Here are four things leaders and their organizations can do to move from startup mode to scale-up mode:
Listen more. First, you need to shift from directing to coaching, which is all about listening rather than telling. Ask thoughtful, open-ended questions, pay attention (no texting or distractions), maintain eye contact and receptive body language, and let silence be OK (so an employee can gather their thoughts). Many harried leaders may balk, insisting they have no time for this. Keep in mind that it’s not the quantity of time you set aside that matters — it’s the quality of time.
Align employee and business goals. Shift from purely directive goal setting to a reciprocal process that links the growth of the business with the growth of the individual. When people feel that business goals are tied directly to their development, they are much more likely to go the extra mile. Ask employees to reflect on their personal goals and find ways to incorporate them into business initiatives. For example, a digital marketing director at Daniel’s company wanted to gain greater visibility and impact beyond her area of focus. So she and her boss agreed to have her lead the development of a pop-up store, which required collaboration with finance, sales, and product teams. Because the temporary retail outlet was a first for the company, it was highly visible and allowed the marketing director to stretch beyond her digital responsibilities. She was excited about the opportunity, it helped her grow, and the project was a success for the organization.
Create feedback loops. Include time for two-way feedback (“How are you doing, and how am I doing?”) in weekly or biweekly one-on-one meetings with staff members. That way, feedback will become embedded in the culture instead of happening ad hoc in out-of-the-blue “gotcha” sessions or too infrequently, at annual review time.
Build peer-to-peer networks. Even in small companies, big-company programs such as cross-functional quality assurance groups or employee resource groups (ERGs) can help deepen the sense of inclusion and relatedness that’s lost when the company grows beyond the startup phase. (ERGs are groups formed around staff affinities, such as volunteering or support for women, or communities of LGBTQ people or people of color.) These groups bring together staff from different functional areas to share lessons learned from completed projects and to brainstorm potential quality improvements or innovations. They help break down silos, broaden awareness and sensitivity to other groups’ goals and needs, and avoid building a finger-pointing culture. Research into the benefits of ERGs at large companies such as American Express, Accenture, and Merck has shown them to improve retention and engagement. In some cases, acting like a big company may help you become one.
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