People management during business growth

Solving “people problems” when scaling your business

“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people,” observed Steve Jobs. If you’ve ever been the owner of a startup, there may have been a time when you did everything yourself. But as your business grows, you need a strong team of people to carry it forward.

In an expanding company that is gaining many more employees, you must make sure your people policies are up to the task of leading and managing this larger organisation.

Below, I’ll discuss how you can attract, manage, and retain the best people for your business.

First, I’ll address the recruitment process and how you can attract top-quality candidates. Second, I’ll look at what makes a good manager – someone you can delegate to as your leadership responsibilities change. Finally, I’ll consider how you can develop a positive company culture that will inspire loyalty in your workforce.

Recruitment when scaling a business

As your business grows in size or expands into new places, products, or services, new employee roles will emerge that must be filled. Filling those roles requires recruitment – but how can you optimise your recruitment process to ensure you find the right people for the positions? And how can you make your company attractive to top talent in the job market?

Below, I will share some of my principal recommendations for recruiting the best employees for your growing business:

Utilise your existing employees

If you value your current employees and give them a great place to work, they will be the best advertisers and ambassadors for your brand – attracting talent within their own social networks. Employee referral programmes can also provide excellent results: allowing you to recruit new employees more efficiently and increasing your current employees’ feelings of investment in the firm.

Finally, even though your growing business needs more people, don’t forget to prioritise advertising a new position to your existing team. Effective internal recruitment will make the most of the skills and experience already available to you.

Write a clear job description

When seeking to fill a post, think carefully about what kind of person and skills you’re looking for before writing the job description. Once you’ve sat down to write it, focus on expressing your requirements clearly. Research from the Allegis Group has shown that only 36% of candidates think job descriptions are clear, vs. 72% of hiring managers.

Striking the right tone in your job description is also crucial. An informal, friendly tone will put candidates at their ease, while emphasising the exciting opportunities of the post will encourage them to apply.

When the job post is written, it needs to be advertised in the right places to attract the appropriate talent. Consider utilising an industry-specific job website or different social media channels. 

Actively seek talent 

With a well-written job description displayed in the right locations, the temptation is to sit back and wait for great candidates to come to you. However, it’s important to remember that most of the top talent is not actively on the job market – they are not looking for you; you must find them. 

I’ve already mentioned employee referral programmes above – these are an excellent way to access quality candidates who may not be job-seeking. Sending your employees to conferences and trade fairs also gives them a chance to network and informally chat to potential candidates.

Offer incentives

Candidates might be attracted by the job description and the opportunities offered by the job, but the financial compensation you’re providing must be appropriate. Furthermore, you might want to consider other benefits that will make your company stand out from the crowd: a pleasant office environment, health care, child care, etc. 

If you want to recruit and retain the best employees, your people must feel you care about their well-being; not just their skills. Offering work/life balance, flexible working, regular holidays: all these can help create a work team with a high level of satisfaction and loyalty to your brand going forward.

Keep a talent pool

If you interview a candidate and decide they’re not right for that particular role, don’t just throw out their CV. As a growing business, a new role might soon emerge that could be an ideal fit for this candidate. Cultivating a “talent pool” of such candidates can greatly improve the efficiency of your recruitment process, allowing you to avoid advertising costs and time spent interviewing unsuitable applicants.

Focus on the most important skills

When comparing candidates you might favour the person with the most relevant qualifications or the most experience. However, remember that while hard skills can be learned and experience gained, attitude and aptitude in an individual can rarely be changed. If you recruit an employee with the right soft skills, who is intelligent and motivated, and who will integrate well into your company, they can receive any extra training needed to fulfil their new role.

Optimise your recruitment process

Tracking your recruiting metrics can enable you to analyse the process, fix the weak points, and make the most of its strengths. For example, if you can identify which sources (an employee referral programme, a particular job site, etc.) provide the high-quality candidates, you can invest in them to a greater degree.

You could also track how quickly you hire a new employee – from first engaging with the candidate to the official point of hire. Working out how you can speed up the process can prevent you losing promising candidates to rival recruiters. The future success of your growing business is, to a great extent, dependent on recruiting the right people to work for you. An effective recruitment process will allow you to identify the best candidates and clearly demonstrate to them why they should work for you. 

