When scaling a business, some things can wait and others can’t. During my five years building out People and Culture with Vend and now advising to Naveya & Sloane, these are the lessons I’ve learnt
1. Be clear about what your business does. What your business values. And what culture you want.
This doesn’t need to be hard. And it doesn’t need to take long to start the process. Even though these questions may take a while to answer, start asking them early. It’s perfectly OK to have a fuzzy idea and clarify it over time. These are the fundamentals from which you will do all the other work.
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If you don’t know where to start, here are some starter questions:
2. Hire the right people
Few things are more important than getting the right people on board. You have probably worked with someone who didn’t suit their job or the company. Someone who held the company back rather than propelling it forward. The effect of this is magnified when it is one of the first hires in a growing company.
My advice is:
3. Ensure everyone knows the vision and how they help you win
Once you have your team on board, everyone will be trying their best to help you win. It amazes me how many organisations don’t get crystal clear on how each person actually helps the company win. This need only be a sentence. E.g. Sales people help the team win by bringing in the revenue. Customer Service staff help the company win by ensuring customers are satisfied, have their expectations met so they can become brand ambassadors.
Recently I attended Wisdom 2.0, a large conference in San Francisco. There I heard Fred Kofman of Conscious Capitalism and LinkedIn speak. He made the point that often in organisations departments will try to optimise their performance but at the expense of the company. For example, imagine the sales team sells the product or service to anyone who is interested. You end up with customers who the product or service is not suited to. They end up burdening customer service. The customers end up unhappy.
The sales team has smashed their targets but to the detriment of the company. Therefore for the company to succeed, it can mean the sales team not selling to everyone who wants the product. They may need to forgo some of their bonus for the good of the company. Or as Fred said "Suboptimise the subsystems to optimise the whole system".
Few things are more important than getting the right people on board.
4. Know yourself - well
When you are starting a company, joining a growing company, or in a position of influence it's going to be full on. Under stress we are more likely to rever to type. If you normally retreat into yourself under stress, you WILL do this at some stage. So, get to know yourself so you can predict what you will do. So you can play to your strengths, and compensate for your weaknesses. Do this either by learning new strategies or hiring for your weak spots.
Find out about yourself through tools like Strengthsfinder, or reflecting on your experience. You can ask people you trust to help you understand yourself.
Strengths based leadership asserts that you will be more effective playing to your strengths than trying to remedy your weaknesses....with the exception of those fatal flaws that need addressing. For example, if you get grumpy and yell at people, that obviously needs addressing fast!
So, get to know yourself:
5. Retain a balance - it’s a marathon, not a sprint
The day will come when you are doing something else. Ten years from now you will not be doing the same thing with the same intensity you are now. So, keep your balance. It is vital that you retain your health, your important relationships and your sanity.
For all of the intensity, passion and hard work, this is ONE part of your life. In order to keep the momentum and pace going, ensure the other parts of your life are not neglected. Get some exercise, take a weekend off, read trashy novels, have a boozy night out.
It is vital that you retain your health, your important relationships and your sanity.
6. Set up a strong foundation
Be clear about what decisions and systems you need to set up early. Some decisions are important to make early and some can wait. This is what I recommend determining early.
It might seem a bit of overkill. But trust me it’s easier to set it up as you intend to continue, than change mid course. So ensure the essence of what you intend to continue with is there at the start.
7. Start over communicating
When you have a team it's important to communicate. Even if it feels like you are over-communicating. There's a good chance your idea of over communication is everyone else's idea of good communication! Get into the habits of 1:1s, stand ups, etc. This is fertile learning ground on how you get the best out of people. Get learning.
Some decisions are important to make early and some can wait.
8. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
Scaling a company is not comfortable. In fact is is frequently uncomfortable. So, get happy with being uncomfortable. By increasing the range of sensations that you are comfortable feeling you can also build your resilience. This is one of the keys to Emotional Intelligence. To identify, understand and tame your emotions.
9. Review everything. And learn.
Whilst delivering the Leadership Development programme at Vend, I uncovered this gem.... Learning is the master skill. It makes sense. If you can learn from your experience, then you can improve. The adult learning cycle is all about coming up with an idea, doing it, reflecting on it, and making a revised plan. Use this knowledge of how adults learn, to supercharge your learning.
10. Have fun
You only live once. Why not have fun and enjoy the ride.