Secrets to successful growthSecrets to successful growth: Clearly communicating your vision and trusting your team. By Melinda Jacobs of subatomic. So, you’ve done it. You’ve built a company from the ground up, proved product-market fit, and are preparing to grow. Regardless of what led you to this moment, one thing always remains the same: scaling up a business marks the end of an era.
Despite the feeling of success, for you, or your business partners, it’s easy to be feeling more out of sorts than ever. You’ve noticed it’s impossible to continue to be everywhere at once (though let’s be real, was it ever really possible in the first place). You can feel your company’s culture is growing beyond your direct influence. And it’s normal to feel lost as your direct impact on your business’ core operations is less and less.
This all is exciting, but it can also be hard. It can make you question your identity, your value, and your role in your business’ future. How do you usher in a new era of growth and what is your role in it?
From working with a wide range of companies — from small startups to corporates — I’ve noticed a few commonalities in the ones that had successful growth. I wanted to share a few of the observations with those of you who are at the cusp of scaling, to hopefully keep in mind as you move forward into this exciting new adventure.
Vision. Vision. Vision.
Not surprisingly, all of these companies have a strong, clear, easy-to-communicate vision backing them. This is essential for success as it’s a unifying factor (remember, you can’t be everywhere at once).
A strong vision allows the team to make day to day decisions independently, and act autonomously, because it’s clear to them why the business exists (and why they are there). A question I like to ask on team engagement surveys is “Do you feel your work contributes directly to the success of the company?” This score is often lower when the vision is unclear, as the team doesn’t understand how their skills and effort contributes to the company’s purpose.
When the team is on the same page, moving toward the same destination, it becomes much easier to empower them to make decisions without you having to be a part of every single meeting. Instead, your effort goes into establishing communication channels that allow knowledge to be shared throughout the organization, and prevent best practices from getting lost in the shuffle.
Yes, for a long time you might have been able to look across your desk to your colleagues to share new thoughts, discoveries and ideas, but as your business grows, that becomes more difficult, if not impossible. Focus on communicating about and embodying your overall vision, and trust the wonderful team you hired to make the day to day choices that will lead you to fulfilling your purpose.
You need to let go (give autonomy) and trust.
Here’s the bottom line. If you’re afraid to let go and allow your team to be autonomous, or feel in constant conflict with the rest of the company, then it’s time for some honest self reflection.
Accept that your vision many not be clear.
It’s okay. This happens. Check in with what’s driving you forward. Why are you doing this? It’s easy to get lost in motivations only concerning you or your reputation, because the line between your identity and your company’s identity is blurry at best. But a vision is not a dream end state.
Take time to sort out your vision. What was that real belief, that contribution, the reason you brought this company into existence in the first place? If you struggle to find it, bring in the team. They helped you get this far, even if they can’t quite express it themselves. Trust them to help you guide yourself back to the vision. You don’t have to, and shouldn’t, do it alone.
I know it may feel like a step back, but it’s truly a giant leap forward to revisit and clarify this.
Check-in on your company culture & growth plan.
If you don’t trust your team you may have made some very off-base hiring decisions. I won’t go into much detail on this here, as this is an article within itself, but check-in with yourself on any team members that you struggle to trust.
Often it can be as fundamental as a difference in values, or the wrong skill set at the wrong time. Realign your values, get back in touch with your company culture, and freeze hiring until you’ve figured out how to find the right match.
Embrace that your way is no longer the only or best way.
This is hard. As entrepreneurs we build things from the ground up, we know the ins and outs of our business, and are all hands on deck for a large portion of its early life. We believe we know what’s best.
When things were just starting, yes, you did need to have that control and influence in order to learn and create traction in your business — but the time has come to let that go. The vision must speak for itself, and your team will have their own way of doing things.
They may not do it like you would do it, or maybe they can’t even do it with the skill level that you could, but you’re just going to have to get used to that. It’s necessary for people to be able to work how they work best (just like you had to!). It’s not about creating clones of yourself, or just hiring a bunch of cogs in a machine. It’s about finding people with aligned values.
You want people who think. You want to give them space and motivation to do this. You don’t want a team that’s only acting to make you happy. It’s not about you anymore. It’s about something bigger, the vision.
So, your job has changed, and that’s more than OK.
This means you have to change your own definition of success and understanding of the value you are contributing to your company. You need to update your own metrics of success.
Whether you like it or not you need to take a step back. You’re just not going to be able to work on your company or your product in the same detailed, on the ground, level you have been for so long.
Your job is to live in the future, in the big picture, as a leader and spokesperson for the vision of your company. For some, you will need to have both feet in the future door, others of you will still need one foot in the present. You need to always be thinking about how to translate your knowledge into process and vision and company culture.
Resist the temptation to meddle in the day to day. Too many leaders find new purpose in running into brainstorms, providing (often ungrounded) perspectives or advice, leaving bewildered teams torn between following word for word the decision of the leader or their own beliefs in achieving the vision.
I cannot emphasize this enough: Your job is not to meddle, it is to mentor, to guide, to support.
Your visionary skills need to be focused on your realm, communicating and developing the big picture. Yes, provide mentorship and support, but, give your team the space to think and succeed for themselves. Otherwise they will shut down.
Companies fail when founders or leadership starts competing with the team (often because of their own insecurities) because they feel the need to prove to the team that they have value. Your team knows you have value. Your leadership and your vision inspired them to join in the first place.
Don’t end up with a team that’s stressed, immobile and dependent on you for every tiny movement. This is a team that will likely leave for another company in order to tackle a challenge where they feel trusted and creative.
Your team is where innovation is going to come from.
Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens on the ground floor with the people working on your business on the day to day.
Again, being “visionary” doesn’t mean intruding into your team’s space and trying to unnaturally insert innovation yourself — that’s not your job as a leader. It’s to facilitate your team, grow them as individuals, to be able to find innovations.
Your new role is an exciting one, an essential one, where you keep your eyes set on the future horizon, and where a new observation, perspective, or idea can inspire a path forward.