How to scale up without losing the start-up spirit

Jo Howorth, Engagement Manager: Skills and Talent explores the art of the start-up spirit and how to ensure you don't lose it as you scale up and grow your business.

Founders, who have lived and breathed every aspect of their business from day one, know the value of working closely with their team; creating that close-knit community and family feel, and an inclusive culture which makes everyone feel they have a stake in and a direct impact on the business.

But how do you retain that spirit of a start-up, as you take on a more strategic focus to scale up at pace, grow your team and introduce new talent to move your business to the next level? In this article we look at 5 key areas of focus for business owners facing that challenge.

1. Lead by example

It’s no surprise that people work best when they’re motivated by their leaders, so displaying behaviours you’d like your teams to mirror is vital. As the saying goes “lead by example”.

No matter the size of your organisation, it’s important to maintain that ‘family-feel’ and keep hold of that inclusive culture as your business grows. Your colleagues will thrive and add more value to your business if you avoid hierarchy and work silos.

2. Keep Learning

Encouraging an active learning environment in your business, where people can continually develop their skills and expertise, helps to create a culture that attracts and retains the best talent.

Continuous learning equips you to adapt to new external influences and pivot your business concept to meet new challenges. Ensuring it’s part of your team ethos, through training or cross-functional working, for example, creates a shared sense of purpose, and makes people feel valued as you’re investing in them individually and their future.

A great example of this in practice is a business that allows its staff to spend 10% of their working week on a project of their choice, as long as its aim is to drive the business forward and propel it towards its vision – it’s a win-win situation for both employees and the business.

Three people listening intently

3. Trust people to do their job

When you’ve been used to making all the important decisions and initially had to fulfil every role yourself as a business founder, it can be hard to let go and trust other people to make those choices – but it’s imperative to do so.

You recruited these people for a reason, so trust them to do their job, whether that’s dealing with suppliers and partners, coming up with new ideas, or securing new business.

It doesn’t mean you can’t still be involved though. You’re still needed to guide them with clear briefs and objectives and to provide constructive feedback along the way. What it does mean is that people are given the opportunity to run with something and  you get a chance to really see what they’re capable of.

4. Be open and honest

Colleagues will want to celebrate every business milestone with you and start-ups are often brilliant at doing this, no matter how big or small the achievement. Don’t forget to celebrate the wins even as you grow!

However the team also need to understand the challenges and potential pitfalls you’re facing as a business, so they can focus on helping you to overcome them. Open and honest communication is critical in keeping that close-knit feel to your organisation.

5. Adapt to change

You’ll want to recruit a diversely skilled workforce as you scale up. With this comes different skills, ideas and unique perspectives to your business, which will inevitably bring about a period of change. You can embrace that change, whilst ensuring your start-up culture remains a constant, by making sure everyone is focused on a common objective and is clear on your vision.

Adapting to change is, of course, in the DNA of start-ups – it’s that energy and agility which classifies you as a high-growth business in the first place – so you’re well placed to enjoy the benefits and to optimise every opportunity presented by your diverse, talented and growing team.

What are the challenges you’ve faced as your business has grown?
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