Top 3 scaling mistakes to avoid in 2016

This is the time of year where most of us reflect on 2015 and plan to-dos for 2016. Instead, I’ve created a “not to do” list for the new year.

As a recovering sales leader turned CEO, I’ve noticed that most of my mistakes result from my preference for speed, and center around people, product, and top line vs. bottom line choices. Here, I’m sharing my top three mistakes I’ve made scaling a department or company so you can avoid them.

  1. Nail your hiring profile before you accelerate it

What do you do when you have 20 million in the bank? Hire! Why not? If you have the cash and leadership team in place, it’s the next logical thing to do, right?

Wrong. Like any team and product, the first thing to plan out is the initial playbook that incorporates the personnel you have today. After that, create a clear plan for where you want to be in the future and a playbook to get there. The first year is about testing and understanding who fits in your system today, and how that will change as you grow and scale — because it will.

Early on, you’ll need people who can work somewhat independently. These people will help you iterate and evolve your product and process. As you build out the playbook for the future, you will need people who can execute, since the formula for what you are selling and who you are selling to becomes clear.

The biggest mistake you can do is to hire 20–30 people into an unproven system, market, or product and hope they will figure it out, if the first five haven’t already done so.

It becomes a wobbly tower. The foundation hasn’t been laid and you keep stacking more and more on top of it. There always comes a point when the tower cracks or breaks and you’re forced to slow down and make repairs.

2. When launching new divisions, test for the mid-tail if there aren’t comparable companies in the new market — there may be a reason no one is there

Read the books Crossing the Chasm and Four Steps to the Epiphany at least every two years. These books force you to look at the customer as a part of the process instead of as revenue, preventing you from scaling a business prematurely.

New products and markets are exciting because of the challenge and perceived opportunity. It’s easy to get caught up in the momentum. Having a cluster of companies willing to buy may seem like a good thing, but it may not mean that the product or market is ready to scale. Pump the brakes until you have a repeatable process to tackle the market AND a verified TAM. One day’s worth of research may save you months or years of headaches and personnel issues.

Go slow and verify, and then verify again that the market is big enough and that opportunity cost of going somewhere else or selling something else is worth the effort.

3. Never forget that people matter more than email and projects

In stages of rapid growth, it’s easy to think “she’s got this, I don’t need to have that 1–1 this week.”

Your people matter more than almost any deadline or email you can imagine. What would happen if you cleared your calendar tomorrow or another day this week, and instead dedicated time to spend the day with the people that matter the most? Most likely, you would have very engaged executives, and those who didn’t notice a thing.

This is a mistake I make over and over again. So much so that, as I write this, I realize that I need to have at least three 1–1s this week with people “that are doing great and have it figured out.” When you are growing, it is easy to focus on the areas of underperformance and let the top people continue to do what they do. This is also the easiest way to lose your top people, as top performers usually want and expect more attention because they know their value.

It is often too late when you realize this, and it only takes 1–2 top people leaving to make you refocus on what should always matter most — your people.

Looking back at Skaled’s 2015, I can say that I’ve made versions of each of these mistakes and it’s through this reflection that we are poised for a great 2016. Companies that are growing and performing well are also consistently hurt by these mistakes. It’s not that growth stops, but that growth will slow unnecessarily when you forget these three learnings. Execute, reflect, perfect and then execute differently — and try to not repeat the same mistakes consistently.

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Do you agree or disagree with my points above? What mistakes have you learned from this past year?