Growing Pains

“We’re just going through some growing pains.”

I have heard this phrase at several companies I’ve worked for, to describe problems with a range of seriousness:

* Inability to hire staff quickly enough.

* Inability to retain staff.

* Teams refusing to share information or coordinate their efforts.

* Abusive behavior emmanating from the C-suite.

I also heard it at a company that went through two big layoffs in a very short period of time. Revenue was lower than a snake’s ass, so they had to cut staff. The layoffs were blamed on “growing pains.”

There was no growth going on there, just pain.

Regardless of the seriousness of the problem, the phrase is used not as a diagnosis, but as a dismissal. We don’t have to do anything. It’s just growing pains. They’re inevitable and unpreventable, and they’ll work themselves out.

Horsefeathers.

Like the TV show of the same name, these growing pains weren’t inevitable and could have been prevented. Unlike the TV show, they aren’t going to go away on their own.

OK, maybe I’ll grant you the first one. Sometimes demand for your product can explode, and you find yourself needing to scale up more rapidly than you expected. You still need to fix the problem in a thoughtful way, rather than letting it work itself out. That company with the massive layoffs? Just six months earlier they’d had that first problem, and added staff without thinking about the consequences.

Regardless of the problems facing your company, you can’t just call them “growing pains” and hope they’ll solve themselves. Apply root cause analysis and plan an appropriate, calculated response that attacks the heart of the problem. Anything else is just a waste of time and energy.


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