You’ve become a successful start-up – your client base is growing, and your revenues and cash flows are looking solid. It’s time to bring in more employees, or even to put in a tier of managers to take the business to the next level. Now comes a big shift. From having a great business idea and driving your company through your passion and vision, it’s your people management skills that are about to be tested. Here are five ways to ensure that you’re up to the task.
1. Keep talking – communication is the key
When a team is small, communication is much easier and everyone is on board with the vision. Those early bootstrapping days can be as exciting as they are terrifying, because the camaraderie of ‘roughing it until things get better’ is often a major motivator. When you get bigger, all kinds of skills (like teamwork skills) are needed. HR becomes formalised with contracts, job descriptions and evaluations, and people don’t have access to you the way they used to.
These changes can be daunting to the entrepreneurial players on your team. They hear echoes of ‘big business’, (ARGGHGHHH) which is often exactly what they don’t want to feel like. The trick here is to keep being inclusive and transparent every step of the way. Keep asking for input, having think-tanks, and listening carefully to suggestions. Don’t just smack down a new system out of the blue – make certain that everyone knows ‘the why’ and has been given a voice as to ‘the what and how’.
2. Why keep a dog and bark yourself? Learn to delegate
Starting your own business has probably taken months of planning and pillow-tossing, and now your sleepless nights are starting to pay off. You’ve recruited some heavy-hitters and you’re thrilled with the additional expertise on board. It’s time to let go!
If this has you reaching for a tranquiliser, you’re not alone. One of the hardest people management skills is to trust others to do a good job. This is particularly sticky if you’ve appointed managers and continue to encourage an open-door policy. You need to balance being involved in the day-to-day nitty gritty with not bypassing your senior staff. If you don’t, you’ll undermine their trust and demotivate them.
A helpful hint: if you’re a great leader and can truly assess your strengths and weaknesses, hire people into your team who will do some things better than you can. This will allow you to focus on your own strengths and lets them capitalise on theirs. When you delegate to employees you’re showing that you see them as responsible and capable. Satisfied employees are more engaged, take less time off, and work with more enthusiasm. Helicopter monitoring doesn’t encourage creativity or build trust. Give them the resources they need, and get out of the way
3. Continue to build a great team – diversity wins the day
You probably started off with a few of your buddies and other like-minded people. As you build your team, beware of the trap of only employing ‘in your own image’. It’s this human inclination that’s led to many boardrooms looking like a production line. Every bit of research highlights the value of ‘difference’. Your team should ideally reflect your client-base if you truly want to get inside your customers’ heads. Hire for values and culture-fit, but keep your scope wide.
It might be easier to manage people who are just like you, but having a diverse team will push your people management skills to a new level. When all the voices around you tend to say the same thing, this is not a positive. You’ll want to be challenged and to hear other points of view. Listening doesn’t mean agreeing, but it does mean becoming fully informed as to all the options. And having a good mix of genders should be high on your list too. It should make you more money and increase innovation at the same time
4. Always remember why you started the company – don’t rock the boat too hard
One of the biggest dangers of growth is losing those things that made you successful in the first place. The simple mission statement that was the rationale for your start-up should continue to drive every part of the business, including your staff management. Don’t let size affect the awesome environment you’ve built. Keep having ping pong tournaments and handing out silly awards if that’s what people love. Try to grab a bite of lunch together to brainstorm, celebrate successes together, and have regular team get-togethers.
Remember the passion that got you going – this is probably why your early hires joined you in the first place. Most of your new staff will probably be millennials who will tell you that they want to be ‘part of something’ – they don’t want to just be clocking in and out. To keep a great working environment, everyone needs to know what is expected of them and the results they need to produce. Your job (if you’ve hired correctly) is to give your people flexibility and to remove roadblocks to help them succeed. Technology can provide you with data that everyone understands to highlight who’s doing well and who’s not, and you can performance-manage accordingly.
5. Be prepared to be vulnerable – command and control went out with the typewriter
You don’t have to have all the answers and you won’t look weak if you’re sometimes unsure. This is part of being open and transparent. Consultation and collaboration are powerful tools – using them shows courage and can be a starting point for creativity.
Provided you maintain your clear vision for the company, it’s empowering for employees to help you succeed. You won’t need to star in an episode of ‘Undercover Boss’ to find out what people are doing or thinking – you’ll know by staying in touch. By keeping close to your staff and listening to ideas, you’ll learn and grow. In return, it will boost your employees’ morale to know that they’re appreciated and have a part to play in the company’s future.