Lancaster Civil Engineering

Growth as a means…not an end

As the owner of a young company one of the questions I’m often asked is about my plans for future growth. When will I hire more people? How many people will I hire? How big do I want to get?

The typical assumption is that growth is a goal for my company – or a critical measure that I’m using to judge my success (or failure).

Internal vs. external focus

This is not unusual. The growth of a company is often seen as THE measure of success. This is reinforced by the mainstream business media and pundits who analyze the quarterly earnings from publicly traded companies. How much did their revenue grow compared to last year? Or last quarter? What about growth in same store sales? Did earnings per share increase? What guidance did the company give about future growth? The stock price and overall value of a company is heavily weighted toward these types of internal growth metrics.

But for a company with a mission that is externally focused, I don’t think of growth as the end goal that I’m trying to achieve. I view growth more as a (possible) means to achieving my mission.

How do you measure success?

Since I believe we’re designed for community, I try to bring great people and ideas together to get things done. It’s just that simple. So I try to measure myself based upon how well I’m doing THAT. Am I helping to build relationships and community during the design and construction process? Am I creating a trusting team atmosphere that encourages innovative thinking and is a safe environment to incubate new ideas? Am I getting things done and solving problems for my clients and my community? THESE are the critical measures of success for my company. Not revenue, or profit, or number of employees (my growth).

How does your company view success? What are the values that are reinforced through your annual goals? What are the metrics by which you are judged? Many times we find that organizations tend reinforce internal measures of success rather than external, mission-focused ones.

Mission-focused growth

That’s not to say that growth can’t be a part of an externally focused company. It very well may be. Just as a growing child learns new skills and can contribute more effectively. But in this context, growth is thought of as a possible way to help advance my mission. So the questions I ask myself are ones like: would having more employees help me to solve my clients’ problems better? Would it help create more trust? Would growing eliminate any challenges that are currently stopping me from being as effective as I possibly can? I find it helpful to evaluate opportunities like growth within the context of what my mission is – that way we can make sure all of our efforts are designed to advance those goals and eliminate sideways effort that doesn’t get us anywhere.

A place for everything…

Really I don’t have all the answers to these questions…I’m still thinking them through. And I probably always will be. And I surely hope I will always view the issue of growth (and all other business opportunities) through the lens of whether or not it helps me meet my clients’ needs. I’m pretty sure that if we do that, then the financial part of the equation will work out just fine – but the firm’s finances will occupy their proper place as subordinate to our overall mission of building community while we’re building communities.

Ben Craddock

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