Getting ready for growth

Your business is going gangbusters. Though good for the bottom line, growth will have implications for your people strategy. The trick is managing it effectively

Getting ready for growth

So you’ve hit the accelerator pedal. Your business is scaling up – fast. It’s a nice problem to have, of course. But you are experiencing growing pains: running out of space, scared about cashflow and top of the list, you are hitting a whole pile of new people problems that you just didn’t anticipate. 

It goes without saying that fast growth in itself can motivate your people. Most people like to feel part of something that is growing and going somewhere. However, and I can speak from experience of owning a business in hyper-growth mode, it can also present lots of new challenges that you just didn’t plan for. In this month’s column I hope to give you some food for thought and practical ideas on how to manage your people whether you are experiencing fast growth right now or if you are just planning for it. 

Bring the right people in

Taking the time to make the right hiring decisions can be one of the hardest things to do when you are under pressure from customers to deliver.  However, the people you bring in, particularly the first 100 employees, are absolutely critical to your future success and essential to retaining and developing your company culture and values. 

Be clear with anyone thinking of joining you that change is inevitable. By joining a company that is scaling up, their role, environment, processes and structure are all going to go through numerous reinventions over the coming months and years as the business evolves. You also want people who are smart about how to manage projects or deliverables with insufficient resources. No matter how well or fast you recruit, if you are growing quickly you will never have enough employees or funds for what you need but bright problem-solvers manage to adapt to the situation at hand and find a way through.

Keep your existing team

If you’ve been operating a nice small business with say up to 15–20 employees for a while before you hit your stride, then the first thing you will see creep into your existing team is insecurity. They are likely to feel threatened by a sudden influx of new people with your senior people worrying that their stature is going to be reduced and your junior people feeling more distant from you as the owner and as such neglected or less important to the company. 

This first issue is actually one of the easiest to solve – just get them in on the journey and your problem, then empower them to help you solve it. Ask them to write the role profiles for the new positions you need to hire; involve them in the interview processes and get them to meet and share their opinions on new hires before you bring them in so they are part of the decision. Reassure them that the only reason that you need to hire more people is that they are doing such a fantastic job in delighting your customers. 

Make sure you tell everyone about new positions before you go externally and give them the opportunity to apply for the role first. If someone’s role is going to be impacted heavily by a new hire, then make sure you cover this with them in advance. Find a new plan of action where they can focus on different objectives and mentally move away from the activities they will be passing over. This means when your new hire joins, they are focused on training them up quickly as they are excited and keen to move on to their now remit rather than becoming a blocker.

Create a solid structure

As you scale, you are likely to take on more customers, more employees, generate more revenue but also need more processes and more layers of management. As your business grows, it becomes more complex and you have to find a way to deal with that added complexity and inevitably this means more processes and hierarchy. Now this can really change a culture if implemented in the wrong way or too quickly. My advice would be to add little by little and only as much as you need to repair the cracks before things break but not so much that you cement over them and make your business rigid and too corporate. 

Key at this point in your evolution is to focus on creating structure around the things that need it, not the things you think a larger company should do. For example, if you don’t believe you have a problem with sickness absence, don’t introduce a sickness monitoring policy. But if you do now have a layer of line managers that are leading people, perhaps for the first time, then invest in some coaching and performance management training. Likewise, if you can survive another 12 months without the slick CRM system and are managing to get by on Excel spreadsheets but mistakes are creeping into your invoices and your debtor days are creeping up, focus on introducing process and structure for the raising, signing off and chasing of invoices and save the money for the CRM system for next year.

Make tough decisions

Finally, inevitably, as you grow up, you sometimes outgrow some of your people. One of the biggest mistakes you can make, if your intention is to keep on growing, is to hold on to people out of loyalty and not address the issue at hand. The operations manager who you hired when your operations were on one site and handled by a team of four may not be the operations manager you now need to lead a team of 50 across multiple sites and geographies. It doesn’t mean that they’re not committed, don’t work hard and aren’t passionate about your business. But if they don’t have the aptitude and skill for your current and future challenges, you need to face the thorny issue of effectively demoting them as you grow and hire people above them or take the hardest decision of all to let them go. Who said this growth malarkey was easy? 

Lyndsey Simpson
Lyndsey Simpson

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