Updated: Mar 23
When preparing for rapid growth, it is imperative that you properly evaluate your existing employees and make changes early on. Can they be successful and take you where you want to go?
Have you ever asked employees to do something they have never done before, or even been a part of? What kind of response did you get? How did it work out for you? Odds are, not too well.
The simple truth is that it is hard to grow a company with employees that have never been a part of rapid growth. They do not know what the “end game” looks like and therefore rely on their past experience which may not help them (or you).
My previous post about growth, Start with Culture, aimed to make sure everyone was on the same page with respect to culture. Assuming you are, now it is time to evaluate your most key resource, your employees.
It is really important before you embark on a growth strategy to have a well understood “state of affairs” where your employees’ experience, skills, and attitudes are concerned. It is very difficult if no one on your executive team has ever been part of a rapid growth situation before. You need at least one person that knows what to expect, preferably a CFO, COO, or President.
I worked with a company that began to experience abnormal growth. Their first inclination was to hire a lot of people to keep up with demand while doing things the same way as always.
When I tried to explain that their biggest problem was going to be cash flow, they ignored the issue because cash was flush. Not surprisingly, they chased the growth with readily available, albeit very expensive, hires. When clients started wanting 90-day and 120-day
terms, they ran into cash flow issues. The CFO should have foreseen this and negotiated operating cash lines of credit with their bank in advance. Unfortunately, their growth stopped almost as fast as it started when word got out that they could not keep up with demand.
When asking employees to do something they have no experience with, watch closely as to how they address the problem. You have heard the adage “hire for attitude, train for skills”. There’s truth to that. Will they admit what they do not know and seek answers or try and force fit the problem into an outdated model because it is in their comfort zone?
I would much rather have a leader that can say “I do not know but will find out” than a self-conscious leader that wants to look like they have all the answers all the time.
One approach I have used in the past is to create a skills and experience inventory.
We had the employees fill out a simple form outlining their skills in detail along with their background. It was amazing what was revealed. Many employees had amazing skills that were not being leveraged.
Once we had a good idea of our employees, it was then time to prepare them for growth.
Prepare Employees for Growth
What does growth for a company mean? The answer is very important for the right kind of growth.
I was asked by a CEO to help grow the company. When I asked what they meant by growth, they said, “You know, grow the company and make more money”. My response took them aback – “if it is more profits you want, that is simple. I’ll cut half the staff. Your company can survive in maintenance mode for 2-3 years and you will make a ton of money”. They didn’t like the response, but it made the question real and personal for them. The next time I received a much more thought out answer – “grow the company’s revenues and profits in a fiscally responsible way that provides more opportunities for our employees and customers while increasing the benefits to our shareholders”. Now you’re talking.
Once you understand the type of growth you want, and you have properly evaluated your employees to ensure attitude aligns with the type of growth, then you should prepare them.
Revenue vs. Expense
I have always believed in making sure employees understood the company’s business model and where they fit into it. If a company sold software, did their roles support revenue generation or were they an expense? Software developers create the products that are sold, and therefore would be revenue generating. HR and Finance support the business and therefore would be on the expense side. (I recognize each department can be run like a profit center but that is a topic for later)
During “Town Hall” or “All Staff” meetings, I would always start with “we maximize revenue while managing expenses”. I would never say minimize or cut expenses as this sends the wrong message. I would then ask an employee in front of others – “are you revenue or expense” and wait for their answer. It became fun to play yet very informative. If they were not quite sure, it became an opportunity for education and engagement.
Ask Thought Provoking Questions
Another approach I use to prepare employees for growth is to ask them how they would handle certain situations.
● If you lost a key employee tomorrow, what would you do to ensure continued success?
● If sales orders tripled next month, how would you respond?
● What is your hiring plan for doubling your department?
● Will our current process handle 10 times the throughput? If not, what needs to change?
Employees with the right attitude want to grow and learn more. They want to advance in their careers and are much more engaged when the opportunity presents itself. Once they think through a problem effectively, many will highlight gaps in their knowledge and experience and start formulating a plan for innovating their own development. This is key. Employees that want to solve a problem will do so with proper guidance and support.
Once you have a good idea of their current skills, the right culture in place, now you can formulate a training and education program in which they will want to participate.
There are many ways to approach employee development. Here are a few:
● Self-serve - You can take the self-serve approach like LinkedIn Learning. It has an enormous number of videos and content. Your HR team can put together programs and track progress. They key with self-serve is to ensure you make it available and block out time for employees to use it.
● Facilitation – You can bring in someone to train departments on different types of tools and methodologies to assist with growth. (i.e. Agile methodologies). The key is to ensure each employee understands how it will benefit them as well as the company. Leave laptops and cell phones turned off.
● Mentoring/Coach – This approach can be expensive but well worth it for the right key employees. Having a coach that can rapidly identify the top 5 issues they will face and how to prepare can be tremendously valuable versus trial and error.
There are many combinations and approaches to employee development. The takeaway is to properly invest in the employees in their targeted learning and development to support growth. One size does not fit all.
Support Employees Growing the Company
Once you have evaluated and developed your team(s), trust and support them. You cannot do it all yourself.
The worst leader in a growth phase for a company is the “seagull manager”. You know the one – they dive bomb into a situation, act like they know it all, stir up the pot, and then go back to their lofty heights. All these leaders do is erode trust among their teams. Employees become afraid to speak up for fear of being second-guessed by the seagull.
You have prepared the employees, now turn them loose to do their jobs and be available when THEY need it. It is okay to provide guidance or even suggestions, but there is no way you can grow the company if you are always the key cog in the process. All you will do is become the center point for all issues. Delegate, empower, and support.
One good approach is to implement processes and/or KPI’s (key performance indicators) that align with and support your goals. When employees know where they fit in the business model and how their department supports the goals of the company, you can manage more by exception and focus on the areas that need help. One popular and effective model today is EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System).
Once you get employees with the right culture, attitude, and skills, you must have a product that people or companies want to buy. Just because you like your product does not mean the market will. Having a hard look at the product you have today and what it needs to be for growth is the next phase in the process.