Management when scaling a business

There’s a good chance that some of those talented new employees you’ve recruited were hired as managers. As the leader of a growing business, you will no longer have as much time to manage employees directly; you’ll be focused on driving the vision of the organisation as a whole.

Therefore, it’s essential to delegate your previous management tasks to others – those you can trust to make the best decisions in the company’s interest. If you are confident in your managers’ abilities, it will be easier to resist the desire to micromanage. Delegating can be difficult, especially when you’ve built up a business from scratch – used to being secretary and CEO – but you must pass the baton of responsibility if you are to be effective in your overall leadership role.

“Having a good manager is essential, like breathing. And if we make managers better, it would be like a breath of fresh air”, comments Google’s Michelle Donovan. There are as many different types of manager as there are teams, but what qualities and practices make a truly great manager? 

Here are some that I’ve observed over the years:

They focus on the outcome

A good manager will take the vision of the company and scale it down to an actionable vision for whatever project is at hand. They have a clear idea of what needs to be achieved, but they do not necessarily specify exactly how it should be achieved. 

In this way, they leave room for autonomy in their team – for each member to use their own skills creatively. This allows team members to grow and develop their problem-solving abilities, which could ultimately prepare them for being managers themselves in the future.

They coach patiently

The willingness to train a team and help them learn is another key management trait. A manager should be ready to share their experience and expertise when required, and encouraging independent thinking in their team is crucial. The foundation of being a good coach is good communication. The manager must have the ability to explain tasks, principles, and ideas clearly – allowing for differences in knowledge and experience amongst team members.

They unlock potential 

When a manager gives their team autonomy and encourages the development of problem-solving abilities, they are actively unlocking their team’s potential. As employees have the freedom to act and express themselves, they find new strengths that could be essential to the growth of your company.

They know their team

As your business expands it becomes more and more difficult (even impossible) for you as leader to know each of your employees as an individual. That’s why it’s so important for your managers to step in and develop a meaningful relationship with every member of their team.

Your employees will not feel invested in your company if they feel invisible, neglected, just another “cog in the machine”. A good manager will prevent this by demonstrating genuine care and empathy for the people they supervise, maintaining a personal feel to the business – even as it grows.

They resolve conflict

Knowing their team members as individuals will assist a manager when it comes to resolving conflict. They will recognise “tension points” and help to defuse the situation before it gets out of hand. This is particularly important during an expansion period, when employees may be feeling anxious about the changes taking place.

Good communication skills and an impartial approach are key to mediating between team members who disagree. A swift resolution to the conflict will avoid any negative impact on the running of the business and sustain good morale among your employees.

They manage performance

An effective manager not only manages people but also their performance. Through careful observation and record-keeping, a manager can keep track of their team members’ performance and conduct regular reviews. Feedback should be delivered in a way that is constructive, emphasising achievements and progress and giving practical steps for improvement. Nobody enjoys criticism, but a good manager will convey feedback that motivates, rather than discourages, their team members.

They show appreciation 

The best managers are quick to praise the hard work and achievements of their team. Employees will work harder and be more invested in your brand’s growth if they feel that their diligence is noted and appreciated. It might also be appropriate at times to offer more concrete rewards for employee success – perhaps a gift card or theatre tickets. A good manager will recognise what best motivates their team.

They demonstrate self-management 

Finally, great managers are those who prioritise managing themselves before they start managing others. Michael Hyatt observes, “making appointments with yourself and scheduling other things around them is key to proactive self-management.”

A good manager realises that they have to manage their own time, resources, and energy in order to manage their team effectively. If the manager is tired and stressed, that will have a negative impact on the team; if they are calm and collected, their team is more likely to be correspondingly settled.

As I commented earlier, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to what makes a great manager. What is most important is that, alongside whatever technical expertise is required for their role, they possess the majority of the soft skills discussed above.

While your business expands, you will want to feel confident that you can delegate much of the management and care of your employees into capable hands – freeing you up to lead the company forward. Recruiting and cultivating effective managers is what makes this possible.

