Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to have been part of several fast-growing organizations in both ministry and the marketplace. I loved the energy, the pace and the unique challenges of leading through a season of growth. But for all the fun and excitement, it can also be a very dangerous time for both the organization and the leader.
Decisions we make during that season can either set us up for long-term sustainable health and growth or can set us up for a serious derailment down the line.
Here are seven common mistakes made by leaders of fast-growing organizations:
1. Assuming that what got you there will keep you there.
Organizations, like people, need to adapt to changing environments and circumstances over time, because the world in which we live changes constantly. When our organizations or ministries experience rapid growth, we tend to focus only on managing that growth rather than thinking strategically about where our organization is heading and the potential challenges that may be ahead. You may have a great vision, but the initial strategy that led to rapid growth may not work for the long haul as circumstances change and as your organization outgrows the initial strategy.
The marketplace and the ministry world are littered with now-defunct or irrelevant organizations that had a great idea, grew quickly, but could not adapt to changing realities. While we shouldn’t abandon the compelling vision that fueled the growth, we will need to pay attention to changes around us that may require a change in strategy, organizational structure, roles and even personnel as the organization matures and adapts.
2. Building systems and programs that aren’t scalable as your ministry or organization grows.
One vital question leaders of fast-growing organizations need to ask is this: Can your staff, systems, programs and style adapt and continue to grow if you have 20 percent or 50 percent more people coming to your church in one year? And have you put systems in place that can grow with you? What about your staff? Can they manage and lead effectively as you grow, or will they hit a ceiling where they are no longer effective?
3. Assuming that the growth rate will go on indefinitely.
I was part of a church that saw rapid growth over several years, and it was blast. People were coming in droves, and when they did, the feeling of expectation was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Every weekend was a happening. Income was exceeding expenses by an astounding amount each week, each month, each year. We made what we thought were strategic and God-honoring decisions to expand the organization.
What we didn’t count on was that the economy was about to crash, and we were not prepared for it. We hadn’t planned on the downturn and were forced to cut programming and people. Remember Joseph? In a season of plenty, he set aside a portion that could be used to sustain Egypt through a season of famine. It’s wise to be prepared for the worst while making the most of the season of growth.
4. Playing it too safe.
The other side of the coin of not planning for slower growth is not being willing to continue taking the risks necessary to reach more people. I see this all the time in churches. An entrepreneurial leader plants a church with a bright vision, and lays it all on the line. No risk is too great to reach people.
They’ll try anything to reach the lost. The church begins to grow, and then organization grows to support it. And suddenly the risks that seemed so easy to take when there was nothing to lose become harder and harder to take. There are employee’s families to consider and a budget to maintain. There are policies and procedures that must be followed.
While it’s critical to create systems and processes that will allow an organization to mature and maintain itself, those systems and processes need to support and encourage continued creativity and risk-taking in order to achieve the vision around which the organization is built.