Will Your Organization Survive Corporate Adolescence?

Corporate adolescence is the awkward stage in a company’s life when it's no longer small, but not large. Companies must recognize when they're in it.

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    This guest blog from Navigate‘s founding partner, Bill Sharer, defines what it means to be a corporate adolescence and helps you identify 5 points to tell if your organization is going through that phase.

    Without even defining corporate adolescence, you can figure out what it means. It’s a term I like to use to describe that awkward stage in a company’s life when they are no longer small—but not yet large. You have some of the characteristics of each but are not quite one or the other. And it’s downright uncomfortable.

    Almost everyone survives human adolescence (somehow). Unfortunately, the mortality rate for companies is somewhat higher: some don’t. But the odds of corporate survival go up dramatically if you recognize its characteristics, acknowledge that you are in it, and learn to cope with it. One thing is certain: you won’t put it behind you by just waiting for it to pass.

    Corporate adolescence can occur within a wide range of descriptions. It has little to do with how long you’ve been in business. Some companies enter it in a couple years. Others take ten or more. The important things to remember are to recognize it when it is upon you and be proactive about working your way through it. Here are some thoughts that may help.

    You are probably a corporate adolescent if:

    1. Your sales are in the range of $4-6 million and you have 20 to 30 employees. You seem to be stuck there. Officially, you are still a “small business“, but you are doing more “large” jobs (think $250K+) and your average order is getting larger. These are challenging and encouraging but you really don’t know if you are making money. Recent growth—if any—is incremental and driven by the market more than anything being done differently internally. Some employees seem a little restless and frustrated.
    2. You can’t run the business alone. “Three guys and a van” no longer cut it. You need intermediate management: someone to focus on Sales and Marketing, someone on Operations, and someone on Finance and Administration. Trouble is, you don’t know who, where to get them, how to pay them, what they should do, or how to lead and direct them—because you’ve never managed other managers. If you are fortunate enough to have them you aren’t sure how much authority they should have.
    3. Your financing needs are changing. You need more working capital but your bank is balking at a larger credit line because they don’t think you are profitable enough and they don’t believe your forecasts. They want (gasp) an actual business plan and you’ve never had one. You’ve maxed your credit line and have been on credit hold with one or more of your suppliers. Your accountant isn’t helpful as he or she used to be and you sometimes think he/she “doesn’t get it.” You’ve probably outgrown him/her, but there’s no one on the inside to step up and fill the void.
    4. You are being “forced” into different kinds of work. Your clients (you have some good ones) are asking for new services, new technologies, new solutions—and you don’t know which ones to pursue. Jobs are getting bigger, more complex, and outside your comfort zone. Sales wants to do it all—engineering not so sure.
    5. Your systems and processes aren’t getting it done anymore. You’re inefficient, don’t have the reports and information you need (maybe aren’t sure what you should have), and you are both mystified and terrified about the prospect of more robust software. Your people don’t follow the processes you thought you had in place. Maybe because they exist mostly in your head or are simply pat of your “tribal knowledge”. Or maybe they have morphed and updated. Either way, you’re seeing a lot of slip-ups.

    Sound familiar? Step back, breathe deeply. You can fix this.

    Stay tuned for our next blog post, “Will Your Organization Survive Corporate Adolescence: The Survival Guide” to learn steps on how to mature your company to where you want it to be.

    Bill Sharer, MBA, CTS, is a thirty-year veteran of consulting and training, twenty-five of it in the audio-visual industry. He has held sales executive positions in addition to owning and managing his on firms. Bill has completed hundreds of consulting assignments in sales, marketing, management, communications, and customer service, and has trained more than 15,000 people on four continents. He has designed and led two dozen InfoComm training programs and has been the featured speaker at scores of trade association and corporate events. He has served on the Professional Education and Training Committee for InfoComm, is a Senior Faculty Member at InfoComm University, and was Educator of the Year in 2003. A former Vistage Chair, Bill has done extensive work in training and coaching. He is on the Board of The Association for Quality in Audio-Visual Technology, Inc. (AQAV) and an outside Director of a Property and Casualty Insurance Carrier. His MBA is in Management and Marketing from Temple University and his A.B. in English from Dickinson College.