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Things that Make You Great Aren’t Scalable

Since Silicon Valley became a household name and startups became the next big thing, whether or not your business was “scalable” became a huge question for business owners. If you were “scalable,” it meant your workflow, your customer experience, your hiring practices, your company culture and a host of other variables could be replicated time and time again.

What ended up happening was a lot of businesses, in an effort to scale, began streamlining procedures and setting up systems that took the “human factor” out of the equation. Because humans can muddle things up. Humans make it too complicated, right? …right?

When Larry Page and Sergey Brin first started Google after moving out of their dorm room at Stanford, they had one philosophy — put smart, talented, passionate people in a room together, and something great is bound to happen. They began hiring smart, talented, passionate people, even when they didn’t necessarily have a job for them at the time, and they just turned them loose to be creative… to be brilliant. Now Google is one of the top companies in the world, and they continue to remain true to the philosophy of “people first.”

While scalability is important and beneficial in many ways, we have to be careful that, in the interest of productivity and efficiency, we don’t strip the organization of the soul that makes it unique. The human elements aren’t the obstacles — au contraire! — they’re the very things that make the organization great.

A Vibrant Culture

Sure, cubicles and uniforms are incredibly easy to scale — you can cram a lot of employees in a smaller space, and everyone looks unified. However, the walls that separate your people and the uniforms that suck out their individual styles are just more nails in the corporate coffin that will kill a vibrant culture.

Empowered to Serve

You know that feeling when you’re talking with an employee of a global chain, and even though there’s a simple solution to your problem, they can’t follow through because “they’re not authorized to make that happen and it’s against company protocols?” Those protocols might be scalable, but they sure aren’t building lifelong customer relationships.

What if, instead of a protocol that said, “You have to do such and such when this happens,” you had a protocol that said, “If you can solve the problem for less than $100, do it.” Then you’ve just empowered employees to get creative, serve the customer and, most importantly, to take action!

Cultural Relatability

While your company might be culturally relevant in America, it might not be so relevant in India. Scaling your company through a copy and paste method might get you into trouble elsewhere in the world. Rather, give your employees the ability to adjust to cultural norms and seamlessly integrate your company into whatever environment it’s in.

Creative Surprises

There are often little ways that an employee could make a customer’s day, but when a company is built to scale and process are automated, they can get overlooked . While it’s important to automate certain areas of your business, other areas have some wiggle room for an extra dose of whimsy that will create that happy, life-long customer.


How many times have you received calls from an automated recorder? It’s no fun. It tells you that you’re not a priority to that company, and it’s easier for them to pass you off to a machine. But if you get prompt, friendly customer service employees who are empowered to solve your problems or answer your questions, you’re more apt to be a repeat customer and refer to friends.

Now, while I’ve preached on the importance of the non-scalable elements of a business, I don’t want to be misunderstood. There are many elements of a business that should be automated, digitized, outsourced or otherwise scaled. That’s just smart business. But as you scale, just be aware of the little human touches that will set you apart by infusing your company’s culture with the personality of your people.