You won’t start off knowing how to scale up your business. I sure didn’t, but at its largest, the company that I was running, Vodien, had 150 employees spread over 4 countries. I didn’t learn about organisational behaviour or organisational management in school, but I quickly realised I needed structure and systems to grow the company smoothly and not have everything implode.
Here’s what I learnt are the best practices to scale up when I was running my business.
How To Scale Up Your Business #1: Vision
As a founder, you know what your company’s vision is (hopefully – otherwise, please discover it ASAP). However, I’ve since learnt that people are unable to read minds, so it’s really important that everyone in the company be clearly and repeatedly told about what the company’s vision is.
How To Scale Up Your Business #2: Communications
One of the most important things of anything that involves more than one human is communications. When you have business partners or an entire team of employees, this becomes absolutely paramount. In my company, the upper and middle management meet every single week to understand what each department is working on, and the projects that the company is developing, and updates/progress/challenges on projects. This is particularly important, especially since customer service might not know the new products or policies that the engineering department plans/needs to introduce.
On top of that, there’s a company-wide town hall every month. In my company, we use this primarily as an opportunity to:
- Make company announcements, such as news, products, policies
- Introduce people and what they are doing to other departments in the company
- Celebrations for achieving company milestones
- Reiterate the company’s vision, goals, values, and strategy
- Discuss any company-wide events that occurred, such as customer feedback or industry shifts
- Get general feedback from the entire company
How To Scale Up Your Business #3: Managers
Managers are needed because they should work towards maximising the productivity of every employee in your company. Therefore, the role of a manager is that of responsibility. The manager must know what his reports are working on, what their progress is, and what obstacles they’re facing. The manager’s role is then to remove the obstacles any way that he knows how to, and ensure progress in the right direction. All this must be communicated at least once weekly, and in some departments/teams, once or more daily. Notice that I didn’t say that it’s a physical face-to-face meeting. This can be done through digital means or even a phone/conference call.
How To Scale Up Your Business #4: Organisational Chart
Once you have employees, you need to have an organisational chart. It doesn’t have to be printed but should be readily available to all people in your company. The organisational chart shows your employee what your company’s hierarchy is, what the roles are, and who is handling what responsibilities. A person can fill multiple roles, especially at new companies and startups.
How To Scale Up Your Business #5: Job Descriptions
Spend time working on job descriptions. It will most definitely change and the actual job scope will deviate from the job description, but still, you should aim to have your job descriptions 75% accurate. This ensures that you hire the right people for the role and that your employees know exactly what they should be focused on doing.
How To Scale Up Your Business #6: Hiring
Have a structured interview process. Play with multiple interview rounds, and have consistent questions for all your candidates so that you can assign scores and remarks that make sense. It is always better to hire someone who has a great attitude and values, but is lacking in skills, especially when your company is young. Skills can always be trained, not so much for attitude and values.
If you have specific problems that the employee will face in their job, have that as part of the interview process. For example, Vodien hires a lot of customer support agents, and as part of their interview process, the candidates have to answer how they’d handle an actual customer support question. For this particular question, I’m looking out for things such as tone of their answer, logic, and empathy. I personally hired our first 50 hires, and after that, personally interviewed all the candidates up to 2 levels down.
How To Scale Up Your Business #7: Firing
Terminating employees is never easy, but do it quick. Do it like a plaster – rip it off quickly, and get it over with. I’ve found that the more I dragged it out, the worse the situation becomes. However, make sure that you follow your country’s employment laws. For fairness, ensure that everyone who you fire receives a written warning and time to make a change. The exception is for non-performance-related issues. Once a termination occurs, I’ve found that it is better to be open and transparent and inform your team about it, letting them know that they can approach you or HR for clarifications about the matter.
How To Scale Up Your Business #8: Training
Have your employees document the work and processes that they are working on. These can be just brief bullet points but contain the necessary information that a new person can read the documentation and take over the basics of the role. Not everything will be easily documented, and employees will rather work on their job than on documentation, so you will have to ensure that this happens. Everyone is busy and will only get busier. You will find that the documentation is going to be extremely helpful when you hire and grow your teams in future.
How To Scale Up Your Business #9: On-boarding
Ensure that your new hires are minimally introduced to everyone on the team. Ideally, you also provide an orientation handbook that states essential information that your new hires should know, such as processes to apply for leave days, or login information to company tools, or email/communication information, and anything that they need to know as a newcomer to your organisation. I found that a digital copy is best, since the policies and information may change from time to time.
How To Scale Up Your Business #10: Salaries
I’ve found that it’s better to not be transparent with our salaries. Everyone will end up getting different salaries, even if they’re doing the same role and job. Factors such as age, experience, qualifications, competence, all matter. Have a company policy of salary adjustments, be it promotions or salaries, at regular intervals. Vodien had all promotions happen in June, and all salary increments happen in December. This prevents people from asking for raises on an ad-hoc basis, allows you to spread out your increments in order to smoothen out your company’s cash-flow, and gives your employees something to look forward to in the year.
How To Scale Up Your Business #11: KPIs
While it seems like everyone preaches about the necessity of KPIs, we didn’t have KPIs for some roles in Vodien. I’ve found that it actually depends very much on the department and the type of work necessary.The accounts, finance, billing, customer support, sales departments all had clear KPIs, but the engineering department only had baseline KPIs for hygiene, and instead had more goals to work towards. Engineering’s role was to ensure availability, security, and stability of current systems, while also continually making improvements. We found that implementing KPIs for engineering seemed forced, resulted in additional work and overhead to implement and monitor, and ended up backfiring instead.
How To Scale Up Your Business #12: Product Management
Your products will grow and eventually will need to have a product manager. This person handles the development of the product(s), knows it inside-out, and is the bridge between multiple departments working on the product. The product manager is also in charge of briefing and ensuring all the relevant teams know what they need to know about the product. Because departments typically don’t have full visibility of what’s going on, the product manager has to communicate reasons, problems, limitations, and features among departments. This is especially important to get everyone’s buy-in and support for the product.
I found that these few areas really helped my company keep its focus together as a team, and was instrumental in our growth. Try them out for at least a few months, and let me know what results you see. If you have other areas that you have found to work for your company as well, feel free to leave me a comment below.