Mastering the Art of the Scaleup

A business will face many challenges when scaling up - building a really solid foundation of an excellent culture, strong values and a shared vision will help facilitate the transition. People are, in many ways, the lifeblood of your business, and will be the difference between the success or failure of a scale up.

Start with the people

When scaling a business, keep in mind that people and culture always come hand-in-hand. This culture gets harder when you’re scaling. A company’s culture is often top-down. If a company’s culture is thriving, it is because the people at the top allow their teams to forge a great culture that they feel comfortable in, which they are happy to truly endorse. If people feel valued, challenged, and rewarded, they will form a superb team. In this way, you will find people giving a lot to the business, and, in return, the business will give a lot back to them. In our own team, we discussed moving from an unconscious to a conscious culture, which is the key to moving forward. It’s important that all members of the team are engaged and happy to contribute. Sometimes, you have to lose people who aren’t as engaged. Firing them is not the solution - simply ask them: are you really happy? Are you enjoying this role?

Increasing headcounts

Another challenge in scaling up lies in growing the number of staff. Some businesses make the mistake of becoming desperate when scaling up - reaching for any new hires possible to fill seats and flesh out their teams. People are so important, no doubt, but businesses shouldn’t lose sight of individual skill sets. Ensure you are proud of the people you hire. Ensure you are happy for them to represent your business. At a previous role of mine, we had to lose many members of the team purely because we wanted to channel our efforts into one thing, rather than cover multiple disciplines. That was the reason we went from 35 down to 18 - if we hadn’t, we would have lacked focus and never achieved our goals. Ultimately, remember that the right people are always worth waiting for.

Prioritise your values

When scaling up, some businesses struggle to reposition themselves and harbour a shared value system across the business. And, particularly when it comes to ‘values’, people tend to bandy around overused adjectives. But the reason they are overused is simply that they are massively important. Energy, honesty, and integrity are the most important values in business. And yet, a person can hold all of these values and not really be up for the role - they have to ensure the role they are facing is both the right job for them and the right challenge. You can have integrity, you can have the right skillset - but if it’s not the right role for you, you won’t develop. These are values you could walk in the door with, but find eroded very quickly if the role isn’t for you. If you get the right skill and energy and integrity, honesty and right role, and get people to have that respect for others’ work, it’s like setting off a box of fireworks.

Everyone is different, but they all have value. That’s just the same with people in a business. You have to appreciate all of them and what they bring you, just as much as you should consider what you can give back to them.

A powerful, flourishing team

My core modus operandi is where everyone in the business has a clear idea of the ‘Big Goal’ - and how we can measure that. This should be a goal that everyone else buys into. This ensures that there is not just a long-term goal, but that benchmarks punctuating the way are considered too. It’s also important that not just the CEO and leadership is responsible for evaluating individual performance - but that everyone does for themselves. Don’t be short-sighted: in business, sometimes you experience a bad day or a bad week and let that cloud your vision. I always encourage people to look at progress over a longer period. In that sense, focus on the overarching, important things - not just the little, frustrating irks.

Scaleups vs startups

There is a different kind of pressure in a startup - particularly as there’s much less to lose. Within a startup environment, you can be braver, more decisive, nimble and quicker, and there aren’t as many people on the team. In a business like ours, you want to do everything you can to maintain that energy, you can recreate some of the startup mentality.

Digital has made the world quicker, has made opportunities move, and present themselves more readily. Big companies can take many months to make a mere decision leading to action, then many more months on top of that to actually action it. Some end up with a stagnated timespan of 18 months to 2 years. That’s too slow. Others can do the same in 3 months. So: Be bold, be swift … that’s my motto for the future (and should be for other businesses too).

The most crucial ingredient when you are scaling a business is a successful, thriving work culture. Maintain that positivity and energy will translate into a shared vision and a shared goal for all members of the team. Keep your values close - don’t overlook people, but don’t overlook how important their enthusiasm is. The trick to this lies in establishing a strong working culture from within, which will facilitate the other transitions integrated in any scaleup.

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