Startup founders and CEOs are often seen as a different breed of leader. Across the board, they are driven by a singular focus – to ensure their business succeeds no matter what, regardless of the pressures and the pressures are not insignificant – Funding rounds, pivotal hires, building a customer base, protecting IP and realising expansion plans. Their plates are often full of high-level obstacles to navigate as well as, in the majority of cases, still being involved in the day-to-day running of the business.
For a founder CEO, one of the first consequences of growth will be to hand over key areas of management to others as the business scales. They will need to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as leadership style, as they start to build out their management team. And this is the first leadership quality they need to exhibit. Growing a business quickly requires the right strategic hires at the right time; and knowing who to entrust with what. As a founder, you cannot be strategic counsel, HR lead, CMO, and everything else in between. So getting your senior hires right and trusting them implicitly is key.
Ensuring your growth targets are both manageable and realistic is crucial, both in terms of the promises you make to investors, but also how you structure your business and resources. Putting unrealistic expectations on growth, customer acquisition or revenues could stretch the business beyond repair as well as damage brand reputation. You may not be able to account for unexpected growth – which can take you by surprise – but you can prepare for more manageable expansion.
Perhaps something most frequently overlooked when growing a business is the importance of consciously building the character and culture of your business. Culture is no longer a mythical, ethereal thing, a ‘nice to have’. It has real world impact, both in terms of employees choosing where they want to work, and by investors assessing the strengths of the businesses they choose to invest in. Toxic cultures in fast growth businesses is now recognised as a legitimate and significant issue.
Ensuring that, during a fast growth period, that you don’t sacrifice your workplace culture is crucial. While businesses may grow revenues and strengthen their balance sheets, if the office culture is unhealthy, if it is not demonstrating the character that is needed, in terms of resilience, perseverance, bravery or even seeing opportunities or being influential or prudent at the right times, your growth is not sustainable.
Business leaders need to consider how they understand the character or their people and leaders and encourage good workplace culture and how to maintain it, especially in the often chaotic environment of rapid expansion. One of the greatest risks comes from the need to hire quickly.
In a rush to get people through the door, hiring managers may overlook or even disregard character flaws and blind spots that, in ordinary circumstances, would set off alarm bells. And while these hires might come with a short-term gain, they are likely to cause long term harm to the wider team. Successfully navigating these risks starts with truly understanding the character of your leadership team, and proactively setting the tone of your workplace culture.
Too often, businesses don’t consider this at the start of their journey and end up having to do a much more painful journey of retrofitting culture and transformative leadership once things have gone wrong. To find out how CharacterScope can help startups put character and culture at the forefront of their growth plans check out our product solutions.