Middle management in gazelle organizations

Gazelle-143x200 While completing the process of evaluating workshops and seminars I conducted in 2014, I have also been scheduling and conducting additional ones in 2015. Most of my involvement is with gazelles, a majority of them companies in which venture capital firms have made a substantial investment. In that event, the VC firms are my clients and companies in their portfolios are either gazelles or potential gazelles.

As you may know already, the term “gazelle” was coined by the economist David Birch. His identification of gazelle companies followed from his 1979 report titled “The Job Generation Process” (MIT Program on Neighborhood and Regional Change), wherein he identified small companies as the biggest creators of new jobs in the economy.

In 1994, however, Birch revised his thesis, isolating job-creating companies he called “gazelles.” Characterized less by size than by rapid expansion, Birch defined the species as enterprises whose sales doubled every four years. By his estimates, these firms, roughly 4% of all U.S. companies, were responsible for 70% of all new jobs. The gazelles beat out the elephants (like Walmart) and the mice (corner barbershops). When you hear politicians say, “Small businesses create most of the new jobs,” they’re really talking about young and growing firms. They are talking about gazelles.

These are among the challenges that the leaders in a gazelle company now face:

1. How to manage rapid growth
2. How to retain the given company’s structural integrity (i.e. flawless operations)
3. How to make sound business decisions faster, especially when faced with an unexpected development
4. How to increase the capabilities of direct reports who must grow as their company grows
5. Meanwhile, how to avoid organizational burnout of people, systems, cash…enthusiasm.

Middle managers bear the brunt of coping with these challenges. They are seldom in the C-Suite, spending most of their time in the proverbial “tenches,” getting “dirt under their nails, “going the extra mile,” etc.

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of middle managers in gazelle organizations. They must both lead and follow effectively at all levels and in all areas. If your organization needs assistance with accelerating the development of middle managers, please contact me.

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