Leading Through Growth: Everyone Has to Start Somewhere
Every large company you know of once started off small. It’s no different for Victor Wong and the team at Flipp. He may have joined in 2011 as the 21st team member, but now they’re up to 400 employees and continue to grow.
That’s hyper-growth and it’s what happens when you get things right. With a strong and flexible strategy, persistent effort and these tips from Victor, you too can experience successful hyper-growth:
Be mindful of internal communication
The threshold is unique for every organization but the common number is around 50 people. As you grow, you need to think carefully about how you each communicate with each other, in all directions in the business.
During the start-up phase it can be taken for granted that communication works so well. Pre-COVID start-up phases were defined by small workspaces with back-to-back seating and everyone within earshot of each other. There was no risk of anyone being left out or falling behind on the organization’s progress.
Know when to define your company culture
Until you’re a group of roughly 50 people, company culture is something that feels natural and flows along with the personalities of the leadership team. As more people join, it’s time to introduce the non-negotiables: values, principles.
Where is your North Star and what’s it guiding you toward?
Victor cautions against defining culture by rules. Why? Because rules feel limiting, like a set-up for punishment.
Oh, and getting it down on paper isn’t enough either. Words are a good start, but, really, what you want are champions. Once people have settled into the culture successfully, they need to be integrating their existence in the company with those who are still learning. When you have people working together to further embed those values and principles, it’s a true mark of success.
It’s not without challenges, of course, building culture in a rapidly growing business. You’re probably going to have a few tough or uncomfortable conversations along the way, but it should always be with the goal of doing and being better at living those values and principles out in day to day life.
Leading a Company Through Growth: Structures and Processes
Marketing, sales, operations, finance, admin, IT, support: there are so many things to monitor while your business scales. How do you survive? You build structures and processes upon and through which these can all grow in a relatively orderly manner.
As you move from start-up to scale-up, it’s even more critical that absolutely every team member gets involved and feels part of that evolution. Your number one goal is ensuring that everyone knows why this is happening to begin with, and why change and scale is necessary and beneficial to everybody. And it really has to be beneficial to everybody for you to see that internal support and camaraderie grow.
Processes integrate with planning, which also keeps a feeling of preparedness in the business. Even if some of the answers are missing, well-designed processes are tools that can be used to fill those blanks in, and without fear of going too far off course. At every step of the way, if people know why the company has settled on specific goals, structures and processes, change and scale becomes easier to manage.
How do you integrate system changes when scaling?
On top of everything we’ve already mentioned, you also need to think about systems used throughout your business. How do you know which ones to choose for the current and future scale of your company?
Through Victor’s trials with Flipp’s original accounting system, he discovered a new way to look at systems. Instead of asking how his team would be required to use potential new systems, he instead asked how the potential new systems would serve his team. He literally baked this into the RFP and actively discussed user experience scenarios during pitches.
It saved him enormous pain through the process of scaling up. His eventual choice was cloud-based, scalable, and enabled audits to run more smoothly and more efficient than ever before. In summary:
Do you have a current system?
Do you have any specific frustrations about your current system, or lack thereof?
What would it mean to your business to remove those frustrations: more efficiency, more profit, lower cost, less wastage, more productivity, fewer bottlenecks?
Think about what you need for the next 2-5 years. There’s no happily ever after solution because businesses keep evolving.
Use an RFP process.
Talk to your colleagues and others in your network who use the systems you’re considering. Reviews from people you trust and understand are like golden nuggets in decision-making.
Outsourcing and its effects when leading through growth
Victor’s high-level math revealed that Flipp’s operational aspirations weren’t aligned with a solely in-house operational cost base. Outsourcing didn’t immediately stand out as an option. Victor explored automation and scope reduction first, and over time it became clearer that outsourcing was a viable solution.
Victor’s advice to you is to keep your team lean internally but also offer opportunities for people to grow and develop. Transactional work doesn’t disappear just because you get caught up in hyper-growth, and it’s not exactly what people get motivated by. Keep this in mind and you’ll be fine.
Something else to think about is your time zone. When you’re selecting scope for outsourcing, consider if you need 24/7 availability and outsource accordingly.
Lastly, consider the context and complexity of what you intend to outsource. Some things, like client onboarding, are not outsourceable purely because of the context that’s required to oversee it from end to end.
Spend your time wisely
Traditionally finance work is like a pyramid. The base, the largest layer where you spend most of your time, is transactional, and strategy is at the peak where you spend the least amount of time. Victor shares that a more successful model is to shift the pyramid into a diamond shape, where active time spent on transactional work (still at the very bottom) is as little as on strategy, and the central layer that’s the largest is now your analysis layer.
The more time your team spends on analysis, the more contextual cues there are for any work done at any other layer of the diamond. Outsourcing is one of the quickest ways to achieve this.
Managing Uncertainty in a Growing Business
There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has affected business all around the world, including Canada-based Flipp. So many of us default to the assumption that business leaders know everything, that in crises or times of uncertainty we continue with the expectation that management has all the answers.
In Victor’s words, “That’s definitely not the case.”
Here are his tips for navigating times of uncertainty:
Be honest: It’s sincerely appreciated, even celebrated, by employees when they hear managers honestly sharing that some answers are unknown.
Communicate: Express your empathy and compassion for each team member’s experience of a common uncertainty. Be clear about the information you have, the information you’re working on, and the information that might be out of reach at each touchpoint.
Clarify the goal: When everyone’s looking around for answers, business leaders can communicate goals. It could be as simple as telling your team that the goal is to migrate to fully remote, or hybrid, operations.
Include the purpose: So, if you aim to move to a remote/hybrid model, explain why: is it safer, more efficient, more accommodating of work/life balance etc.?
Managing uncertainty while working remotely - Leading through virtual growth
Communication has been turned upside down since the start of the pandemic. What Victor calls the ‘town hall’ setting which worked perfectly for in-person environments fell away entirely in remote environments. Flipp adapted their internal communication model, introducing pre-recorded video messages for staff to consume at their own respective paces.
Over time that evolved further into live Q&As with management. Management would answer questions submitted beforehand so every employee would have the opportunity to experience that authenticity and sincerity that they grew to love.
What the future holds for growth planning
As if the current situation isn’t hard enough to figure out, there is also the reality that the working world won’t be the same post-COVID. How do any of us plan for growth in a working environment we’re still unsure of?
The one positive that has come from the previous 18 months when leading through growth, is the removal of stigma surrounding remote work. There is trust, due to evidence, that people can smash their goals without coming into the office every day. Not only this, but acquiring new talent isn’t as constrained geographically, as it once was.