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Investing In Growth | Customers, Etc

Investing In Growth | Customers, Etc
By Ben McCormack • Issue #34 • View online
Part of caring for your customers is caring for your team. And what team doesn’t need an extra dose of care in 2020? If business growth isn’t looking the same as in previous years, consider an investment in your team’s personal growth.

There was a conversation at work today about challenges that growth-based businesses may be facing right now during the pandemic. Unless you’re a business that’s directly benefiting from the pandemic (e.g. $ZM), you may not be growing like you were last year. Maybe you’ve even had layoffs.
There are of course extrinsic variables (i.e. compensation, most notably) directly linked to business growth. If you’re in sales and the business is doing great, you’re likely closing more deals and bringing home more money at the end of the month. Conversely, if the business isn’t growing, your paycheck is going to suffer, and you might start wondering if you should look elsewhere.
Extrinsic growth is the obvious example. If you stop getting paid, you’ll stop going to work. But what about intrinsic growth, the opportunity to grow on a personal level? If the business is growing, especially if it’s growing rapidly, there is going to be a constant inflow of new problems and challenges such that you’re naturally growing just by showing up to work every day.
If business growth dries up, what happens to personal growth?
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
The growth problem
When I’m building out support teams (my newsletter titled Changes goes into my approach in a bit of depth), I spend a lot of energy on setting a very high hiring bar, which means teams can be largely self-directing and require little in terms of process and training. This model attracts experienced support professionals (5 of the 7 current support team members @ FullStory have managed support teams elsewhere), which in turn means you have the very best people in the industry supporting customers, leading to higher customer satisfaction and increased retention.
This model also aligns incredibly well with growth-stage businesses. Because the business is growing rapidly, you want people on your team who can ramp up quickly and solve the steady stream of adaptive problems that are constantly surfacing. It’s what led FullStory to choose a 60/40 model of time in the queue vs time out of the queue. Business growth naturally creates opportunities for personal growth because you’re always challenged. There’s never a worry of how to spend that 40% out-of-queue time.
You can double down on this model by providing levels (check out GitLab’s grades). This gives you a way to level up as an individual contributor, becoming a master of your craft without feeling the need to become a manager or go do something else. And because the business is growing so fast, you usually want this. You want to retain the people you’ve invested in as they continue to grow because your systems are only going to get more complex over time. Experienced practitioners are going to help those systems adapt over time.
But what happens when the business stops growing as fast as it did previously (like during a global pandemic)? If you’re counting on overall business growth to fuel your supply of challenges and opportunities for individual growth, this can present a real problem. You might find team members getting burnt out or otherwise feeling stuck in place, when really, it’s just the pace of the environment around them that’s changed.
Bad days
Have you ever heard the trope, “never quit your job on a bad day”? I suppose it makes sense. I have my share of good days and bad days, and on the bad days, I’m not always in the best frame of mind and may be prone to irrational decision making. Thus, it’s best not to make a life-changing decision like quitting my job on a bad day.
But what if you’re having a string of bad days? Like, what if you’re trying to live through a global pandemic, haven’t had a meaningful in-person conversation with another adult human in weeks, and are just in general not doing a great job of holding it together? Should you quit then?
I don’t know. Even in the midst of the shared suffering known as 2020, how many of the bad days can be attributed to work vs just general suckiness going on around us? I mean, sure, if your job sucks, consider quitting. But if it’s just general suckiness, consider growing.
Get intentional about growth
Think about the above two sections together. You end up with a sort of vicious cycle, initiated by a global pandemic, whereby:
  1. You have have a string of bad days, creating a need for increased personal growth.
  2. Business growth slows, reducing the number of opportunities for increased personal growth.
  3. Go to 1.
The only way to break the cycle is to look for opportunities for growth outside of regular stream of challenges that previously had been supplied as part of overall business growth. You could quit your job, which would likely meet your need for intrinsic growth if you find something shiny and new, but maybe just try something different or learn something new outside of work?¹ You might also consider other opportunities within your current company if that sort of thing is possible.
If you’re a manager, it might be a good time to think more explicitly about opportunities for growth on your team. The last thing you want is someone quitting just because their string of bad days had them looking to have their intrinsic growth needs met somewhere else. You’re not going to be able to prevent everyone from leaving, but perhaps by having the right conversations and putting the right structures in place, you can provide the opportunities for personal growth that may not be occurring otherwise.
  1. I started a book club. It was challenging in all the right ways, but lightweight enough that it didn’t add too much to my overall levels of stress.
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Ben McCormack

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