What “Scaling Up Excellence” Can Teach You

“Never talk sex, politics, or religion at work”

In this blog post, I’m going to break that rule.

Although I cannot say where I first heard this piece of advice, I can say that, as a general guideline, the idea is a good one – especially in the period before working relationships develop a personal component.  

However, today I’m going to break that rule because I found an intriguing metaphor in a book I am reading: Scaling Up Excellence by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao.  Overall, the book provides an excellent blend of insights and studies regarding the do’s and don’ts of scaling a business.  One of my favorites is in chapter two.

“What is our goal? Is it more like Catholicism, where the aim is to replicate preordained design beliefs and practices? Or is it more like Buddhism, where an underlying mindset guides why people do certain things—but the specifics of what they do can vary wildly from person to person and place to place?”

This simple statement highlights one of the key challenges facing those trying to grow an organization.  

Different Paths to Growth

Think about it.  On one hand, McDonalds wants a customer to have the same experience when ordering a Big Mac and Fries in St Louis, San Antonio than they would in Shanghai.  We could make similar statements about Walmart, Starbucks, or many other companies that have scaled or are scaling.   On the other hand, a business must understand and appreciate geographic, cultural, and traditional differences as they move into new markets.  

That classic Big Mac is not likely to be a big seller in Mumbai.  Just like how hunting equipment attracts fewer shoppers in Manhattan than it does in Montana.

Although these examples are consumer based, the thinking applies to all types of businesses.  It takes great skill and insight to know when to lean towards localization and customization (Buddhism) versus shifting in the direction of standardization and replication (Catholicism) as you are growing the reach and scope of your organization.   This is as true in software and services industries as it is in retail and real estate.

My goal here is not to simplify these two religions into a couple of basic adjectives, but rather it is to get us thinking about the trade-offs that must be carefully considered in order to plan and execute on aggressive growth strategies.   Rigidly adhering to either guideline in all business situations is a weak strategy that will likely be a barrier to growth.

So, as you are structuring your organization to support rapid growth, keep this thinking in mind.   Ask yourself what is most important in the situation at hand; gaining efficiencies or increasing creativity.   And remember, there is no answer that is correct for every business topic combination.   You will need to carefully assess your situation, consider the trade-offs and make the best decision using the information at hand.

If you’d like to talk about this in greater detail or see how this thinking might apply to your business, please reach.  I’d love to share my experiences as they apply to you.



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