Adaptability: The Mindset for Working in a Growth Company
As I picked up my copy of The Sunday Times last weekend, I was delighted to see AlphaSights appearing for the 3rd year running on the Virgin Fast Track 100, this time in 21st place, confirming our status as one of the UK’s fastest-growing firms. However, these types of accolades beg several questions. What’s behind a company’s growth? What does it really take? And most importantly, what does it mean for the people who work in a growth environment?
If you thumb through the pages of TechCrunch, Inc Magazine or indeed The Sunday Times, you’ll notice more and more column inches are dedicated to ‘unicorn startups’, each with mind boggling valuations. Creative license aside, these stories create the illusion that success for these companies was inevitable and their growth natural — like a tap that can be turned on, adjusted or switched off at will. You hear about concepts going from ideation to adoption “in real-time”, industry-wide “disruption” and the inexorable “crossing the chasm” as if it happened overnight. Airbnb ‘just makes sense’ and Uber is of course the natural successor to traditional taxi services in 300+ cities.
Novel ideas have their own disruptive quality. However, sweeping success, and indeed sustained growth, does not happen overnight. For example, if you were to plot the development of AlphaSights — or any growth company for that matter — using the data points available to you from The Sunday Times, you’d get something like this:
However, it probably feels more like this:
It can be messy, confusing and complicated. Indeed, while financial performance may continue to increase (and long may that be the case), there are a few myths that must be debunked about working in a growth company.
1. Growth doesn’t happen by accident
Publications which glamourise entrepreneurship and small businesses have done a fantastic job in inspiring more start-ups than at any other point in business history, while creating jobs in the process. But success in this field, predominantly measured by revenue growth, is a product of the hard graft of the employees who work there. By the time success stories are presented to the media, it appears as though growth was a fait accompli, an inevitable result. But rather, it is the product of hard work, tough decisions and competing priorities; strategic and tactical, hiring and firing, operational and managerial, that either spark such growth — or do not.
2. Different parts grow at different speeds
High-growth can and often does mean that the infrastructure of the firm is not yet equipped to operate at a larger scale. Sales growth is but one measure of a company’s success. While critical and essential for a nascent organisation, other areas often reflect work in progress. The operations unit might seem slick and well-organised, but technology might be under-resourced. Recruitment might be market-leading but customer service second-rate. This is something you will definitely run into and must accept if you choose to work in such an environment. But it also means that you will have the opportunity to learn from this growth, and that your contributions will make an impact, generally even outside your specific role.
3. Growth companies need the right kind of ambition
We receive thousands of applications per month but still run into issues hiring the right people. Why? Because many applicants are to us as moths are to a flame: candidates are attracted by the growth of the company, the bright lights and loud music. But ultimately, they are not in the right mindset to handle the challenges that come with ensuring a high-energy, results-oriented company continues to flourish. At AlphaSights, we often come to the conclusion that many candidates are not steely or tenacious enough to be one of the contributors to — rather than just a beneficiary of — stellar and consistent growth, year after year. The graph above has a lot zigs and zags, peaks and troughs; which has directly informed the inclusion of “adaptability”, a key attribute we look for in prospective employees.
Life in a growth company can be hairy, chaotic, and riddled with problems and challenges. And, on the other hand, there are many benefits to secure, stable and established places of work. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to select the environment that is right for them. But I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that for us at AlphaSights such instability can be inspiring, the numerous challenges come to represent opportunities, and our shortcomings are areas to improve. If you share that thinking, AlphaSights could be the place for you.
Mehdi joined AlphaSights in London in 2013 and is responsible for growth projects currently with a focus on global marketing, branding, and communications.