for free to download 2 book summaries and book infographics today!
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