Developing job role clarity as you scale up your business

One of the challenges I find many leaders discover as they grow their business is the way they need to change the way they manage their people.

In the early days, most entrepreneurs work to what I’d call the assistant model.  ‘I’m busy – I’ll take on someone to help me.  They can do anything I’m too busy to do.’ Such an approach is fine to start with.  There is no point in carefully defining roles in a tiny business.

Then, as the business grows we recruit a few more assistants, perhaps with a little more focus. Joe does Finance, Susie does Manufacturing, Fred does Selling and so on. Again, this works fine for a while… But then somewhere between 5 and 20 people it goes wrong.  It’s easy to spot: when the new joiner or visitor finds it confusing to understand who does what.

So that’s solvable.  Lets define everyone’s job.  And then the problem becomes clearer:

Whilst Joe started with Finance, he also does procurement, because its close and he’s good with numbers, and also manages the CRM system as he’s good with systems.

Meanwhile Fred, the sales person, is also responsible for supplier relationships because he’s a good negotiator.

Whilst Susie is mainly responsible for manufacturing, she’s picked up HR too due to a personnel problem. During this time, she worked out how HR should be done, and then helped out the sales side when they had a problem. By default they become responsible for HR.

I hope you’re beginning to see the picture!  Although each individual decision was logical and appropriate at the time, the organisation has become a bit of a tangle, and obviously that leads to difficulties.  Indeed I’d go further and say this pragmatic approach, whilst right in the early stages, can ultimately lead to company failure.

So, how do we solve the problem?  A key role for the leader is to define roles – to sort out the tangle.  In practice this has to be step by step, and to do so means developing a clear, logical structure.  I’ll resist the temptation to pontificate here on how to develop the ‘right’ structure – I might do that another day, especially if someone asks.  I’ll resist partly also because I’m a pragmatist and believe there are usually a number of viable structures. For me what is critical is simplicity and clarity.  It is for the leader to lead the team in thinking through and defining roles that fit together logically.

Which leads me to another challenge: How to document the roles.  I recommend using a combination of KRAs – Key result areas and a job role matrix.  Click the links for more details and the buttons below for examples of those documents.

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MD2MD meetings are a great, safe place to test out your options for a difficult problem and approach it from a range of viewpoints from people of equal stature, that helps you steer a course that you will feel more comfortable with than when you started just 20 minutes before.

Chris | Head of Business Strategy | Satellite Applications Catapult former Managing Director | Cella Energy

Managing Director - Bob Bradley

Bob is a specialist in running high value added service businesses, having run five such businesses as General Manager, Managing Director or Chief Executive. His last employed role was as Chief Executive of a £16M, 200 person family owned business having previously been Chief Executive of an AIM listed company for which he raised £5M funding and which he grew from £4M to £12M in three years through two acquisitions and organic growth, and a corporate PLC subsidiary where he was Managing Director responsible for delivering £10M profit on £45M turnover through 450 staff.

Bob is now following a portfolio career providing entrepreneurial business leaders with mentoring and coaching around business leadership, business growth, merger integration and exit planning.

Core to his portfolio is MD2MD. Having experienced for himself the value of having a strong sounding board of fellow Managing Directors he founded MD2MD in 2004 to provide groups of business leaders with a confidential environment within which they can support and challenge each other to raise their game as leaders and by doing so improve the success of their organisation.

Photo credits: “mountain” by barnyz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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