If you’re leading a growing business that still looks back to the ‘good old days’ of how it was right at the beginning, the start-up phase which was unpredictable and chaotic; into a sustainable business with structure and discipline, here are 5 ‘must do’ tips to take everyone with you…
Leading a business through accelerated growth requires sensitivity to how things ‘used to be around here’, balanced with the reality of what needs to change to achieve longer-term objectives.
My motto is often ‘what got you here won’t get you there’. But that doesn’t mean throwing out the positive aspects of what did get you here. Here are some tips to ensure you lead the business growth in such a way that you take everyone with you:
1. Acknowledge Past Successes
It’s important that ‘old timers’ feel that all they did in the early years was crucial to the company’s success, and that the positive aspects (e.g. perseverance, loyalty, courage to ‘just do it’) are all still relevant to the business today.
2. Create a Story
Stories of the ‘good old days’ (including the disasters) are part of the company’s narrative – the legacy that binds and connects. But they can also alienate those who have joined the company more recently, creating an ‘us and them’ culture that is divisive (and mostly unseen and unspoken). As part of internal communications, create a mechanism by which ‘old’ stories can be seen as part of a seamless timeline into the future.
3. Introduce Discipline Gradually
The best thing about a start-up is often the spontaneity and freedom from bureaucracy and red tape. As a business grows however, it’s essential to have stricter practices re. planning and governance. Accept that people will naturally have resistance to these and give them time to adjust. Start small, and impose gradually.
4. Keep Having Fun!
Having worked for a start-up myself for a few years, I remember how much fun it was! Despite the long hours and incredible pressure, I still have a smile on my face when I think of it. People don’t want to lose that. Make sure your culture allows for time to connect, laugh and not take it all too seriously – even when it is.
5. Watch your Language
It’s really tempting as you ‘grow up’ to use ‘grown up’ business language. Sometimes it’s not necessary, and one of the ways you can honour the legacy of the business is by sticking to terminology that people recognise and are comfortable with. One client I’m working with just debated whether to replace the current name for their charitable activities ‘DTRT – Do the Right Thing’ with ‘CSR’, because we felt it needed to be broader. The team decided to keep the old name but make it clear that it would have a wider scope. Choose your changes wisely.
I often make the analogy of a start-up growing into a ‘proper’ business being similar to that of a toddler or child needing to transition through the teenage years before being grown up. The above tips will help you manage those teenage years, so you grow successfully, and take everyone with you on the ride. Any thoughts or shared experiences welcome in the comments section below!