Easing the growing pains of a growing business
If you were to go to Amazon.com and search for 'small business' in the books section, you’d get served over 250,000 titles. This massive number makes sense – starting a business is filled with countless unknowns and every bit of advice helps. But what about after your company starts to grow? If you were to change your book search to 'medium or mid-sized businesses', would you find countless resources on how to retain talent, maintain productivity, and keep sight of why you helped build the whole thing in the first place?
Amazon.com search results would indicate that once you get your start-up started up, it’s smooth sailing from there. We all know that’s not the case. The cruel irony is that the very things you worked for in the infancy of your business – success and growth – are the things that risk derailing what made it move and shake in the first place – your culture and people.
Success. Growth. People. Culture.
Your company can’t survive without them and none can exist without the other. So how does a medium-sized company get its small company groove back?
Build the best family
One of the trickiest things about growing a company is growing it with the right people. When you’re small, every single new person is heavily scrutinised because every single person has a massive impact which is felt throughout the entire agency. When the RFPs or projects become too much for your small, tight-knit crew, the excitement and urgency around growing a team sometimes results in a few misfits slipping through the cracks.
Companies are living, breathing organisms – every new person is a new cell and the rest of your body is going to react. Knowing that every employee will influence the culture of your agency, you should use the interview process to not only vet candidates against your company’s values, but also to determine whether they have the ability to actually carry those values forward on your behalf.
Communal interview process
Have candidates meet with folks from all walks of company life. They’ll get a taste for their potential coworkers and your current employees will help you spot the people who are most aligned with what matters.
Take employees to task
As employee and client rosters get longer, your leadership will be forced to prioritise new issues, often leaving you with an organisational structure so flat that it’s hard to manage.
It’s time to relinquish top-down learning and empower your managers. Shift toward an environment where curiosity and learning happen organically. Encourage peer-led workshops that will benefit multiple departments. Or start a casual practice of having staffers present on topics of their choice, including work-related subjects and/or topics that are simply passion points for team members. Keep a sense of connection despite your size. Your teams will learn more about the people they work with and the topics could inspire work-related thinking.
Let your past inspire your future
Yes, a growing company and team need to protect the elements that made them who they are. But it’s equally important to balance out respect for the past with a culture that also embraces the future.
As important as it is to hold onto longtime traditions, don’t let them keep new talent from impacting current company culture. No one wants to sit next to the guy at the bar rambling on about his old war stories, and no one wants to join a team that seems to believe its best years are behind them. Instead, teach the meaning behind your old traditions and enlist your newcomers to identify new ones.
Growing pains are inevitable – but not insurmountable. Don’t try to fix it on your own. As your business gets bigger, share your leadership responsibilities. Ask tenured team members to keep an eye on how the staff is reacting to the growth – both in terms of their ability to accomplish everything on their plate and with respect to their skill at doing work that adheres to the same level of excellence that helped your agency grow in the first place. Together, find ways to embrace change and empower your employees to protect and nurture your culture. And when all is said and done, consider penning a few words on how you all did it. The Amazon.com marketplace is wide open for good advice.
Find out more about the global digital outlook for 2016 in the SoDA Report 2016.
Dan LaCivita is President of digital agency Firstborn
Read the June issue of Business Review USA & Canada here
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.