A Few Words About Growth: Activities vs. Results

For this series, we’ve reached into the vault to share a few pieces that are still relevant today.

I really enjoyed a short series that Adam Thurman did about growth in organizations (though he was specifically talking about arts organizations). He wrote three succinct but powerful little pieces that, if I presume to summarize, go about like this:

There are legitimate reasons to grow or to want to grow as an organization, but if done badly or for the wrong reasons, growth can break an organization. Therefore, why not consider whether or not it’s important for your organization to grow or even find ways to “shrink” it.

Naturally, you’re missing some of Adam’s nuance and you should read all three posts, but I think that gives you the heart of it.

Is your organization growing for the right reasons? Photo credit: “Desktop Summit group photo,” © 2011 kat, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

Is your organization growing for the right reasons? Photo Credit: “Desktop Summit group photo,” © 2011 Kat, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

As an entrepreneur who has spent my entire career in high growth businesses, I completely concur with Adam’s assessment, and I think it’s because defining growth is where people sometimes get tripped up, so I’m going to attempt to help clarify what good growth is.

Good growth is not related to more activities, it’s related to more results. The two things should not be confused with each other. Because people in the arts (especially nonprofits) tend to think of the “result” as being the production, this may need to be clarified further.

A result is something that comes from the marketplace, or, if you like, the audience. You do activities to generate results. If you get more results than you can currently handle with your existing organization, you grow it. If you do not, you use the resources you have in a better and better way until you do.

Adding shows to your season or moving into a bigger venue is NOT growth, unless it’s the result of, well, better results that make this make sense.

Here at Goldstar, we used to say that we knew it was time to upgrade a system when it failed catastrophically. That was a little bit cavalier and jokey, and we’re more planful now, but the idea remains: If your current activities are sufficient for your results, you should focus on generating more results.

If, that is, you care about getting more results. You may not. You may value keeping your organization a certain size or serving a very specific audience, or keeping your lifestyle manageable. Those are perfectly good reasons to stay in stasis and try to tweak and optimize rather than blast forward with “growth.”

The organizations I have been part of (including Goldstar) were and are fundamentally built for growth, from the people to the systems, to the business model design. But not all organizations are, and they don’t all need to be.

So when you think about growth (and whether you want more), make sure you’re distinguishing between growth in actual results or just growth in activities.

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