Judging by Demand Gen Report’s subscriber list, most of our reader base is currently employed at B2B businesses in a stage of rapid growth and scale. This is no small endeavor; and I know from my own experience that a lot of time, passion and coffee goes into helping a growing business meet its goals.
Molly Graham, the former VP of Operations at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative who had climbed the ranks of companies such as Google, Facebook and Quip, is a seasoned vet in all things growth and scale. I had the pleasure of listening to her present at HyperGrowth East in Boston a couple weeks ago. During her session, she shared her experience coming up within these companies and how it helped her grow as a professional.
While on stage at HyperGrowth, Graham shared nine things that she wished someone told her about working at a scaling company before she started:
1. Building And Scaling Companies Is Really F%#&ing Hard
This one could probably go without saying, but a lot of TLC needs to go into building and scaling a fledgling company — and that can be REALLY hard.
Graham compared the art of building and scaling companies to playing with Legos. “At some point, there are too many Legos. So, you hire people, then there are a lot of territorial emotions. Either people learn to share and move to new parts of the tower, or they start to burn the house down.”
Holding a position in a scaling company means that “it is your job is to give your job away in some regularity,” according to Graham.
2. Your First Reaction Is Usually Wrong
Scaling companies often produce a plethora of emotions within its employee base. Graham reiterated that these emotions are normal and that everyone — from the CEO down to the Account Executives — are feeling these same emotions regularly.
“It's important for me to tell you that working at a scaling company is nuts,” said Graham. “These are normal emotions and are most often not useful.” She suggested not reacting right away to non-pressing decisions and giving yourself two weeks to let emotions die down. “It's going to be OK,” she added. “Focus on the long term and it’s OK to give away your Legos.”
3. Your Only Job Is To Learn And Grow As Fast As You Can
The only constant within scaling companies is “change,” according to Graham. As part of the team helping grow and scale this new company, she noted that it should be your main priority to learn as much as you can, as fast as you can, to help the company grow. Graham highlighted her own experience, initially working in communications and PR at Google then moving to Facebook to help direct the company’s culture and employment branding — then pivoting to direct Facebook’s mobile initiatives.
“Whatever you are doing today will not work in a year,” she said.
4. You Can Learn Anything If You're Willing To Sound Like A Complete Moron
A common impulse in business is that you don’t want to show weakness. However, Graham shared that it is vital to your own personal growth to be able to throw your hands up and admit you’re not the smartest person in the room. Being able to stop and say, “Sorry if this is a dumb question, but...” positions employees at scaling companies to further ramp up how much they are learning.
“If you are willing to not be the smartest person in the world, you will create all sorts of clarity that you didn't know was possible and become an expert in a field you probably didn't expect to be in,” said Graham.
5. Be Skeptical Of Words With More Than One Syllable
These are words that everyone uses, and everyone thinks they know what it means, but everyone has different definitions for it. Graham noted that it is vital to stop and ask, “What do you mean by that?” This prevents any confusion and miscommunication that can falter business growth and scale.
“You may think you know what they mean, but in the end, words can have different meanings and intentions in context,” said Graham. “It is important to take a step back and ask questions about these words, so everyone is clear with what they mean.”
6. Self-Awareness Is Invaluable
While growing and scaling businesses was the topic of conversation, a lot of the points shared by Graham focused on personal growth and scaling as well. Being self-aware of your strengths and weaknesses positions you to understand how you can better help companies grow and scale.
“You have a couple of jobs before you turn 30. Your first job is to figure out what you love doing; the second job is figuring out what you're good at; and the third is to figure out what you should NEVER be hired for,” said Graham. “It is OK to be bad at things and hate doing things.”
7. Imposter Syndrome Is Real; Don't Let It Eat You Alive
Individual doubts on professional accomplishments are common within companies at the peak of their growth. Graham noted that this “Imposter Syndrome” is important to shake off, because it only limits your true potential.
“It is important that you know that everyone you know feels the exact same way,” said Graham. “Get back to work and know that many people are feeling the same way, so be empathetic.”
8. Find People Who Can Teach You And Ones Who Can Keep You Sane
The people you work with are also vital to your own growth, as well as the growth of the company. Building relationships with colleagues that can continue teaching you, as well as ones that can help calm you down in a hectic day, positions you to do your best work while doing it with people you care about. Graham suggested that taking teammates and colleagues out to lunch is a powerful tool to get to know them and build relationships.
“Get to know your colleagues,” said Graham. “It's a barter economy. You never know who someone will become. This is a tiny community and life is long — so don’t be a jerk. There is no such thing as ‘networking,’ there is only staying in touch with people you loved working with.”
9. This Is The Opportunity Of A Lifetime
Graham closed the session by highlighting how being a part of a company amid growth and scale is an experience that nobody ever forgets. Be sure to slow down and enjoy the ride while you can.
“For companies, scaling is a privilege,” said Graham. “But for employees, these skills aren't intuitive; if you follow it, you'll have the experience of a lifetime.”