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Scaling Up by Verne Harnish.
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Expanding your business is always going to present significant challenges. In Scaling Up, Verne Harnish explores what it takes to lead a company through the growth process.

Often, growth entails entering an entirely new market space, expanding a firm’s physical footprint, achieving new market share, and multiplying many times over the number of employees on payroll. All successful scaling up efforts, Harnish writes, are guided by an ultimate vision of where the company needs to go and a multi-year strategy that outlines the processes, people, and benchmarks it will take to get there.

Harnish is the founder and CEO of Scaling Up, a global executive education and coaching company with a presence across six continents. Through educational seminars and executive summits he hosts all over the world, he has taught thousands of executives how to lead and grow successful companies for over three decades.

This guide explores Harnish’s main ideas about how to successfully guide your company through the growth process. We’ve consolidated and streamlined some of Harnish’s arguments and put them into more easy-to-understand language (the original book has a tendency to veer into business jargon and/or specific proprietary terms used by Harnish’s company that can be hard to understand). We’ve also supplemented his ideas with outside commentary and more up-to-date information.

Overview

Harnish argues that there are several crucial elements to successfully guiding your business as it grows from a small company or sole proprietorship into a leading firm in your industry:

  • Articulating a clear vision of where you want your company to be at the end of the growth process—guided by values that clearly signal to employees and customers who your company is and what it does
  • Crafting the right long-term, multiyear strategy that can bring that vision to life, set the company on a path to profitability, and keep your team focused through the short-term growing pains
  • Building the right structure and oversight to promote accountability and follow through—while maintaining flexibility to ensure that your growth strategy can adapt to changing market conditions
  • Putting the right people in place, hiring and promoting based on accomplishments (not just longevity) and seeking out people who fit in with your culture of growth and change
  • Guiding implementation by establishing key performance indicators (KPIs), accountability measures, and processes to ensure a healthy cash flow

Comparing Scaling Up and The Rockefeller Habits

Harnish’s steps in Scaling Up are based on an earlier framework called the Rockefeller Habits, which he’d also championed in previous works. Harnish presents the ideas in Scaling Up as a “2.0” version of the Rockefeller Habits, with additional practical and updated advice to deal with 21st-century business growth challenges—for instance, attracting talent in the modern era.

The Rockefeller Habits are based on the business principles that guided the career of John D. Rockefeller, the Standard Oil business magnate who is widely considered to be the wealthiest private individual in recorded history.

The Rockefeller Habits and Scaling Up both emphasize first and foremost alignment of the executive team toward an ultimate goal (which others have termed the “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” or “BHAG). From there, they stress effective communication between the members of the executive team that filters down to the rest of the company; clear assignment of responsibilities and functions to specific individuals; universal understanding and implementation of the company’s values and strategy at all levels; and continuous solicitation of feedback from employees and customers to refine the strategy over time and enable it to respond to new situations. However, Harnish notes, Scaling Up examines these points in more depth.

Articulate Your Vision

According to Harnish, scaling up requires the articulation of a grand vision, an idea about not just how much the company will do, but more deeply, what it primarily exists to do. Ultimately, a vision is about what ultimate “state” or identity the company aspires to achieve. Bringing this vision into focus and aligning all company activities toward its achievement is what a strategy is for.

For example, a furniture retailer might have a vision of being the nation’s largest, best-known, and most-trusted name for families looking to decorate the home of their dreams. Or an investment bank might have a vision of being the financial world’s leader in “green” investments

Beyond just an “About Us'' section on your website, your vision is the “why” that should anchor every decision your company makes. And studies show that defining this vision makes a significant difference to your customers and employees. A survey conducted by EY and Harvard Business school found that, of 474 executives surveyed, 89% agreed that a company’s sense of purpose was an important contributor to employee satisfaction. However, fewer than half of the executives surveyed—46%—said that their business currently operates with a clear vision and sense of purpose.

