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How to manage hypergrowth part 4: shifting sands and the importance of planning

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Satish J

Hypergrowth can shift the sands from under your feet. Former LinkedIn Europe MD Kevin Eyres explains how planning can put everyone on a surer footing.

In 2007, I became MD of LinkedIn Europe and the company’s first employee outside of the US.

For the next four years, I was one of the leaders who crafted and executed the hypergrowth strategy that helped LinkedIn expand into five countries, hire 200+ new team members in Europe, and sustain over 150% YOY growth.

My time at LinkedIn, and my recent work coaching hypergrowth leaders, has given me tremendous insight into the new world of rapid growth. In this article series, I share the key hypergrowth lessons I’ve learned from my own experience, from my team and from 15 hypergrowth CEOs, some of whom I’ve drawn lessons from here.

In part 4, let’s look at the importance of good planning.

Hypergrowth can make day-to-day tasks feel a lot like running in sand. You spend so much effort propelling yourself forward, only to struggle against the shifting ground underfoot.

As a leader, your role is twofold: give your employees a solid foundation, and help them step out of the sand.

This new foundation is formed by the important projects, systems and solutions that help your team navigate each stretch of the journey.

When you focus on the ‘rocks’, your organization will step up to accomplish the big things like declaring priorities, taking necessary steps to achieve them, measuring progress and laying a foundation for the road ahead.

The value of the plan

At LinkedIn, our planning process was long, tedious and at times combative, beginning with a deep dive into the business and ending with an annual plan outlining a base and stretch goal.

Team members often complained that this extensive planning time took away from running the business.

However, the process’s value far outweighed the time spent. Through planning, we gained a better understanding of our business’ essence and changes, both subtle and dramatic.

As an army general, Dwight D. Eisenhower said: “The plan is nothing. Planning is everything.”

The planning process also required us to examine our goals from every perspective with all teams on board.

When the process was complete, the rocks were clearly defined, the team was aligned, and accountability was thriving across the entire company.

The importance of measurement

With the arrival of CEO Jeff Weiner in December 2008, our executive team meetings took new form: go over the “wins,” then look at the dashboards with rigor.

These dense one-page documents instrumented our company through graphs that tracked site performance, member growth, engagement, sales and a number of other metrics.

One gap we noticed was a softer-than-expected second year revenue from our SaaS business.

Because of our diligent tracking, we were able to set up a quick review, look for benchmarks, speak to others in the industry, refine our understanding of key drivers, and add to the dashboard while shifting gears.

There’s a reason so many leaders stress the importance of measurements during hypergrowth. Simply put, what gets measured gets fixed.

So spot the gaps and step up with solutions that fill them. Change your dashboards to reflect new priorities and other changes in your growing business.

By using dashboards, you will learn to predict and see your impact using a regular cadence of discourse.

So focus on lead indicators that propel the business forward during hypergrowth, not the sand that keeps the business static. Revisit these indicators often.

Meeting concerns with consistency

In early 2011, our entire European team and employees from around the world gathered in London for our kickoff meeting, branded “Breakthrough”.

It was slated to be a celebration of 2010’s hypergrowth and the grand reveal of our 2011 ambitions.

But when we showed the growth projections for the coming year, the energy suddenly shifted from celebration to shock.

The room was filled with gasps. We saw team members shake their heads and say things like: “Are these guys crazy? Last year was an all-out sprint, and this year they want 150% more!”

Our plan was audacious, as we were all gunning to maintain hypergrowth. But seeing such drastic numbers was a sobering, eye-opening experience.

As leaders, we countered our team’s concerns with consistency. We acknowledged that changes would be coming, but showed how we would build upon the foundation from the previous year.

We reinforced this consistency by outlining clear operating priorities – big rocks that stayed the same for 18-24 months.

When we talked about projects that would move the big rocks, we always connected the task back to the same operating priorities, which became part of every meeting and presentation.

You know you are succeeding when these priorities are integrated into the everyday language of the team.

Outline the priorities

As a leader, it is imperative to show consistency throughout hypergrowth change. Adopt a strong, steady set of 18-24 month high-level operating priorities.

Communicate these clearly and refer to them often so they become second nature to your team. Projects and deliverables change, but your top-level priorities should be team and talent (1), customer (2) and product (3).

Priorities 4 through 6 will be specific to your business. By making it known that team and talent are your top growth priorities, you foster a strong performance culture.

We’ve all been there before: Stress is high, tension is building and then, Pop! Someone disappoints you, makes a mistake or just happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and all your pent-up energy is dumped on this unfortunate person.

Is this the behavior of a great leader?

Be a role model

How do you become the leader you want to be, the leader who coaches your team through hypergrowth’s challenges?

During rapid growth, the most important rock is your conscious development as a leader. You define what leadership looks like, and this becomes the cornerstone of your organization’s culture.

Which behaviors drive you forward and which block the road? You choose which “you” shows up to work each day, and this doesn’t just impact you personally: it plays a key role in the success of your organization and company.

Once you start to cultivate leadership qualities within yourself, you will be equipped to help your team step up to their own changing roles.

When hypergrowth is shifting everything in the company, your position as a role model is magnified. New employees scrutinize you, and veterans view your changing behaviors as clues for how to navigate the growth journey.

When the path is uncertain, you must lead from the front. Great demands command greatness from you.

We all choose which version of ourself shows up each day, but this process is complicated by negative mind chatter, subtle disempowerment and other internal roadblocks we create for ourself.

Be easy on yourself

Being the best version of ourself requires introspection, self-reflection and commitment.

Start by identifying the Top 3 behaviors that help you succeed as a leader. Then, commit to practicing these daily. When you fall short, have compassion for yourself and move forward.

By doing so, you will step up to the transformation that hypergrowth demands and become a better model for team members who need to undergo a similar transformation.

Your behavior as a leader is the lead indicator of your company’s culture.