Scaling a company can be a bumpy ride but there are some key things you must do to ensure you can scale without reducing the quality or value provided to your clients or customers. Alignment is a critical part of your transformation as you scale.
Red Badger have grown from roughly 40 employees to 100 in the last 2 years. The face time that our employees have with the founders of the company is getting less and less. But the values that our company was founded upon remain the same.
When you are smaller, it is easy to share your values, the vision of the company, culture - all of the things that are the lifeblood of why your company is great is shared via osmosis because of the simple fact that everyone spends more time together.
As you scale you need to work out how to scale excellence throughout your company from culture to skills so that you can continue to provide great quality to your clients. So how do you scale excellence? It starts with alignment. To scale you need to be able to let go, empower others and give them autonomy to excel at what they do best. However, before you can provide autonomy you must first be aligned. Alignment enables autonomy.
Ask your employees to help drive change
If you want to be aligned, your employees need to be involved. Every summer, Red Badger have a company day where our employees are involved in workshops to help make Red Badger better over the next 12 months. Last summer, we started to look at culture to build out our vision, purpose and aspirational principles. A key factor in accelerating alignment was getting our employees to do this with us. If they are involved, they feel a part of the eventual outcomes.
Focus on Culture
The outputs of the vision and purpose workshop became the foundation for a few months of work to build a new Red Badger brand. This included a new vision, purpose and guiding principles. However, it was extremely important that these didn’t just go up on the website and become externally facing only. To remain credible you have to live and breathe them, not just talk about them. This has resulted in some careful planning to roll-out the vision, purpose and principles across the company. We have built some interactive workshops for the existing staff and a new induction process for new staff. We are also empowering our leaders to ensure the new principles are constantly hammered home and that everyone is behaving accordingly.
Build an aligned leadership team to help support scale
To support your employees, lead them by example, manage them properly and to make sure you maintain a strong culture you need a strong, aligned leadership team. Red Badger are doing a number of things in this area.
Red Badger are well into the process of building a new layer of leadership that sits directly under the management team and across our delivery teams. This provides three key benefits. a) they are responsible for line-managing and looking after our employees b) to sit across and own ultimate accountability for our delivery projects to ensure quality is maintained as we scale c) to allow the management team to think and plan more strategically.
Leadership from the top down is all about empowerment. Line management is not about command and control. It is about a very well aligned leadership team providing support, leading by example and empowering our employees to be autonomous. Leadership is about being there to help when asked, not telling people what to do and then giving them no face-to-face time. You must have the leadership structure in place to be able to support the scale of the business appropriately with time and attention.
As a management team we are aware that we are not perfect and need to review our own blind spots so that as a team we can get better at working more harmoniously and thus lead the rest of the organisation better. We have brought in exec-coaching to help align the management team and support the next phase of growth in the business. By making sure we are working together and satisfying each others needs, we can be much more productive, be more strategic and drive the company forward together.
Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)
OKRs is a framework invented by Intel and used heavily by companies such as Google and Uber. The framework is intended to set objectives or top-level vision at a company level and align all of the departments and teams in achieving the top-level vision of the company. All of the strategic things we are doing in the company has cascaded down from a top-level objective. This is a great way to align everyone at scale and enable autonomy.
At Red Badger we have implemented OKRs at company level and at department level but haven’t deployed it across individuals as we have our own processes around career development and individual contributions and we don’t want to introduce process for process’ sake.
We didn’t get OKRs correct the first time. It takes a while to work out how they can best fit your needs and you need to strike a balance between clearly setting objectives and providing autonomy. You don’t want to implement OKRs so that they start to become micro-management. Overall, OKRs has been excellent in aligning the management team and this focus naturally trickles down to the rest of the organisation. We still have some way to go to perfect the art of using OKRs to maximise their effectiveness but we are on the right track and continue to improve.
The new leadership structure has resulted in the founders and the management team being able to delegate responsibility into trusted hands that you know will do a great job of leading and empowering others. This enables the management team to prepare Red Badger for the next phase of growth without a reduction in quality.
It’s going to be bumpy
Scaling a business is always going to be bumpy. It’s also cyclical. Red Badger are on the bounce now with a new structure and new processes in place to support future growth. But we are aware that at some point in the near future, probably within 2 years, we will have to go through all of this again to restructure to cope with new levels of scale.
Plan well but realise value early
The process of scaling excellence can be painful. Your employees will get disgruntled and cracks will start to appear but you need to build a plan, have conviction in what you are doing and implement it. This process takes time to complete. The key is to communicate, communicate, communicate. Red Badger have endeavoured to keep our employees in the loop with what is going on via regular company updates. Don’t wait until everything is perfect before rolling it out. Get value, albeit in an imperfect format into the hands of your employees early and continuously improve it.
People will leave (but that’s ok)
As your company grows, you should expect that people will leave. This may be for various reasons. Some people are simply resistant to change. You might hear “Your company is not what it used to be”. Well of course it isn’t. If you don’t change and grow, you go backwards and cease to exist. Some people want to work in a smaller company and that is fine. Some will get a little impatient with the time it takes to implement new structure or feel neglected. Although this feels uncomfortable, it also cannot be helped.
Attrition is healthy in a changing organisation. Sometimes you want to bring in fresh energy into the company and people need to pick up more experience in different companies. You can’t expect them to stay with you forever. However, when new people join and as you grow, you must provide them with leadership, clear direction, support and the most important thing of all, make sure they are living and breathing your company culture.
Your culture will change albeit slightly but your values don’t need to. What made your company great will still provide the foundations for what will keep it great as you scale. Providing you prepare well for this you will scale an excellent organisation that can continue to provide amazing quality and value to your clients.