Even in a global crisis, not all organizations lose business. Some face significant growth instead. When growth is drastic or continues for a long period, leaders should be on the lookout for people who are overwhelmed or crisping around the edges because they don’t want to complain that they’re carrying too heavy a load.
It’s often the case that the problem is not the growth itself, but that the organization is too short-staffed to handle it. Or there hasn’t been a chance yet to build out enough infrastructure, or leadership is actually afraid to hire more people because they expect the growth to eventually slow and they don’t want to have to lay anyone off. Here are six new ways to think about the situation.
Spread the Pressure Evenly
It’s common to maintain some slack, cushion, or downtime in your operation. Not everyone is working to capacity all the time. Say your operation has roughly 10% slack. If you experience enough unplanned growth to absorb that entire cushion, everyone will feel quite busy. But if you’ve got good people, they can probably handle double that amount of unplanned growth — and without completely frying — if the necessary organizational growth only takes a few months.
The thing to watch out for, as you’re staffing up and training people or expanding capacity, is whether the extra work is being shared optimally among team members so that everyone has a proportional share of the burden? Be sure your best people aren’t taking on an extra 40% so that your middle-of-the-road folks can toodle along comfortably just as they were.
Eliminate Barriers to Staffing
Check for bottlenecks in your recruitment, selection, and onboarding processes. Is there a holdup anywhere in the talent management stream that is hampering your ability to bring in good people? Make sure everyone understands the full leeway they have to make decisions about pay or candidates’ prior experience to make it easier to bring in enough people who have the right capabilities even if they haven’t done the same exact work before.
And don’t be stingy about compensation. If you’re not willing to meet the market, you’re likely to incur hidden costs by overloading your incumbent staff and maybe losing a couple of them.
Enable people to take on more responsibility as well as more work. The more you can share authority across the organization and allow even junior people to learn to make accurate judgments and do problem-solving, the more efficient your entire organization will be. Otherwise, where people can’t make decisions themselves, they’ll wait for leaders to adjudicate every problem rather than resolving the problems themselves and continuing on with the work they need to do.
Stay Connected with Long-Term Projects
Don’t lose sight of investment or development projects just because you’re focusing on throughput. You may need to extend these long-term initiatives a bit, particularly if you have to reallocate talent to handle growth, but try to keep them going, even if at a slower pace.
The team needs to see that you still have an eye on the future, whether that’s individual development for them, R&D for new products, or expanding sales capacity. This reassures them that the future will be stable, and that they won’t be constantly whipped about by growth now or risks later.
Offer Extra Care to Avoid Burnout
Take care of your people to prevent their suffering from burnout. Be aware of which employees can be more productive working from home vs. in the office or else working during off-hours. As long as they’re not disrupting anyone else, encourage them to work where and when they are most comfortable. Most people give their best when they feel you understand them and want them to do well. Plus, during periods of strain and stretch, it’s just wasteful to insist on old protocols that don’t serve the current situation.
But don’t let people work around the clock or drive each other crazy. Ensure that everyone has the tools or resources they need to carry the extra load. Create breaks so people can catch their breath and look for ways to nourish them whenever possible, whether through access to nature and art or resources such as mindfulness or meditation apps and fitness classes.
Know your population. Maybe providing occasional babysitting would be a great boon, or maybe they would appreciate your sponsoring an afternoon of rock climbing. Different employees will benefit from different things, but in stressful times, everyone needs a little extra attention, even if it’s simply for you to understand who feels best when they’re left alone!
Don’t Forget About You
Recognize your own needs and limits. Be willing to ask for help both inside and outside your team and even beyond your organization. If you start to fade, you need to have people you can hand things off to, at least temporarily. When you’re responsible for others, it’s important to keep yourself healthy and focused enough that you can sustain that responsibility, and to know when you need to step back or away, even for short, restorative periods of time.