When you enter the rapid growth phase of your startup, one of the most important aspects of your business is getting the people side of your organization right. While it's a monumental task to come up with a new business idea, acquire initial customers and raise capital, to truly build a scalable company, hiring and managing the right people makes continuous rapid growth actually possible.
At IntelligenceBank, a SaaS business process management company, over the past two years, we grew 100% year on year and experienced first hand what it takes to get the 'human side' right for scale. Here are some lessons we learned along the way.
The CEO Needs to Change
One of the biggest shifts to the human side of your business is that the CEO needs to change. Instead of the CEO doing everything (which is initially essential to getting a business off the ground), with scale comes the need to delegate. That means hiring a great team of managers who can make decisions, lead people and essentially replicate parts of what the CEO did - and even do it better. While this seems like an obvious concept, it is sometimes hard for CEO's to let go, and to also find a professional management team to whom they can let go. When I initially raised venture capital in 2013, we had some great leaders in place, however, our management team was not fully established. This meant my day was filled with operational tasks and strategic issues didn't get enough breathing room. Once we hired a couple of new key management positions, I knew we had reached operational scale when I no longer had to be at every major client meeting, or participate in product development decisions.
Formalize the Feedback Process, But Keep It Simple
When you are small (i.e. under 10 people), managing performance is relatively easy. When you have more than 20 people on staff, that's when it gets complicated. IntelligenceBank has simplified the employee feedback process to ensure everyone is heard and the organization continually improves based on operational feedback.
First, each year we run an all staff survey called Start.Stop.Keep - whereby all staff recommend things we should start doing, stop doing and keep doing. This paints a very accurate picture of what's working and what needs fixing. The results are shared with everyone, and the management team are given action items to address key issues. With this process in place, everyone feels heard and things get done.
Second - we are passionate about doing weekly one-on-one reviews so we can ensure people are successful in their jobs and we help them succeed along the way, not just give them feedback at the end of the year. While we do conduct formal annual reviews - we find there are amazing coaching opportunities that emerge over a casual cup of coffee.
The Only Traits You Need to Value
As we started to grow, we looked at professionalizing our review process, with advanced employee assessment frameworks. Unfortunately, these frameworks required a full-time HR person to manage - which was a luxury position for us at the time. So instead, I thought about the core of what we value as a business, which is being positive, going the extra mile, continually improving and performance. It is our view that you can teach skills, but for an employee to be successful, he or she needs only two traits: a great attitude and exceptional performance. When we came to this conclusion, we looked around the office and realized that while most people had these two traits, some had one but not the other, so we quickly migrated the people without great performance and attitude out of the business. Now when we hire new staff, we look for these two traits with rigor and haven't made a bad hire since.
Creating a high-growth business is no small task. As I often say, you need a gem of an idea, but the hardest part is impeccable implementation. A big part of executive excellence is getting the human side of the business right, which ultimately makes the scaling process easier.
Tessa Court, is the CEO and co-founder of IntelligenceBank, an award-winning SaaS platform, that helps teams better manage business processes online, with its board portal, governance/compliance and digital asset management apps. IntelligenceBank is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, and has thousands of happy clients across Australia, the US, Europe and Asia.