Don’t Sacrifice Your #1 Business Priority on the Altar of Growth

What’s the core work of your business? Have you let important matters get in the way of the single most critical matter?

Paul Jarvis warns business leaders about the pitfalls of growth. While growth can be an important aspect of business success, the most important priority is too often sacrificed on its altar. Growth creates many complications that you can and should deal with, but you mustn’t let it chip away at the core.

Read more to understand how growth can make it difficult for you to tend to your top business priority in the way you should.

Maintain Your #1 Business Priority

According to Jarvis, growth brings inevitable complications for a business. When traditional companies grow and scale, they have to spend more money and hire more employees. This requires a more robust infrastructure, so these companies must invest in new systems that further complicate and slow down work processes.

For example, video game company Zynga spent $100 million on building their own data centers after achieving success with their free game downloads. This became a financial burden for the company as they struggled to keep up with innovations in the video game industry, eventually forcing them to lay off a large number of employees and close the data centers.

If you’re the owner of a company that’s constantly growing, you’ll likely spend more time managing the increasingly complex infrastructure than tending to your top business priority: the core work—creating or designing a product or service. That core work is the reason you wanted to start the business—a reason that’s unrelated to money. So, managing growth takes you away from your original purpose.

How Complications From Large Businesses Affect Company Culture

Some experts agree that the complications that come from a large company aren’t worth the trouble. In addition to the added expenses and stagnation of work because of bureaucratic processes, company culture often takes a hit. Large companies may run into the following issues in maintaining a healthy culture: 

Issue #1: To manage the large staff and infrastructure, the company culture often has to be highly formal, and employees may feel less motivated if their days are filled with procedures they must follow. 

Issue #2: A large corporate infrastructure means that employees typically work only within a narrow area of expertise. They don’t often get to work outside their role and may get bored. 

Issue #3: Frequently, the larger a company is, the less friendly and human-centric the atmosphere is, so employees may feel disconnected or underappreciated. 

Issue #4: There are more opportunities for conflict within the organization since managers and directors are often the ones making day-to-day decisions instead of the owners. Owners of large companies don’t typically run day-to-day operations or manage the core work that sparked the business (as Jarvis points out). However, they likely still have strong opinions about how the work should be done that may conflict with the choices that high-level employees make. For example, the owner might take issue with decisions managers make that move away from the company’s original purpose. 

Example: Losing Sight of the Core Work

Let’s look at an example of how managing a large company might prevent you from focusing on the core work. Say you run a business that offers book therapy: curated selections of books based on the users’ current mental health needs. Initially, you personally read each user’s profile and create their book selection. This is the core work, and it serves your original purpose for starting the business: to improve people’s lives using the psychological and emotional benefits of reading.

However, as the business grows, you have to hire employees to take on some of this work, and now you spend more time managing them along with the greater vision and day-to-day operations of the company. You spend less time selecting books and communicating with customers. As interest in your service keeps increasing, you develop an algorithm that automatically creates book selections based on customer needs, eliminating personalized, human involvement. Eventually, you spend all your time on tasks that are unrelated to the core work of book curation and the original purpose of helping people. Instead, you’re primarily focused on keeping the company going and increasing profits every year.

How to Determine Your Company’s Core Focus

In Traction, Gino Wickman further explores the concept of a company’s core focus (which encompasses the core work and original purpose that Jarvis describes). Wickman identifies a core focus as the job your company excels at and the thing you should be putting your time and resources into. Wickman argues that if you concentrate your company’s efforts on its core focus, you’ll see increased success and profits because you’re building on what you do best.

A core focus includes your company’s reason for existing (its original purpose) and its niche (its core work). According to Wickman, you should be able to explain your company’s reason for existing in no more than seven words. It should be simple and bold, resonate emotionally, involve everyone in the company, be separate from money, and be broader than a goal.

Your niche is the work you specifically do that fulfills the mission you outline. The description of this should be simple and useful for making decisions about how to spend time and resources.
Don’t Sacrifice Your #1 Business Priority on the Altar of Growth

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Paul Jarvis's "Company of One" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Company of One summary:

  • Why growth-focused companies don't always work
  • Why single-person companies often excel in quality and service
  • Tips on how to get started with your own single-person company

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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