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The Habits of Successful Scale-Ups: Are you Outgrowing your Team (or are they Outgrowing you)?

Wednesday, 4 October 2017 10:46 AM | LEADERSHIP TALENT

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Duncan takes us through a few simple actions to implement as your team grows

Every individual has a career life cycle. If you’re exceptionally lucky, the first ten people you hire will grow with you at exactly the same pace as the business.

But it’s more likely that in a fast growth business the company will grow faster, and you end up needing to hire in more senior or experienced people over the top of existing staff.

That can cause problems and tensions in the team. But a few simple actions right at the start can ease that pain to some extent.

So, for example, don’t bring in your first employees at C-level. Give recruits room to grow into the role if they’re up to it, or leave room for bringing in talent above them. It leaves you scope to go either way, depending on how they deliver or grow into the role.

Equally, if you bring in a heavyweight right at the start, but the business doesn’t grow as fast as you hoped, you’ll lose them if the job is too menial or uninteresting (or doesn’t offer the rewards they hoped for).

Work out what your company hierarchy is – for example, executive, manager, head of, C-level. And save the highest titles for when you have some scale in the business – there’s no need to give everything away right at the beginning.

One thing I’ve found, especially amongst earlier stage entrepreneurs, is that they tend to be awed by managers from corporates. Yet often, when these kind of people move into an entrepreneurial business, they come with ego and certain expectations of ‘how things work,’ an attitude of giving orders instead of rolling up their sleeves.

But SMEs are a wholly different world from corporates. The skills acquired in the corporate world rarely translate easily to the fast-paced, constantly changing environment of a start-up or growth business. From my experience, I’d be surprised if it works even one time in ten.

To be blunt, corporates pay people more to do easier jobs – simply because it is easier to keep things going than to get something started. Small companies, because they’re under more pressure to grow, and because of their more limited resources, can often be better run, and are usually more innovative.

It’s very often better to promote from within if you can, because those employees already know your culture.

Additionally, bringing in outside experience can cause friction in the team if they’re hoping to be promoted into those roles.

But if you’re really in need of particular skills you can’t develop internally, look for recruits with experience in the SME sector. And recruit with the future in mind – not just for your current demands, but looking for the potential stars of the future too.

It’s a careful balance of matching the right people with the right rate of growth – bringing in people with the potential to scale and grow with the job. Otherwise the reality is that they’ll only stay for a short time.  

Having said that, if the business is growing rapidly, there are more opportunities for you to retain people if the business is growing, because you can move them horizontally, rather than upwards (if they’re not right for promotion) which can keep interest levels up.

So however you look at it, despite the pain of recruitment and change, it’s always better for your business to outgrow the team, than vice versa! And what’s more, if you’re growing rapidly, it’s almost an inevitability – all you can do is be prepared.

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