Lisa McCracken

Why Grow?” This is the underlying question at the core of any discussion on organizational growth. The bottom line is strong organizations are growing organizations. Grow or die. Some may disagree to the boldness of this statement, but it is true. An organization may be a strong, solid operation, but if status quo is a comfort zone, at some point, the surrounding space will evolve beyond the ability to catch up. Consider this: If your organization hadn’t made the decision to grow in the past, would you be here today?

Deliberate and innovative planning is a critical part of healthy provider organizations. The following key points should guide your organization’s smart-growth journey.

1.     Know your comfort zone: You cannot move forward unless you know where you have been and who you are today. Part of being able to grow successfully is understanding the pace of growth and risk tolerance that the people, culture and organization will find acceptable. For example, if the board and executive leadership are on different pages, this will present barriers and tension to effective growth. A thread of healthy tension can be a positive thing for an organization, but if the gaps are too wide, the probability of failure grows higher.   

2.     Be nimble: Organizations, led by their boards and executive leadership, need to be nimble and act decisively on opportunities that present themselves. The ability to be nimble is largely dependent on how proactive an organization has been in planning. Organizations should not be impulsive in their steps, but rather, should know what growth makes sense, what partners might fit, and how an organization will position leadership to successfully navigate opportunities.  

3.     Have strong partners: Even the strongest organizations do not have all the required expertise in-house. In fact, it is possible to be too close to your organization to objectively evaluate current strengths, weaknesses and threats. An outsider’s perspective or observations from a trusted partner can provide invaluable feedback on smart organizational growth. Overall, the demanding part of growth is that it requires a keen, equal focus on today and tomorrow, present and future. Residents and front-line staff need to be supportive partners as well. One common failure of growing organizations is not effectively managing the distraction from current operations.

4.     Embrace change and innovation: If there is one certainty in life, it is that change is inevitable. Rely on what has succeeded for the organization in the past, but be willing to embrace different ways of thinking. Technology and evolving consumer expectations demand change. Service delivery has expanded from bricks-and-mortar housing to an expanse of home and community-based options. Do not be afraid of change. Embrace and prepare for it.

5.     Know your lane: Investing in growth strategies that have a high probability of success is important early on. Knowing your strong suit is just as important as knowing your weaknesses. Innovation and change are important, but it is equally important to stay within your organization’s realm of expertise. This is a significant component of disciplined organizational growth. What is your lane?

The wave of growth can ebb and flow within an organization. There may be times when an opportunity requires disciplined, aggressive growth, while other periods encourage the leadership to take pause and regroup. Growth presents a number of benefits to organizations including greater diversification of services, enhancement of the customer experience, greater economies of scale, the ability to attract better talent and leadership, and an increased ability to borrow capital.

The type of growth each organization undertakes will vary. For some, it will be an expansion of an existing community or the addition of a new location. For others, it will be joint ventures or additional home and community-based offerings. No matter what form growth takes, organizations need to be smart and prepare in advance for growth. Consider an honest and open internal discussion about each of the five steps above. As we mentioned at the close of a recent board retreat, “Move forward with vigor. Be nimble and be bold!”  

Lisa McCracken is the senior vice president of senior living research at Ziegler. She can be reached at [email protected]