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, similarly argues that business growth has to be rooted in an ultimate purpose or vision. But, he adds, it must be specific for it to be useful. You have to envision some ultimate state you want your company to attain or position you want it to be in. Simply wanting to be “bigger” or more profitable doesn’t...

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  • Cutting out the fluff: you don't spend your time wondering what the author's point is. Respecting your time: we don't waste your time and we make every word count.
  • Interactive exercises: apply the book's ideas to your own life with our educators' guidance.

READ FULL SUMMARY OF SCALING UP READ COMPLETE GUIDE TO SCALING UP

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Shortform Exercise: Scale Up Your Business

Think about how you can take your business to the next level.


Can you articulate a 10-year vision for your business? Briefly describe what it is.

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Shortform Exercise: Work Cross-Functionally

Think through how you work with others from different teams.


Have you ever been part of a cross-functional, cross-departmental, or any other team where you’ve had to work collaboratively with people who had different sets of knowledge and/or expertise from yours? Briefly describe the situation.

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Exercise: Scale Up Your Business
  • Exercise: Work Cross-Functionally

1-Page Summary1-Page Book Summary of Scaling UpFast Summary of Shortform's Guide to Scaling Up

Expanding your business is always going to present significant challenges. In Scaling Up, Verne Harnish explores what it takes to lead a company through the growth process.

Often, growth entails entering an entirely new market space, expanding a firm’s physical footprint, achieving new market share, and multiplying many times over the number of employees on payroll. All successful scaling up efforts, Harnish writes, are guided by an ultimate vision of where the company needs to go and a multi-year strategy that outlines the processes, people, and benchmarks it...

Want to learn the rest of Scaling Up in 21 minutes? Want to learn the ideas of Scaling Up better than ever?

Unlock the full book summary of Scaling Up by Unlock the full Shortform guide to Scaling Up by signing up for Shortform.

Shortform summaries help you learn 10x faster by: Shortform guides make you smarter by:

  • Being 100% comprehensive: you learn the most important points in the book Being 100% crystal-clear: you learn important ideas written simply and clearly
  • Expanding beyond the book: we add smart analysis and teach ideas the book didn't cover.
  • Cutting out the fluff: you don't spend your time wondering what the author's point is. Respecting your time: we don't waste your time and we make every word count.
  • Interactive exercises: apply the book's ideas to your own life with our educators' guidance.

READ FULL SUMMARY OF SCALING UP READ COMPLETE GUIDE TO SCALING UP

Here's a preview of the rest of Shortform's Scaling Up summary:guide:

Scaling Up Summary Scaling Up Guide Overview

Harnish argues that there are several crucial elements to successfully guiding your business as it grows from a small company or sole proprietorship into a leading firm in your industry:

  • Articulating a clear vision of where you want your company to be at the end of the growth process—guided by values that clearly signal to employees and customers who your company is and what it does
  • Crafting the right long-term, multiyear strategy that can bring that vision to life, set the company on a path to profitability, and keep your team focused through the short-term growing pains
  • Building the right structure and oversight to promote accountability and follow through—while maintaining flexibility to ensure that your growth strategy can adapt to changing market conditions
  • Putting the right people in place, hiring and promoting based on accomplishments...

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Read full summary of Scaling Up Read full guide to Scaling Up

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Scaling Up Summary Scaling Up Guide Articulate Your Vision

According to Harnish, scaling up requires the articulation of a grand vision, an idea about not just how much the company will do, but more deeply, what it primarily exists to do. Ultimately, a vision is about what ultimate “state” or identity the company aspires to achieve. Bringing this vision into focus and aligning all company activities toward its achievement is what a strategy is for.

For example, a furniture retailer might have a vision of being the nation’s largest, best-known, and most-trusted name for families looking to decorate the home of their dreams. Or an investment bank might have a vision of being the financial world’s leader in “green” investments

Beyond just an “About Us'' section on your website, your vision is the “why” that should anchor every decision your company makes. And studies show that defining this vision makes a significant difference to your customers and employees. A survey conducted by EY and Harvard Business school found that, of 474 executives surveyed, [89% agreed that a company’s sense of purpose was an important contributor to employee...

