We’ve heard the familiar refrain of politicians and business leaders throughout this election year. Now is the time for GROWTH! Oh sure, how we generate that growth is a bone of contention between conservatives and progressives. How we define growth is a debate unsettled in most circles. And how much growth is too much, too fast….or too little, too slowly. Well, that’s the rhetoric of whichever political ideology stands at the microphone, it seems.
But a question that is posed much less frequently, but that is equally important, I believe, is how much growth is manageable or desirable before the average worker actually bears the brunt of the growth. In other words, is growth for growth sake, without understanding and controlling for the potentially negative impacts of growth on employees and the public, always a good thing?
Let’s look at a couple high-profile examples in exploring this question. A little more than a decade ago, a company found itself at the cusp of the growth bubble, doubling, tripling, and quadrupling in size and profits in record times. Everywhere they turned, there were successes and opportunities. Many employees reaped millions of dollars in exchange for the success they were driving. Then Enron began unraveling, as stories of unethical behavior, decision making, and accounting procedures were revealed. Ultimately, the company collapsed under its own weight, taking down many of the thousands of ordinary citizens who had helped in its success through their hard (and often honest) efforts.
In another notable example, a quasi-governmental organization expanded exponentially over a 2+ decade period into the world leader in its industry, with high-tech innovations previously unheard of being rolled out and implemented at a truly breakneck speed. Eventually, though, a growing culture of distrust, mistrust, and leadership ineffectiveness created the “perfect storm” in which decisions made (or not challenged) led to the deadliest and infamous disaster in NASA’s history when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on lift-off.
On a more local level, there is often so much attention to growth initiatives, that the human element of communities is pushed to the back burner, or removed from burners altogether. Education and arts programs for children are supplanted in municipal budgeting by funding of sometimes ill-advised growth initiatives. And as the politicization of American society has intensified, city councils spend more time fighting from ideologic positions that emphasize short-term thinking over long-term strategy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pushing social programs as more important than growth strategies. What I do espouse, though, is a more balanced approach by those business entities intent on short-term gains. Organizational leaders, together with municipal officials, need to more fully develop the social equity of balanced strategies. No amount of growth will breed long-term sustainability if the needs of the community (be those social in nature, educational, or cultural) are undermined as a result of the desperate drive toward growth.
It’s a truly balanced, and moderate approach, that yes, may promote slower, but more sustainable growth that is needed within communities, not a knee-jerk attempt to simply jump-start small, comparably insignificant entrepreneurial efforts at the expense of truly impactful organizational development.
So, as you ponder the direction in which your community or organization is headed, ensure that your path is one on which you individually and as a cooperative unit will emphasize economic growth in the short-term with community growth for the long-term. For it is in true community growth efforts, civic leadership partnered with businesses, that we’ll see our towns, cities, and our society grow truly stronger. And when that happens, we’ll all benefit. Short-term efforts, however, too frequently reap benefits only for the few….and when the few can no longer support the many, that’s when the few also must face the consequences of their decisions.