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Why businesses should go for controlled growth

Mario Andretti, the legendary Formula 1 racer, once said the words: “If everything seems under control, then you are just not going fast enough.”

This statement has resonated deeply in the business world, where entrepreneurs are often driven by a desire for fast growth and speed. But is this truly the right approach? Is relentlessly pursuing growth without moments of respite really the path to sustainable success?

It is tempting to push the pedal and strive for ever-increasing speeds of growth. Entrepreneurs are often encouraged to believe that if they are not constantly sprinting forward, they are falling behind. Especially today, in a period where technology is putting pressure on business models, the choice is often made to pursue growth and take every opportunity when it is still possible within the current business model.

But let us consider a different perspective: the possibility of controlled growth. Controlled growth does not necessarily mean that there is less ambition or that the entrepreneur is fearing progress. On the contrary, it is about recognising the importance of rhythm and balance in a company’s development. It is about consciously choosing moments to slow down, to consolidate, to strengthen, and to improve.

In a world where speed is celebrated, the idea of controlled growth may seem counterintuitive. But let us examine the benefits of this approach. Firstly, controlled growth provides the opportunity to build structure. When a company is constantly chasing growth, it can easily get entangled in the chaos of rapid change and uncontrolled expansion. By occasionally pausing for breath, companies can take the time to strengthen their organisational structure, streamline processes, and build systems that support long-term growth.

Secondly, controlled growth allows for better risk management. In the race to grow quickly, businesses often overlook potential risks and threats. By opting for a more measured pace of growth, companies have the time to thoroughly assess, anticipate, and prepare for potential challenges that could affect their long-term sustainability.

Additionally, controlled growth allows companies to give their people a chance to catch their breath. Employees are the heart of any business, and it is essential to ensure that they do not burn out from a constant sprint towards growth. By occasionally inserting a period of stability, employees can have the opportunity to recharge, get to know their new role and, ultimately make them more productive and motivated.

Furthermore, controlled growth provides the opportunity to build the company’s culture. A strong and healthy corporate culture is invaluable and can make the difference between long-term success and failure. By taking the time to invest in the company’s culture, leaders can create an environment where employees are happier, innovation is encouraged, and the company’s mission is carried out like it should be.

It is important to note that controlled growth does not mean a company limits itself to a state of stagnation. On the contrary, it is about finding a balance between periods of growth and periods of consolidation, allowing the company to evolve in a way that is sustainable in the long term.

In a world dominated by the cult of speed and growth, the idea of controlled growth may seem like a radical departure from the status quo. However, for many firms, it can be a wise and even necessary approach to building healthy, resilient companies that are ready for the challenges of the future.

Indeed, the concept of controlled growth should be embraced as a strategic move for businesses aiming for longevity. It invites leaders to be mindful of their company’s pace, ensuring they do not lose sight of their core values and purpose amidst the race for growth. In the end, the journey to success is not just about the speed, but about the direction, the resilience, and the ability to adapt and maintain balance in an ever-changing business landscape.

So, let us reconsider Mario Andretti’s statement. Perhaps, we should consider it only in the Formula 1 context and not make it a mantra for business growth. The key to success is not just to go as fast as possible, but to know when to accelerate and when to decelerate. Perhaps the right speed of growth is not always the fastest, but the one that best aligns with the company’s rhythm and long-term vision. And perhaps, just perhaps, that is the speed that will ultimately lead to the finish line of long-term success. Entrepreneurship is typically a marathon, not a sprint.

Yannick Dillen

Yannick Dillen

Yannick Dillen is a Professor of Management Practice in Entrepreneurship at Vlerick Business School. His research focuses on start-ups, SME growth and scale-ups, with a specific interest in high-growth firms. He has a number of advisory board seats. At Vlerick, Yannick coordinates the Impulse Centre Growth Management for Medium-sized Enterprises and teaches on the Masters, MBA and executive programmes.

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