Thoughts from Our First Inc. 5000 Conference

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thoughts-from-our-first-inc.-5000-conferenceThe Inc. 5000 conference recognizes the top 5000 growth companies in the U.S. as measured by revenue growth rate.   This year marked the first time in Staff One’s 27-year history that we were recognized on the list.  I am so incredibly thankful for our team at Staff One because they are the folks who made it happen, and I can’t wait to share and implement what I learned.  Since next year’s conference is in our home state of Texas, I expect other team members to attend so they too can learn and celebrate.

As I rode back to Dallas Saturday morning, I felt an influx of inspiration as I consider the highlights enjoyed and the lessons learned from the week. The entrepreneurial community is a collegial one highlighted by a collective sense of belonging and ‘fighting, underdog spirit.” Walking into the conference at the JW Marriott, I felt such a high level of energy and buzz that was contagious. My goal for the conference was to not only make new entrepreneurial connections, but to also acquire a fresh understanding of attributes that the Inc. 5000 honorees have that catapulted them to reach this distinction. By far, the number one theme discussed by presenters, panelists and attendees was the importance of having the right people in the right positions.  There are many layers to this statement and one can argue that there is no single right answer that is a blueprint for all companies. That said, here are a couple insights I gleaned from listening to the esteemed presenters and panelists – who by the way included folks such as Marcus Lemonis andRobert Herjavec and entrepreneurs who have made the Inc. 5000 list nine and 10 times in a row.

In terms of culture, the biggest challenge shared by attendees is the ability to maintain an acute sense of the company’s culture as growth occurs.  Growth often entails hiring more employees, expanding to new locations, and commercializing new services, all of which can dilute a company’s pre-existing culture.

I was struck by how incredibly hands-on the CEOs were and continue to be in shaping the culture for their companies. One CEO who spoke mentioned that he personally interviewed the first 150 employees of his company and continues today to interview candidates for managerial positions.  Clearly, CEOs need to partner closely with their management team to instill the culture at their company so that it is a culture-by-design, and not a culture-by-accident.  However, every presenter talked about his/her own personal experience on being hands-on with defining their culture and how that practice has paid off in terms of employee engagement and growth. I’m thankful that I have strong validation now for sitting in on our culture committee meetings.

Another shared insight from the conference is the practice of hiring and promoting based on the potential of that team member. This practice allows for quicker scalability and sends a clear message to team members that the company values potential and is willing to reward and invest in that.  An interesting question, though, is how companies can best evaluate potential. According to one of the presenters, the best way is to set real stretch goals with that team member and assign ownership of projects that may not be directly under that team member’s typical job duties. I would add that this insight is consistent with my own experience.

One overlooked but critical component of culture is communication.  What rhythms, structures and expectations does a fast-growing organization have in terms of team and company-wide communication?  Many presenters talked about the importance of having company-wide meetings to provide updates on company goals, provide forward-looking guidance and offer up recognition to employees.  One presenter in particular (a company that has made the Inc. 5000 list 10 years in a row) discussed the importance of reinforcing the company’s theme, vision and values through constant communication and action.  Communication is a challenge shared by many growth companies, as growth creates what I call “good stress” on a company’s existing foundation and rhythms.  However, the companies that have mastered the art and practice of communication have been able to ensure everyone in the company is on the same page and has a very clear sense of where the company is going.

Lastly, one of the most defining attributes shared by Inc. 5000 honorees is their agility in innovating, pivoting, and serving their clients.  One presenter spoke about a time when he quickly hired a new manager for his company after meeting her at an industry conference even though he didn’t have a position open at the time.  Another presenter spoke about how one of their company mantras is to “say yes.”  It’s critical also to have a shared perspective of pivoting when it makes sense particularly when it comes in innovation.  The ability for a company to accept change and manage change is key ingredient in spurring growth.

I learned a lot during my Inc. 5000 experience and may share more in a future post.  I hope for now that you were able to glean some good takeaways for your own business.

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