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Scaling Up Summary Scaling Up Guide Strategy: Put Your Vision Into Action

According to Harnish, a strategy is the means by which a company brings its vision to fruition and outlines the multiyear benchmarks that it will need to reach to make the vision a reality. He writes that a clear strategy puts a company’s daily actions into perspective and orients everything toward that singular vision. Indeed, the strategy informs everything that goes on in your company—from marketing decisions to hiring, workflow processes, and accounting practices.

This can have great clarifying power. By driving toward a vision whose fulfillment requires buy-in from every sector of the company, your strategy should instill in your team the belief that they are part of something larger than themselves. Harnish writes that anchoring day-to-day functions within a broader strategy in service of an ultimate vision also helps reduce turnover and boost productivity—both of which in and of themselves are crucial to successful company growth.

Defining a Vision and Strategy

In Traction, Gino Wickman highlights some key factors that go into crafting a vision and strategy—a company’s defining values, its main focus,...

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Scaling Up Summary Scaling Up Guide Build Your Team

Harnish writes that once you’ve articulated your company’s vision and crafted the strategy to bring that vision to life, it’s time to develop your company’s most important resource: its people. Without quality people, any effort at growth will be short-lived and fizzle out before you even get started. To scale up successfully, you need to build an all-star team, from senior leadership to middle management and the rank-and-file.

Cultivating this top-tier team means changing both how you hire new people and how you train and motivate people already with the company.

New Hires Tactic #1: Focus on Accomplishments, Not Job Descriptions

Harnish says that when creating new positions, you should ditch the practice of writing job descriptions. Job descriptions are just what they sound like: descriptions. All they do is tell you the boxes that a person needs to tick every day to do their job. And if you focus too much on that, you’ll end up hiring people who do nothing more than tick boxes.

Instead of designing roles with specific day-to-day functions in mind, Harnish recommends designing roles in which people are asked to accomplish specific goals from year to year....

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Scaling Up Summary Scaling Up Guide Ensure Implementation

By now, you have most of the pieces in place to begin growing, expanding, and making progress toward your ambitious goal. You’ve defined your vision, crafted a multiyear strategy to bring it to fruition, and put the right team in place to make it all happen.

But even after doing all that, you as the leader can’t just walk away and assume that the entire operation will run on its own. You need to be on the ground to guide implementation of the scaling-up plan. Harnish writes that there are three keys to this:

  • Promote accountability by making sure every function and process is assigned to an individual.
  • Set intermediate goals to secure company buy-in and learn valuable lessons as you go.
  • Track your progress with KPIs.
  • Think beyond just profits by looking toward maintaining healthy cash flow

Promote Accountability

Harnish writes that effective systems of personnel management are essential to successful implementation of the strategy. Crucially, people must be accountable for the processes and functions that they touch.

With every core function and process, assign responsibility for it to a single person. They own it now. Everything that gets done in your...

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Shortform Exercise: Scale Up Your Business

Think about how you can take your business to the next level.


Can you articulate a 10-year vision for your business? Briefly describe what it is.

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes. This is the best guide to How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned the ideas better and got new insights than when I first read the book.
Learn more about our summaries →Learn more about our content →

Shortform Exercise: Work Cross-Functionally

Think through how you work with others from different teams.


Have you ever been part of a cross-functional, cross-departmental, or any other team where you’ve had to work collaboratively with people who had different sets of knowledge and/or expertise from yours? Briefly describe the situation.

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of Scaling Up Read full guide to Scaling Up

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Overview
  • Articulate Your Vision
  • Strategy: Put Your Vision Into Action
  • Build Your Team
  • Ensure Implementation
  • Exercise: Scale Up Your Business
  • Exercise: Work Cross-Functionally