One of the best phrases I’ve come across recently is “Growth creates complexity, and complexity is the silent killer of growth.”
Excerpt from “The Founder’s Mentality” by Chris Zook & James Allen in the introduction, ‘The Paradox of Growth’
Looking ahead to 2024, this quote is top-of-mind as I look to build upon our recent growth that my partner Neelesh celebrated so well in his retrospective on this past year. I’m dwelling constantly on how to hone in more tightly on being the best Managed Services Provider.
I really can see how complexity is like water—it seeps into every crack and is subtly corrosive. From my vantage point, I see the “cracks” form primarily through gaps in communication, or communication that isn’t reinforced sufficiently so it’s not internalized and understood. So as much as I’d like to say that our path towards sustainable growth in 2024 is all about harnessing AI (oh we are!), investing in Robotic Process Automation (we are absolutely doing that too!), the real challenging work I see ahead of me is ensuring we have exceptionally clear lines of communication in all directions. It’s one of those things that on one level takes no special talent, and yet requires all your skill and attention to achieve.
I will continue to utilize some of my most effective communication tools from years past:
- my weekly company newsletter that I write each weekend to contextualize our biggest customer, business, process, and tool related news to kick of every new week;
- my mid-week all-hands company meeting, which includes a shared training and learning experience;
- the monthly Employee Advisor Group meetings where we dig deeply into 2-3 issues;
- and my occasional “Green Line Memos” where I bring special attention to a major topic.
I’ve also enjoyed seeing others take up the mantel of communicating summary reports of their team or specific role’s noteworthy news. All-in-all, it feels like the information sharing is becoming more bidirectional throughout our organization. My hope is that we can continue to boost the flow of information, while concentrating and clarifying what is being conveyed. By celebrating what’s working and encouraging innovation in communication, we are strengthening our company culture through improved empathy and understanding.
And about harnessing AI, we are seeing some incredibly cool ways to leverage AI to improve understanding asynchronous communications. One example is an AI agent that we’re training on our contracts and the common questions that come up about them. Any team member can just ask questions about what’s covered in our contracts and get a correct answer, as well as present various scenarios in natural language and get results. The idea for this stemmed from all the common questions that our Contract Manager fields on a regular basis, as well as our genuine interest in seeing if we can train AI on a small, finite data set and have it provide consistently accurate information.
Another example is working on ways to feed into an AI tool multiple sources of internal discussions on a topic to sort out a consensus view and get suggestions on next step actions for specific roles in the company to take. In both instances, we are looking to AI to help reduce complexity and make the next steps clearer.
Ironically, the best thing I can do to reduce complexity while being in a fast-paced industry is to acknowledge that I have plenty of time to think and communicate before I act.
By taking the time to make the next step clearer for myself, I increase the chances for everyone to take that step with me. I used to think that my job was to run ahead of everyone else, like a scout looking for opportunities and hazards that might be in the distance. I also used to think that part of scouting was to pull everyone forward whether they were ready or not. But the leadership responsibility I find suits me and my team best is when I focus on keeping us all together. My job then is to mentor and console, to listen and to collaborate, and to ensure no one is being dragged along.
As I look ahead to another awesome year in business, I see 2024 as a deeply collaborative year with high levels of engagement. Our primary focus areas will not be the latest things in the hype cycle, but making certain that the fundamentals of business are at the top of our action plan. Put simply: I will focus on making sure communication is trending up and complexity is trending down. I will focus on improving customer service and reducing friction that inhibits our team solving problems. I will focus on making sure everyone is heard and seen, and that our continued growth is a fully shared and celebrated experience.