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Leading a scaling business: Avoiding the pitfalls of reshaping and resizing

Warsha Joshi and Evan Le Clus - Authors of Dare To Scale

It is clear that there are several considerations to being an effective leader when scaling or reshaping a business, but the success of resizing is determined by the energy from the top. From there, it filters down to the strategy, the support system and people, which in turn drive the other “doing” levers in the business to get results.

The leader has two key jobs, to focus on strategy and look after people, supported by HR teams, L&D, finance and other business functions. Ultimately, when scaling or resizing, businesses need a plan to get stuff done and need their people to make it happen… but it all starts with the right energy.  Whether a business is scaling, reshaping with new processes or preparing itself for growth, here are some essential considerations to ensure it builds to become better and stronger.

Leaders’ energy empowers people on the journey
The opportunities presented for businesses to scale, redefine and reshape are plentiful, but can only be maximised when people are empowered along the journey with confidence, a healthy workplace culture and the chance to share their perspectives on workplace topics. The philosophy of Jack Welsh, CEO of General Electric 1981-2001, is a good guide for how to empower people and treat them well so that creativity and fun is encouraged at work. This continued enjoyment is fundamental to the scaling journey and ensuring buy-in from staff. Jack Welsh’s principles to building a team are based on “4Es and a P” (Energy, Energise, Edge, Execute and Passion).

A question to ask leaders is: do they walk with purpose and speed and do people feel “up” after interacting with them? Teams want to see high energy from the leaders and unshakeable belief in their mission. This will inspire people and draw them into the compelling vision, spurring them to take up the cause, perform and take ownership of their success.

Continuously engage with teams in meaningful ways
With workforces more spread than ever, it has never been more important to communicate regularly with teams. Anything from daily ‘stand up’ huddles to weekly and monthly gatherings can help employees feel included, heard and engaged.

Working through times of uncertainty and growth will bring about challenges, and leaders should share these with team members alongside the bigger vision, including clear objectives for when there are failures or misses. Business scaling is an iterative process, so leaders should gather team members and learn from the failures together without recrimination. This will help businesses move forward cohesively.

People on the ground can see things that leaders cannot. They are always the biggest asset, so leaders should celebrate their wins, recognise their contributions and seek their open feedback. Scaling, new working practices or new products are much more likely to be successful when those in leadership engage with teams meaningfully.

Keep a top-down view
The strategy at the top should set the tone for the company. As mentioned, much of this tone stems from the compelling “why” that gets people out of bed in the morning. But this will then filter through to other fundamentals such as who to serve, what pain to solve, how and where it is done and the “how much” of the offering and brand promise. Scaling, reshaping or resizing a business requires a high-level, top-down view. Working across different departments helps leaders to be clearer on their company’s culture, values and above all, who and what to say “yes” to. When shaping or resizing a business, it’s essential for leaders to use a top-down perspective to reconfigure around the “why” that started it all.

Invest in a support system
It is commonly said that many leaders feel isolated and experience being “lonely at the top”. Finding the right support system that enables them to work ON their business and not IN it is key to remaining effective as businesses evolve. The past 18 months has demonstrated the necessity of a support system within companies, including one for leaders. HR is imperative in facilitating this and has a large role in ensuring that it does not get lost within growing business operations.

One way for leaders to build a support network is to work with a business mentor, someone with a proven track record and who will stand firm as a friend of your business. Mentors help probe into decisions and operations and offer fresh perspectives on challenges.

Scaling up a business is certainly not for the fainthearted. It requires leaders to have dedicated focus, keep an eye on the overarching vision, work with teams across business functions and invest in robust support systems. However, doing this places businesses in a much stronger position for successful resizing and reshaping.

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