When The Monster Stops Growing, It Dies

I am lucky to work for a growth company. We also happen to be the industry leader, by a huge margin, but this doesn’t stop us from aggressively pursuing more growth. In fact, I once heard a senior executive at our company tell a group of managers that if he doesn’t grow and perform better than he did the year before, we should replace him. Thankfully, growth is part of our culture.

You see, “When the monster stops growing, it dies.” This is one of my favorite lines from The Grapes of Wrath. It means that companies grow because they have to. If they don’t grow, they will die. When Circuit City stopped growing its talented sales force, Best Buy killed it. When General Motors failed to reduce costs fast enough, Toyota killed it. Now that Research in Motion and Samsung keep repackaging the same boring cell phones, failing to innovate fast enough, Apple is killing them.

The difference between survival and death for businesses, and for individual business careers, is growth. Continuous improvement is no longer an “above and beyond” trait for individuals or organizations. Continuous improvement is the only way to stay at the dinner table. And the only way to excel (i.e. for an organization to dominate an industry; or for an individual to climb the corporate ladder)  is to grow at a faster rate than your industry and peers.

Personally, I can grow by better balancing discipline and innovation. I have a good plan for how to manage my region on a day-to-day basis. My challenge is to not get distracted by side projects and to execute my plan. This is a tough balancing act for me, because new projects can lead to effective new ideas and more exposure. But too many side projects and too many new ideas can pull me away from the basic behaviors I know are effective (see my communication plan from last week’s post). In the second half of last year, I felt myself tipping the scale too far in the direction of innovation, and I lost some discipline. I’m working on tipping the scale back to a more disciplined approach right now.

Another area I can grow is improving my internal network. I’m learning how important relationships are to success at an executive level. My high D personality (see my DISC results here) makes getting things done naturally easy, but building effective relationships naturally difficult. I have strong professional relationships with those I have interacted with frequently, like those who report to me, but I’m lousy at small talk. This makes it hard for me to make new ties with executives, department heads and peers that I interact with infrequently. I’m working on keeping in touch with individuals throughout my organization.

Cover of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck...
Cover of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, 1902-1968 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I tell my coworkers the same thing I tell myself –  there are only two types of people working at my company. Those who will grow with the company, and those whom the company will pass by. Everyone has to choose which employee they will be. I’ve made my choice.