James Allen: Building the Scaling Community

How to identify and develop scaling communities that are pivotal for successful micro-battles.


James Allen: Building the Scaling Community

Micro-battles help large companies industrialize innovation across the entire organization. James Allen, a partner with Bain's Strategy practice, describes how scaling communities contribute to successful micro-battles—and why you should put them at the heart of your strategy. 

Read the Bain Brief: Micro-battles and the Journey to Scale Insurgency

Read the transcript below.

JAMES ALLEN: In our work with Founder's Mentality, we say you've got to be the scale insurgent in your industry. You have to have all the scale benefits of the incumbent, but you also have to have the speed of a founder-led organization. And to do that, what we talk about is this idea of micro-battles, rediscovering the art of getting stuff done. And it's about how do we innovate at a rapid pace, but also industrialize that innovation across the organization.

And as we've been working with clients around the world on that, we've started to look at the nature of the organization itself. And what we're finding is organizations are made up of three separate communities. We know about the execution community. They're the people that get stuff done everyday. They make your products and they sell your products. And we hope they're the heroes of your company.

And increasingly, in a world of digital and disruption, we're talking about the innovation community and Agile ways of working. They're disrupting your products and services and your business processes, and sometimes, your business model. And they're vital to what you're doing.

But who takes innovation and makes sure it fits into the playbooks of your company so the execution community can do something with it? We said, that's your scaling community, but no one's talking about it. Who are the people that industrialize innovation across the enterprise?

So we've been studying that community and actually initiating a lot of new research on who they are and what they do. And so far, it's been absolutely fascinating. So the first thing is they're not necessarily your CEOs. They're actually pretty low on inspiration and pretty low on empathy, things you'd expect of a CEO.

So they're not necessarily the CEO of your company. And don't confuse it. Secondly, though, they are your all-arounders Pretty good at intellect and everything they do, and pretty good on behaviors. They don't score badly. They're kind of your all-arounders you see in the organization.

But they are extraordinary at their ability to process information and drive it to transformational results across the company. And in fact, they do it with very low ego, but a very high ambition for transformational results. Number four is they actually are good at influencing people, but not through inspiration or empathy. But rather, they build confidence with the people they work with because they have a track record of getting results.

As we started to interview organizations, they're saying, we don't necessarily love working with them. But by golly, working with them, you know you're going to be part of results stories. That these guys just consistently drive results across the organization.

And finally, they really are the glue between innovation and execution. Innovation people are very good at generating ideas, but don't necessarily get the full results from their ideas. So they love to work with scalers, because they know they'll get the results.

And execution people are very good at driving every day, and they want to know that the people they work with understand their need to achieve. Scalers have the exact same view of achievement. And in fact, in one conversation we had, we had this idea that in many ways, the execution community, the questions they ask are what. What do I need to do? Just tell me what I need to do.

And the innovation community is kind of asking the question why. Why do we exist? Why should I do this? Why can't I do it better?

And in many ways, the scaling community asked the question how. I don't care where the ideas come from. How do I turn that into something the execution community can do something with?

So you need to be the scale insurgent in your industry. You need to become the master of micro-battles. But you're not going to do it without recognizing who these members of the scaler community are, identifying them, developing them, and putting them at the heart of your strategy.

Read the Brief

Micro-battles and the Journey to Scale Insurgency

Discrete, fast-moving initiatives bring focus to strategic choices and help companies rediscover the art of getting stuff done.

Learn More

Founder's Mentality

Fast-growing companies can become global leaders without losing the values that helped them succeed. Bain’s research explores how large incumbents can also reignite their growth by recapturing their Founder’s Mentality®.


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