Vince Murdica, chief revenue officer at ThinkHR, discusses what it takes to become scalable and sustainably staff companies through bursts of rapid growth.
I’ve seen it in my own career: When companies go through rapid growth — quickly moving from 50 to 100+ employees — things start to get shaky. This period of acceleration can be compared to when a jet breaks through the sound barrier. The flight is smooth until that moment, then the plane rattles violently and feels like it’s going to break apart. But when it gets through to the other side, it’s smooth skies again and you’re now flying even faster and higher.
There is a loss of control as a company gets bigger, and not all leaders can handle it. Some career entrepreneurs prefer to start companies, grow them to around 50 people, then sell them because they are uncomfortable with the growing pains that inevitably happen beyond this point. They will do it again and again.
Other leaders are better at growth and mastering scalability. They have what it takes to grow their companies over the 100-person mark. I believe these leaders consistently do three key things when growing their staff:
#1 Hire People You Trust
When you scale up, the ability of senior management to be involved in every detail — to be in all the meetings, involved with every decision, leading all the major initiatives — breaks down. There is a human limit to how many one-on-one relationships you can manage, so your ability to manage as you gain more direct reports goes down. When growing from 50 to 100 employees, new layers of management must get formed.
At this point, delegation becomes critical, or productivity will come to a screeching halt. That’s why it’s crucial to hire managers and other people you can trust. This takes time and effort, but I believe the key to establishing this environment of trust is “hiring slow and firing fast.”
#2 Delegate Responsibility and Authority
Once you’ve hired great, trustworthy people, don’t ever delegate responsibility without also delegating authority. Your staff needs to keep everything moving while you are doing other things for the organization. They can’t wait around for you to make decisions. Hand them the power to innovate, solve problems, and reach the goals you’ve set out for them.
A mantra I borrowed from a mentor is, “I don’t mind giving speeding tickets, but if I need to give too many parking tickets, we have a problem.”
I would rather an employee charge ahead and make an informed, strategic decision that turns out to be a mistake instead of hold back and move too cautiously. Everyone on my team feels empowered. We get it done and we don’t wait. (Wait is a four-letter word.) The burden on leadership is to be sure that goals and strategy are clear, so people can move quickly, with confidence and creativity.
#3 Learn from Mistakes
To me, business is like a sport. It’s a competition. There is a winner and a loser and it’s a real-world game. Approaching it that way enforces a specific mindset around it. To use football as an example: On Monday you review the film from Sunday’s game and see how you can improve. You practice all week to make tweaks, try new plays, and fix what’s broken. Then your next game is a fresh opportunity to be a new team with a new opponent.
In business, like in any sport, we are going to make mistakes. That’s how we learn, but what’s important is that we don’t make those same mistakes again. We get into the mindset of always improving. Failing isn’t necessarily bad — it means your people aren’t afraid to innovate and achieve.
Smooth Skies Ahead
Do these three things — trust, delegate, and learn — which are so core to building a scalable team, and soon your company will be breaking through the sound barrier and once again flying smooth skies.
In the end, growth can be fun, and winning is really fun. Your team will be fulfilled and feel like they are making an impact. So to mix metaphors: Go let your team get some speeding tickets!
Vince’s Reading List
I recommend the following books for deeper reading on my leadership philosophy:
- Geoffrey A. Moore’s Inside the Tornado: Strategies for Developing, Leveraging, and Surviving Hypergrowth Markets
- Sun Tzu’s The Art of War
- Jim Collins’ Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t