Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less

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Publisher: Crown Business
Published: 2/4/2014
In Scaling Up Excellence, bestselling author Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao tackle a challenge that determines every organization’s success: scaling up farther, faster, and more effectively as a program or an organization creates a larger footprint. Sutton and Rao have devoted much of the last decade to uncovering what it takes to build and uncover pockets of exemplary performance to keep recharging organizations with ever better work practices.

Scaling Up Excellence By Robert I. Sutton & Huggy Rao

Key Insights

There are so many good ideas in the world; So many booming businesses with excellent performance and products that are changing the world. But, how can we spread these behaviors and products to people in different areas? Or even, just these good practices into other parts of the workplace?

In “Scaling Up Excellence” Sutton and Rao help readers to understand the struggles in sharing replicated practices and behaviors with different people and in different places.

“Scaling is akin to running a long race where you don’t know the right path, often what seems like the right path turns out to be the wrong one, and you don’t know how long the race will last, where or how it will end, or where the finish line is located. Yet it is one of the fundamental challenges that every organization faces, whether it’s small or large, new or old, or somewhere in between.” - Robert I. Sutton & Huggy Rao

They discuss the steps it takes to successfully scaling a company. And, tells you exactly what will hinder the process.

With this information, backed by research, you will be able to tackle your own scaling challenges.

Key Points

  • Scaling is Essential

Scaling is the practice of spreading and introducing superb performance to more people and places.

Scaling is often referred to as “the problem of more” because it is a challenge for leaders to spread these positive performances.

The act of scaling can come in many different forms. For example, it could mean opening a new coffee shop in a different city or it could be growing the number of company employees. Or, even improving productivity and lowering mistakes in the workplace.

“It means constantly seeking and implementing better ways of thinking and acting across old and new corners of the system.”- Robert I. Sutton & Huggy Rao

There are two parts to scaling:


  1. Replicating best practices
  2. Improving performance


These go hand-in-hand. So, the “problem of more” also is the “problem of better” for the leaders in charge.

Scaling requires companies to be innovative by always developing new strategies and organizational structures in the workplace.

There is no easy recipe to follow to successfully scale a workplace to excellence.

  • Be Persistent

When you are working on scaling your company, be prepared to be in it for the long-haul. Scaling takes time, effort, and most of all, persistence.

There will be a lot of unforeseen roadblocks and bumps along the way, but you must have the mental endurance to keep going or else your scaling efforts will fail.

Before you begin, you must have the right amount of resources and manpower to fight through the scaling process.

For example, Mark Zuckerburg, the founder of Facebook made sure that everyone on his team was fully on board with his vision of this new platform.

He made every single employee go through a six-week test that consisted of them working with a mentor and proving that they fully understood the vision of the company.

By spending the time to fully train and teach your employees about the vision, your company will be much stronger.

“When big organizations scale well, they focus on “moving a thousand people forward a foot at a time, rather than moving one person forward by a thousand feet.”- Robert I. Sutton & Huggy Rao

But, don’t think of the employee as one single unit. You are not scaling one person, you are scaling a whole company. So, imagine you are pushing 10, 20, or 100 employees ahead in one sweep.

  • Standardization and Local Variation

When trying to scale your company you will encounter two things:


  1. Standardization: this is the process of spreading pre-determined rules, behaviors, etc. For example, religious rules that are already set in stone.
  2. Local Variation: a practice in which the mindset is shared by people, but the actions may differ. For example, in the U.K. McDonald’s menu items are slightly different from the U.S., China, and other countries because it is being marketed to the locals.


Not everything works for everyone. So, when scaling you must take the local culture into consideration.

  • Changing Beliefs Not Behaviors

One of the first things you must do when scaling your company is to communicate it with your team in a way that motivates and makes them excited.

To do this, you can either target belief or behavior.

Many people say you must attack belief first because belief is what drives people to perform certain actions.

But, other people believe you should target behavior first and that will lead to belief changes.

Both of these methods are successful in the workplace, but you must be clear about what one works for you before you proceed with scaling your company.

  • Reduced Complexity

If your scaling efforts are working, then congratulations! But, it’s not that easy. You must still put in work to keep them growing strong.

You will need more people and more resources. But, be sure not to add more than necessary or that can complicate your scaling efforts. Timing is everything.

By adding too many people into a process before it’s ready, you will slow down production and create unnecessary roles in the company.

Steer clear of redundant practices. For example, there is no need to have formal reports about the performance of employees if the team is small enough to have small check-ins every couple of months.

The formal reports are just adding more work that is unnecessary. Put that energy elsewhere!

  • The People Matter

If you don’t have the right people backing you, your scaling efforts will suffer.

People must have the correct skillset, but they also must be accountable for their work. That combination is the winning one, but it is also hard to find.

“Accountability means that an organization is packed with people who embody and protect excellence (even when they are tired, overburdened, and distracted), who work vigorously to spread it to others, and who spot, help, critique, and (when necessary) push aside colleagues who fail to live and spread it. The trick—and it is a difficult trick—is to design a system where this tug of responsibility is constant, strong, and embraced by everyone, and where slackers, energy suckers, and selfish soloists have no place to hide.”- Robert I. Sutton & Huggy Rao

A good way to make sure you have a good team behind you is to build a bond based on the central vision of the company. For example, if a coach encourages his team to work together to win the big game, they will all be believing in and working toward the same goal. Having a collective mindset helps to encourage productivity.

Promoting pride of the company to your employees will also help them to feel motivated, satisfied, and part of a team.

  • Connections

When your employees have deep connections with each other, the company scaling efforts will be much easier. If a handful of people with good behavior have deep connections with other members of that team, good behavior will spread.

The diversity of employees helps to spread good behaviors and practices throughout companies. It also helps to show how scaling can help multiple departments.

To get the most out of the diversity of your company, it’s important to target employees with many different resources and in different ways. For example, if your company is concerned about a certain issue, the CEO could either make a call to put a stop to the issue, or they could embrace the idea of an open forum with their employees to get different personal opinions.

This will allow the employees to feel more connected to the company and apart of the team. And, it will give the CEO insight on how their employees are motivated.

  • Get Rid of the Bad

Before you spread all the good practices through scaling, it’s important to get rid of the bad ones.

Studies show that one bad apple can decrease a team’s productiveness by 30-40%!

This is because negative people tend to affect the group’s morale. Employees focus on dealing with the bad apple, rather than their work.

This one toxic person can quickly affect the whole team by spreading negativity.

That is why leaders should not tolerate bad apples in their workplace. They should focus on fostering a team of positive goal-oriented people.

  • Imagine the Future

A good practice is to envision the future of your scaling efforts. Was it a success? Was it a failure? If it was, then why?

This practice will help you to see roadblocks before they appear, making you more prepared for what’s to come.

Imagining the future will also give you a clear goal in your head. Is your company the way you always wanted it? Or, are you taking steps that will lead it someplace else?

All of these questions will lead you on the right path to your company’s success.

The Main Take-Away

Spreading excellence throughout a company is not always simple. It takes persistence. But, if a leader has a clear vision, the right people, and diversity, their company scaling efforts become much easier.


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