Culture when scaling a business

So you’ve hired some exceptional employees and you’ve put an effective management framework in place, but how do you make sure that these bright, brilliant people will stay with you? How can you persuade them to accompany you along the (sometimes) bumpy road of business growth?

The answer: develop a positive company culture. Data gathered by CultureIQ demonstrates that employees’ ratings of their company’s qualities (collaboration, work environment, etc.) are 20% higher at companies with strong cultures.

The idea of “company culture” often seems quite nebulous – impossible to describe in definite terms. But essentially culture is formed of the prevailing values in your company, whether positive and constructive or the opposite. Clear signs that you have a positive company culture include:

 

Recruiting great talent

People really want to work for you! They’ve heard you’re a great company to be part of and they’d love to participate in your brand mission.

Happy employees

Your employees are happy to come to work each day. They have high job satisfaction and are loyal to the company.

Productivity

Happy employees are generally more motivated and aim to produce great results for their employers.

Collaboration

In a company with a strong positive culture, employees feel closely connected to their colleagues and work together more effectively.

Talking to your employees at all levels and listening to their views can give you a good indication of the strengths and weaknesses in your company culture. A survey by Deloitte found that: “Executives have an inflated sense of their workplace culture when compared to employees…” You might have the best intentions, but are they being translated to the company as a whole? 

Even companies with a strong company culture can benefit from evaluating their culture and constantly looking for ways to improve. As a company expands, it becomes all the more important to maintain the strong culture that helped you to grow in the first place. Here are a few suggested approaches to developing a positive culture in your business:

Lead by example

As the leader of the company, employees will look to you to demonstrate the company’s values. If you are seen to work hard, have a clear vision, respect others, and value your employees’ achievements, this behaviour should cascade down through the workforce.

Conversely, if you are seen acting with disrespect, aggression, or a lack of concern for customers and employees, you could see correspondingly negative behaviour in your employees. “The fish rots from the head”, as they say. Positive company culture can only flourish under proactive, positive leadership.

Tackle your UGRs

Every business will have its unwritten ground rules (UGRs); your task as leader is to uncover these rules and check they are consistent with the culture you are trying to nurture.

Is an employee judged harshly for taking time off or not working a 12-hour day? You may have a UGR that threatens work–life balance, leading to decreased employee wellbeing, leading to poor company culture. Can an employee expect to be praised and/or rewarded for a job well done? You clearly have a UGR that ensures managers show appreciation, leading to increased employee wellbeing, leading to positive company culture.

Conduct research amongst your team to uncover your UGRs; replace those that are destructive with more positive rules; then combine these with your existing positive UGRs to create a set of written rules. Finally, the leadership team should commit to comply with these rules.

If you repeat the process of uncovering UGRs regularly, you can weed out repressive or destructive rules before they become too deeply ingrained in the company culture.

Good communication 

As your company grows, perhaps expanding into different countries, it can become increasingly difficult to maintain a consistent company culture across all locations. 

Good communication between the head office – the nerve centre of the operation – and other company locations will help to sustain commitment to the company culture.

You could also encourage your head office team, who have a strong sense of the culture, to socialise with employees in different locations – whether in person or online – so that they can act as “culture ambassadors”.

Recruit for company culture

When interviewing candidates for jobs in your company, keep your written rules for a positive culture in mind. Is this a person who stands for the same values as the company? Observing the candidate in an informal setting can bring their values to light more effectively.

Hiring a candidate who is a good fit for the company culture is simpler than attempting to instil the culture into a person not naturally inclined to it. If you fill new posts in your expanding business with people who already embody much of your company culture, the culture will be more likely to persevere through the growth period. Remember, this shouldn’t prevent diversity; 

Conclusion

Your employees are the lifeblood of your organisation. Making sure you attract, manage, and retain the right people is crucial to the company’s success. Businesses are increasingly technology-dependent, but as business leaders it is still the people that need our attention. If you can recruit people who embrace the company’s values and vision, manage employees effectively for productivity and job satisfaction, and build a positive company culture that inspires your workforce, you will establish a firm foundation for your business. Prioritise your people: you won’t regret it.

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