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Navigating the Pitfalls of Rapid Scaling

This article is Part 2 of a three-part series on Sales Innovation. Check out Part 1: The Complexities of Collaboration in Sales, and sign up for our newsletter to get Part 3 sent directly to your inbox in the coming weeks.

In today’s fast-paced business environment, the pressure to scale initiatives–and scale them quickly–is a reality for almost every leader. And, it’s a reality that holds especially true in sales. While moving fast is a necessity, it’s important to understand the ways acceleration can cause programmatic breakdowns, and why. 

This article explores seven common challenges associated with rapid scaling, focusing on a couple key challenges that, if addressed early, can help to mitigate other potential issues.

7 Common Challenges of Rapid Scaling

1. GAPS IN PREPARATION AND ALIGNMENT

A lack of preparation often shows up in 2 varieties:

The first is assuming the success of the program will happen without issue or complication. What we’ve lovingly dubbed “The Kitchen Renovation,” this problem is less of an issue when recreating what we already know, and more typically seen when we’re looking to break new ground. Excitement of a new idea can lead to a quick launch, without a thorough investigation into blind spots. 

The second way gaps in preparation and alignment shows up is in knowing where issues might be–but actively avoiding them for fear of creating drag early in the project. Challenge number two we’ve dubbed “The In-Laws.” This tends to be justified as not wanting to have too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen, with the goal of streamlining decision making. Often, we see this bug found in “nice” cultures where directness is deprioritized to avoid conflict, as well as in siloed cultures when team success can be prioritized over the organization’s broader goals.

How to Mitigate Gaps in Preparation and Alignment: 

For “The Kitchen Renovation” style challenges, the pre-mortem is a simple tool for informing a more honest project brief, where potential issues are explored before the project kicks off and strategies for how to navigate these challenges are discussed early. 

For challenges of “The In-Laws” variety, looking at the relationship quality across team or BU leaders can be a good starting point in understanding where opportunities for collaboration are falling down. Since we typically see teams modeling the posturing of senior leaders, until the leadership dynamic is fixed, it’s unlikely the teams themselves can develop a sustainable workaround. 

2. RUSHED OR ASSUMED STAKEHOLDER BUY-IN

Moving quickly tends to mean, defaulting to top-down strategy development, and minimizing time spent gathering insights from or co-creating with the organization, at large. For getting projects off the ground quickly and efficiently, this is a huge win. But, not long thereafter, the breakdowns tend to start, quickly inflating the overall project expense and timeline. 

Frequently, this breakdown is due to the variance between leadership’s assumptions and employee’s perspectives around what is needed and the implications of a project on their work. According to a study by Deloitteonly 56% of employees think their company’s executives care about their well-being, while 91% of the C-suite think their employees believe they care about it.” 

Scaling major organizational shifts without getting organizational input and buy-in not only creates a high likelihood for missteps in program execution, but it also solidifies the belief that leadership is unaware of the program’s impact on employees, and more importantly, that leadership doesn’t care about the second order effects on employees. 

How to Mitigate Rushed or Assumed Stakeholder Buy-In:

Stakeholder engagement around program creation doesn’t have to be a massive initiative. Instead of standing it up as a separate work stream, we recommend that our clients integrate engagement into existing programmatic design activities. Key areas of engagement can include diversifying the invite list for a pre-mortem (see above) or asking for quick suggestions that build off of the core team’s early pilot concepts. Highlighting this feedback, how it was gathered, and how it was incorporated through regular stakeholder communications can go a long way to building good will.

3. MISJUDGED RESOURCE ALLOCATION

Stretching resources too thin, too early leads to burnt-out teams and half-baked outcomes. If budget allows, build some slack into the system by scaling down scope. In our experience, fewer focused wins tend to build greater goodwill, then a long-list of promises with meh delivery. 

4. MINIMIZED ONBOARDING AND TRAINING SUPPORT

Skipping or shortening onboarding and training support, especially in programs that require behavioral change or building confidence in new areas, destines programs to fail. We’ve found that focusing on a broader communications strategy, positioning the new initiative as a pilot, and getting interested people raising their hands to drive the pilot forward can minimize onboarding and training cost. As an added bonus, when that group’s first experience is great, they drive socialization in a way that makes broader onboarding much easier. 

5. QUALITY BREAKDOWNS

Issues in quality often come from lack of alignment around what “quality” means in this context and where it is important. For projects that require speed, we will often keep our fidelity “scrappy” for internal work but spend time creating higher fidelity outputs for anything that’s end-customer- or client-facing. 

6. SACRIFICING TESTING AND FEEDBACK CYCLES

One of the primary goals of starting small and scaling is to learn and adapt as you go, but sacrificing that critical learning and feedback to move faster is a major pitfall. We once ran a new pilot program for a white glove service to top tier clients of a big-tech firm. During the first pilot, the clients were awed by what we achieved, but the internal team was burned out and spread way too thin. So, we adapted the design to focus on not only creating a great client experience, but also improving the experience of the internal team. The next pilot created a much more manageable experience for the sales team and their managers. Getting a great experience for all stakeholders takes time and iteration. 

7. CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP IMPACT

When the impact on customer experience isn’t fully thought through, quickly made changes at scale can cause confusion and frustration at best–and lost business at worst. In analyzing what leads to customer confidence, consistency and dependability rank high on the list of traits needed in a strong partner. When those are broken, even unintentionally, it’s easy to lose long standing customers. We’ve found that focusing on tighter pilots with small groups of customers who are involved in change initiatives before those major changes are made across the board is critical to help mitigate small mistakes with big implications. 

Conclusion

Scaling programs and projects quickly is a necessary part of doing business. There’s no way around the need to move fast, but figuring out where things are likely to go sideways can help you identify moments to slow down and align before, ultimately, speeding up with fewer negative impacts. 

Depending on your organizational tendencies and culture, you might not have all of these challenges in the same way, but building your own list of potential pitfalls can be a helpful way to kick of any project or program with plans to scale.


Scaling in sales is hard work, and sometimes teams can use a little outside help. If you’re interested in learning how we might support your sales team or organization, send us a note and we’ll set up a discovery call with one of our team leads.

Jason Wisdom
[email protected]

Jason Wisdom is one of the co-founders and partners at The Design Gym, a strategy and innovation consultancy helping leaders to grow their business by fully unlocking the power of their most important advantage: their people. We work at the intersection of business strategy, experience design, and change management to engage the people that matter most to your work: your customers, your leaders, and your employees. See something that resonates with a project or challenge you're working on? Shoot him a note at [email protected].

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