The Growth Trap

I’ve written and spoken much about how associations and non-profits in general tend to have a hard time ending programs and services. You can read more about this here: Slaying Sacred Zombie Cows.

I’m going to take this same idea in a bit of a different direction today. Many organizations innovate through growth. As membership increases or non-dues revenue goes up, they now have more resources with which to start new initiatives. Innovating new value is much easier for leaders when you have a healthy growing organization. You can just put that new money to work and let the rest of things carry on, avoiding tough conversations and decisions.

The challenge comes when that growth stops or reverses, something many have become familiar with over the past year or so. If the only way your organization can innovate is through growth, then you now face a serious problem: just when you need to be the most nimble you are actually at your least flexible.

This is what I call the Growth Trap: relying only on growth for change traps you in the status quo when that growth goes away. Thus, being able to stop doing things not only makes for a more responsive organization, it is an existential necessity in tough times.

If your organization has come through the depths of the recession, you have probably learned how to stop doing things that are no longer of value, allowing you to reallocate those resources. Don’t forget this precious skill once your revenues are back on the upswing. It will continue to serve you well in good times and will make it much easier for you to weather the inevitable downturns when they come.

That skill will help you to escape the growth trap.

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