Ten tips for leading organisational growth

Growing an organisation or a specific project is often called scaling up. Scaling up is a dynamic process, meaning you’re never quite done, so leaders should be prepared to adapt and iterate their strategies based on the evolving needs of the organisation or project and its environment. Iteration is a process of trying things out bit by bit rather than coming up with a fully formed concept and considering it finished and complete when it’s been executed.

As a leader you may be seeking to scale up your entire organisation – growing from delivering services in one state to delivering them in four, or providing programs to 50,000 students instead of 10,000 students. Alternatively, you may be seeking to scale up a specific program, from a pilot phase of trying it out with one partner to delivering it to 50 partners.

Here are 10 tips on leading an organisation through scaling up.

1. Develop a clear vision and strategy

Develop a clear and compelling vision for the future of the organisation or project you are aiming to scale up. Work with a close team of people you can bounce ideas with, and collectively challenge what the vision should be and why you should be scaling up. Create a detailed strategy that outlines how the organisation will grow and achieve its goals, considering what resources you will need and what activities will help you to grow.

2. Foster adaptability and innovation

Foster a culture of adaptability and innovation within your organisation, meaning that people are curious about the changing environment around them and what others in the industry are doing, and willing to give new ideas a try even if they fail. Leaders should instill a mindset that perceives challenges as opportunities for growth and creativity. Embracing a spirit of collaboration encourages creative problem-solving, leading to innovative solutions. This requires your team to feel comfortable thinking aloud and sharing ideas without fear of embarrassment.

3. Build people power

Build a capable and motivated leadership team, taking into account skills, knowledge and personality attributes. Delegate responsibilities effectively and empower team members to take ownership of their areas. This means you as a leader will not be in every meeting or doing all the work. You should be supporting others to make decisions rather than making them all yourself. Recruit and hire skilled individuals who align with the organisation's values and aspiration to grow. Invest in the development of employees through training programs to ensure that they have the right skills to help the program or organisation grow.

4. Wrap it up with string

Documenting all your processes is painful but fundamental to growing. All information should be documented so that anyone who joins the organisation can understand how to do the job at hand, and no process or “how to” should be held in anyone’s head. As part of the journey of documentation, work closely with staff to consider whether any of those processes could be more efficient. Ask “Why is this a five-stage process? Could it be done in two stages?” Are there any difficult points in the process, times when staff are confused about who is doing what and decisions take a long time to make? A scaled organisation or program is one in which a new staff member could start a new office or a new program from scratch by following your instructions, and have it look as similar as possible to what you have already created. Once you have tried out your methods on a pilot program or a small scale, you will know what works and you will be able to conserve energy and resources by creating a system that can easily be replicated without long and complicated conversations or confusion at every turn.

5. Check in

For an organisation seeking to scale up, consistently reviewing and improving internal processes is crucial. Efficient processes streamline operations, allowing resources to be directed towards the organisation's most important priorities. Regular evaluations identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies, facilitating improvements that enhance overall effectiveness. Without regular check-ins, scaling a program or organisation can become frozen for long periods, as different people wait for each other to complete their roles or solve problems. A program or organisation can also move too far in a wrong direction without regular check-ins. These could take only 15 minutes and simply entail all team members reporting on what they have achieved, what their next steps are, and what problems might be holding them up.

6. Be a good communicator

Communicate the vision, strategy and goals clearly to all team members. Make strategic decisions inclusively, involving the right individuals in discussions to avoid surprises. Keep internal leaders well-informed, preventing blindsides and fostering a sense of shared responsibility. Share updates with the organisation regularly, so people feel they know what is going on and can adapt to changes gradually. This approach builds trust and aligns the team towards common objectives, promoting a collaborative atmosphere that is essential for successful scaling efforts.

7. Focus on customers

What is the problem you are solving by scaling up your program or organisation? Continuously gather feedback and use it to improve the products or services you are seeking to scale up. Keeping your customers in focus is key when scaling up. Prioritise customer needs to ensure your scaling efforts tackle real challenges and offer desirable solutions. Regularly connect with your customers, gather feedback, and learn from their experiences. Actively listen to their suggestions, using this input to refine and improve the products or services you are scaling up. By incorporating customer feedback into your processes, you not only meet current needs but also stay in tune with changing sector or market demands, ensuring lasting success as you scale up your efforts.

8. Manage the finances

Sound financial management is crucial when scaling up an organisation or program. Begin by outlining budgetary allocations and tracking expenses. Think about how you will invest resources (time, staff, money) in order to scale up. Regularly assess your budget and finances and how you are tracking against how much you want to invest. Develop contingency plans to navigate potential financial challenges, so that if something becomes more expensive, you will still be able to work out how to pay for it. Explore funding options, whether through reallocating internal resources, partnerships, sales or philanthropy.

9. Partner strategically

Strategic partnerships could be with funders, councils, similar organisations, networks, consultants, businesses, volunteers or others. Building strategic partnerships is instrumental in scaling an organisation. Identify potential collaborators who share common goals and values. Establishing strong relationships with complementary organisations can provide access to new markets, resources and expertise. Foster open communication and mutual trust to ensure the success of collaborative efforts. Leverage the strengths of each partner. Clearly define roles, expectations and shared objectives to align efforts efficiently and ensure you don’t waste time being confused.

10. Track your success

Define and track key performance indicators (KPIs) that will help you understand how close you are getting to achieving your aims. For example, if you would like your program or organisation to be larger, how large would you like it to be? How many people or organisations would you like to work with? How many customers? What kind of impact are you seeking to have and how will you know when you have had it? Use data to make informed decisions and assess the success of your scaling efforts.

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