Rumor has it that Groupon’s sales organization is getting restive and that even long-time high performers are thinking about moving on.  Here’s a working list of things that shouldn’t surprise Andrew Mason and his team at Groupon:

  • Salespeople Flying the Coop – Don’t be surprised if your original big-time sellers are starting to feel less at home. Things have changed since you were the hip new thing in the market.  You may still be hot, but you have competitors.  Prospective customers know more about Groupon now and have opinions.  Your reps may have to answer a lot more questions from that restaurant owner to get the yes.  Instead of competing with paper coupons and the yellow pages, you’ve got LivingSocial breathing down your neck. Sales may be getting harder, and harder sales leads salespeople to rethink their career options.
  • The Need for Structure – Your organization has changed too. When you go from the Wild, Wild West of a start-up growing like a weed to a publicly traded company with serious scale, you have to change. There’s going to be more structure.  Yes, horror of horrors, there will be more rules. Things we used to ignore will get dealt with.  But here’s your alternative. That cute little baby you were a few years ago will grow up into a huge teenager without ever going through potty training.  You’d better have big diapers for those messes. It’s one thing to have a little customer blip or employee unrest with a small company.  It’s something else when you’re one of the big boys and your dirty underwear is front page news on the Wall Street Journal. Wouldn’t it be better to learn now how not to make adult-sized messes?
  • The Need to Breathe – Being part of a young company gives you a huge adrenaline rush.  Everything, every day feels crazy urgent. You’re building the plane while flying it. But that pace can temporarily impair the long-term, strategic part of your brain. And let’s face it, at some point you need to engage that part of your collective brainpower or flame-out is not far away.
  • The Need to Learn – Ironically, startups can be incredibly arrogant.  It’s understandable. You have to convince yourself and others to live on next-to-nothing and take a huge risk by spinning it as a fantastic adventure. It’s not too different from a young couple romantically jumping into a marriage with no money. “Oh sure, honey, we’ll have to eat ramen noodles every night and sleep on my dad’s old futon, but we’ll be together and that will be enough. We don’t want to be like those old, stuffy married couples who have money and eat out at restaurants with actual plates and metal silverware! NAH – that’s for losers!” Similarly, young companies will often react with disdain at practices of larger, more-established companies. If you don’t believe this, just try putting the two words Big and Company together in a sentence at a young company and watch people get that sour milk look on their faces. Really, try it. It works every time. But moving from startup to a company that will actually achieve its vision absolutely requires adopting some practices from established companies. No, not all. But some. And that requires humility, openness, and the willingness to follow.

It’s easy to get bummed out about these changes. Wouldn’t we all like the chance to defy reality and to have that unique start-up period extend forever, like a honeymoon that just won’t quit? But face it. Honeymoons end. They must end.  Otherwise, you end up being one of those people who get stuck in perpetual adolescence, always out looking for that next Mr./Ms. Right, developmentally immature despite your advanced chronology .  If companies insist on keeping themselves all start-uppity forever despite the obvious signs that they must mature to the next level, they’ll allow the original vision to fade, all for a feeling that won’t last anyway.

So whether you work at Groupon, a different hot start-up, or you’re just trying to take your little corner of the universe to its next great height, here are a few questions to ponder:

  • What symptom might be telling us that something has changed in your environment? Groupon has its salesforce as the proverbial canaries in its mines. What are yours?
  • Have you hit a time in your organization where things are just different? If so, what was the boundary marker that triggered the new era?
  • What has to go? What deeply held belief or structure or way of doing things needs to be swept away so that something new can grow in its place?
  • Who will be the adult in the room? Why not you?