Breaking “The Plateau Pattern”

Recently I was working with the president of a company within the IT industry. Their issue supersedes their industry, however. They are at the dreaded “25 person plateau.”

Perhaps you recognize this “plateau pattern.” It happens within divisions of large corporations. It happens within branches of multi-location distributors. It happens in small privately held companies. If not your company, perhaps a valued client or vendor is facing this ever so common plateau.

The enterprise reaches 25 employees and a few key people choose to leave. The company drops to 18 employees.

Most of the time, the leaders do not recognize the group dynamic behind the scenes. There are “good reasons” for key people leaving.

  • “My spouse was relocated, and we have to move.”
  • “Another company approached me with an offer I just couldn’t refuse.”
  • “It is time to go back for the master’s degree I have been talking about for years.”
  • “I am looking for more time with my children while they are still young.”

So the President rationalizes the drop to 18 people and slowly rebuilds the company to 25 employees only to drop back to about 18.

Perhaps your business faces plateaus that are not driven by market dynamics or finances.

Initially my client had a difficult time seeing his role in creating the plateau. He was holding onto account management for their largest account because “so much was riding on it.”  He was reluctant to hire a purchasing agent because it “only took him a few hours each week.” Another person would “take longer, make mistakes, and cost more money.” He was reluctant to upgrade the accounting position from a bookkeeper to a real accountant because that “doesn’t directly contribute to an improved bottom line.” No sales manager could “lead as well as he could.” He had tried to hire experienced sales people before, but they always “cost him a ton of money.”

Trying to grow incrementally without addressing the concerns, assumptions, and habitual behavior of this president would only result in lost time and money.  He may as well remain at 18 people and pocket the profit.

Since he wants to grow beyond their current level, I have asked him to focus on what the business would be like with 40 full time people. How would their income statement look? What would their organizational chart look like? What would the major elements of his job be? Who would be doing some of the things that he currently does? We will be working backwards from that new vision to see where he should begin the process.

Is it time for you to envision a business unit that is significantly larger than its current size, so you can break “the plateau pattern” instead of experiencing expensive bounce back?


Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP has earned the right to be called THE GROWTH STRATEGIST®. She has won over 2 dozen national and statewide “entrepreneur of the year” awards for the resilient growth of her international businesses across 4 recessions.  Her midsized BtoB clients get on…and then stay on…the published lists of the fastest growing privately held companies. She owns and operates a suite of companies that help privately held midsized companiesachieving accelerated growth with sustained profitability® through opportunity & resource analysis, 4 approaches to strategic planning, executive advisory services, growth financing, and targeted search.  2012 is Ambler’s 8th year hosting a weekly peer-to-peer-to-peer syndicated on line talk show that features interviews with CEOs/Presidents of midsized companies (typically between $20 and 200 Mil/yr) sharing success tips about the growth strategy-of-the-week. An archive of over 300 interviews is available at She can be reached toll free at 1-888-Aldonna or at

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Marla Bace
Circles, a division of Sodexo

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