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The Perfect Balance: Blending Flexibility and Consistency

WebMD's revenue is now approaching $500M per year, nearly twice its revenue four years ago. It is facing an evolutionary challenge that all breakthrough companies wrestle with at some time before they reach $1 billion in revenue: how do they become a large firm without losing the entrepreneurial behaviors that got them here?

Many, probably most, companies fail to make it through this evolutional step. Those that do, find a way to adopt the ability to create a large firm that maintains the flexibility and speed of a smaller one. As Michael Porter put it, "So companies have to be very schizophrenic. On one hand, they have to maintain continuity of strategy. But they also have to be good at continuously improving."

WebMD is taking this challenge head on with an elixir of consistent values that encourage change. As its CEO Wayne Gettinella said, "You see what makes companies great and you also see what can destroy or certainly change the shape of a successful company. And culture is so important to that. So here at WebMD, we talk a lot about operating with the speed and the agility of a start up, which is the best of what a start up does and produces, but also performing with the confidence and consistency of an established organization."

This challenge is not unique but how to tackle it still isn't completely clear. It depends so heavily on senior leadership and the internal culture of the company. The ones that keep pushing forward while offering an engaging work environment seem to thrive. The Apples, Googles, Zappos, and Whole Foods of the world have an edge on their more stogy peers—they are nimble beasts. Ask yourself the questions below to see how you can grow without losing the flexibility of a small, agile company.

  1. What values and behaviors should you never change because they make you unique?
  2. How do you drive your people to continually seek better ways to do everything else?
  3. How do you foster internal culture to keep people from becoming complacent?