Technologists often talk about technical debt.
It's the accumulation over time of decisions that prioritise short term speed over well-designed code.
Technical debt isn't always obvious to those outside the technology realm.
But people across the business feel its effects.
Technical debt reduces speed to market, agility, stability and quality of customer experience.
The same concept exists for organisations, especially those that are scaling.
In the drive to grow a business, founders have to take decisions that are shortcuts or are "right enough for now".
They prioritise short term progress over longer term stability. A growing organisational debt is inevitable.
How can founders and leaders use organisational debt in their work?
Make the implicit explicit
Be clear when you know you're adding to organisational debt in a decision you're taking.
Call out something that is "right for now", but might well need ripping up in the future.
This will help teams understand how you are making the inevitable trade-offs between the short and long term in that decision.
They'll be more accepting of problems if they know the solution has a limited shelf life.
The organisational debt backlog
Think about where you know you have issues from short term decisions as the business has grown.
Ask teams to consider where they have organisational debt that's not obvious to leadership teams.
Then create a shared list of known organisational debt.
Balance new initiatives with addressing organisation debt
You have plenty of new initiatives that you need to implement as your business grows.
You probably use a regular review and planning cycle to prioritise these.
It's useful to regularly review the organisational debt backlog as part of this cycle. It stops the less obvious organisational debt problems getting lost in the chaos of growth.
Distinguishing different types of organisational debt
There's a secret superpower in working with organisational debt.
Learn to distinguish between organisational debt that will hold back future growth and debt that will be irrelevant in the future.
Some debt can be left behind safely as the business grows.
For example if you took shortcuts when training staff on an early CRM, you might be able to leave that debt behind if you know you'll be introducing a new one in the near future.
Just remember to take the lessons into the new deployment rather than addressing the historic debt.
But other debt can't be left behind so easily.
You might have had a poor onboarding process for new team members over the last six months.
This is organisational debt you can't leave behind.
You need to put in an intervention to address this with the people who've joined through this process.
You might address this with a plan to spend time with those team members - a "re-onboarding". Doing this will help catch them up with what you wish you'd done with them in their onboarding first time around..
It'll increase team engagement and reduce staff churn. You will have eliminated a long term organisational debt.
Organisational debt is a concept that a founder at any stage of business growth can use. If you'd like some help understanding how organisational debt is holding you back, I'm happy to help.