Staff motivation within start-ups is almost a given. When you work alongside owner-managers in a small team, you stay close to the expertise and vision that created the company. But when the business becomes successful, it grows. More people are hired, and that day-to-day closeness becomes increasingly difficult.
Growing enterprises often expand by hiring into their senior teams. They may take on a finance or HR director or marketing specialists. To the original employees, their introduction can seem like a betrayal. After all, they put in more than their fair share of effort to get the business up and running. How can this new tier of management hope to motivate them in the same way?
Let the right ones in
Lorraine Makepeace, human resources director at Oxfordshire-based HR consultancy, The Chemistry Group, says it’s vital that new individuals are absolutely right for the job.
Chemistry, founded eight years ago, has a distinctive culture, she says. Any new recruit, certainly at management level, must be able to thrive on change and a fast pace. “That’s not to say the people we take on are clones of the rest of us, but there are certain elements we must have if people are going to be successful in our business,” she says.
For instance, Chemistry is currently taking on a finance manager. Obviously, it needs someone with sound financial skills, but it needs a non-conformist too. How will Chemistry find someone like that? By spelling it out clearly in the job description and by demonstrating the company’s difference from rank and file consultancies via its office setup and website. Chemistry also uses psychometric and behavioural assessments to match individuals with its values.
A good cultural fit is undeniably important. HR consultant Mark Withers of MightyWaters, says entrepreneurs who want to grow their business must work out what makes the business distinctive. “Identifying values is key to extending the operation without that direct control and contact of the start-up.”
Come the day, however, these senior recruits must be able to lead in their new environment. So, do you hire managers your staff will love, or who will get staff to do as they are told?
Martin Leuw, chairman at investment management firm Incube8it, joined financial software house IRIS in 2001 as CEO. Over 10 years, the company went from 120 people to 1,200, while sales increased from £9m to £120m. Martin says it kept a strong focus on product development and customer service. Along the way, Martin learned fundamental lessons about how fast-growing businesses can keep focused on a shared vision and how people can be motivated to add value.
There is a fundamental difference between leaders and managers, he believes. “Leaders are people that others want to follow because they have a shared vision and passion. Telling people what to do is never sustainable. It is crucial to involve your teams as much as possible in the process so their ideas are contributed, even though there must ultimately only be one decision-maker for every decision, or chaos will ensue.”
If you recruit people with the right attitude, a shared passion for excellence and empathy, there should not be any problems, says Martin. However, hiring processes are fallible, and long stayers may still resent managers being hired above them.
“I have learned from experience that if your existing team tells you there is a problem and provide supporting evidence, you should be prepared to accept that you may have got the hiring decision wrong,” says Martin.
It’s important to address such issues as they arise. For example, ensure new staff members meet some of their new team as part of the selection process.
Pay close attention to maintaining the right skills and balance in the management team, he says. Growing businesses need high-calibre people so you shouldn’t falter hiring better people than you think you need – or can afford. “If you get that right they will easily add enough value to pay for themselves and provide capacity for growth.”
Making hard decisions
At some point, you may need to let people go. “You should regularly shed your B players from the senior team or they will slow progress, even if they have the right attitude,” says Martin. However, demonstrating that you are prepared to promote and develop from within can work as a powerful motivator. “Grow your own future leaders from within, by spotting and developing internal talent,” he says. “It is essential for existing employees to see career potential.”
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