Having worked within a number of varying sized business, from FTSE 100, FTSE 250, private enterprise, through to my role today as CEO of a c£50m turnover business, Totally Wicked, I have personally experienced the benefits and challenges associated with each. During ‘normal’ times these were momentary frustrations, let alone during a period of crisis…
I fondly remember my role as a director with a large blue-chip organization; the luxury of being able to spend time supporting my large team, and in turn their direct reports. The systems were by and large efficient and effective, the resources were aplenty, and the mentality to investment was a prior year plus approach (before the ethos of zero-based budgeting appeared!). Despite these luxuries, we often missed opportunities based on being too slow, too rigid. My remit whilst large in revenue terms had relatively little breadth. There were many functional heads each covering a tight, very specific span of control and with specific geographical responsibilities that whilst efficient often led to difficulty in reaching consensus, and slow decision making. Specific product attributes that were fit for our market jarred with other global markets, and in pursuit of efficiency and scale, this meant challenge and compromise, which created the opportunity for businesses focused solely on the UK market to elbow their way in. The sheer number of people, both office and remote workers meant important messages whether strategy or specific tactics that began with simplicity and clarity went through a Chinese whispers filter as they reached out across teams, at worst dissipating to be diluted and interpreted differently.
Roll forward to my current role, and from standing start 12 years ago, the business has grown from 1 hugely entrepreneurial founder, through to over 360 employees. Our systems and processes have evolved on a need basis rather than trying to fit some pre-conceived ‘global platform’. Spans of control are broad and deep, keeping managerial layers to a minimum to maintain speed of decision making. Meetings are kept to a minimum with the exception of the systematic governance for new product introduction and board meetings.
And now for the challenges… decision making still remains a closely held responsibility among a core few, to the frustration of some on occasions, but we do have a real desire to empower and liberate the brilliance from our individuals and teams. We’re balancing our talent agenda with external hires (that fit) but critically these new hires need to be able to thrive in a fast-paced, hands-on environment, and hence our talent search and on-boarding are vital to ensure we don’t fail those that choose to choose our cause. We now a pretty big business by virtue of a number of people, and cometh with this has been a continual desire to improve our communication, and fast. More frequent and more inclusive to ensure we retain engagement through clear understanding around the decisions taken, and most importantly ‘the why’ https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en , which was often of little concern when the organization was growing so fast and had 10’s of employees within close proximity.
The key consideration is ‘how to retain enough agility, adaptability, pace and creativity within your organization, whilst recognising that governance, appropriate control, communication and standardisation are necessary in part to prevent ‘chaos’ and enable continued success’
- Have an appreciation for the above! As a leader, are you constantly reviewing what’s adding value/draining value within your hiring process/people, systems & processes, meetings structure, and improving appropriately? What do you do because you always have?!
- What sort of an environment/sector do you operate within i.e. a high growth environment or a scale, but a flat/declining sector?
- The former is likely to favour speed/agility, freedom in the way you operate/think/hire and innovate
- The latter is likely to be enabled by standardisation and process that governs costs/investment, cost engineering
- Is your customer truly at the heart?!?! – Many an organization profess to hold this mantra, but the reality is that they don’t have an infrastructure to enable it. A more fitting mantra for many would-be ‘customer at the heart (as long as it suits our system, processes and WOW)
- Pragmatism and self-awareness! In part this may come with experience, but the reality is that you need to understand your own preferred style, your profile/strengths, and within which environment you will thrive. Are you feeling continually stifled, asked to conform, ideas being suppressed, frustrated that things take too much time, are being excessively compromised? Conversely, are you being pushed to be acting in haste (as you see it), get involved in decisions that you don’t feel qualified for? Feel like you’re in the ‘oh hell zone’ more than the comfort or learning zone?! It’s important to know the type of fish you are, and where you will ultimately swim fastest!
- What are the frameworks you have in place around decision making? Do you discuss desired ‘outcomes’, and allow others to explore the options to deliver on this, or are you being prescriptive in the ‘what and the how’. If so, is this appropriate?
Have you assessed the risk? Where do the greatest risks lie, and do you have sufficient control in place in these areas to limit the risk coming to pass?