When a company grows up how does it stay human?


George Bernard Shaw once said, ‘Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds, cannot change anything.’

The first part of this quote is essential for businesses to remember.   No matter how big or small the change, it is essential for change to happen for progress to happen.

We all know that changes happen within companies for a variety of reasons – one company may have bought another so two cultures and ways of working need to be merged, a small team might be brought into a new department, or an organisation that began as a start-up with a team of just a few people may grow rapidly after significant investment.

Rapid growth can be especially disconcerting.  After feeling that you once knew everyone in your company, their partners and the details of their personal lives – birthdays, weddings, etc. it can be difficult to have the feeling that you no longer know the in-and-outs of everything that was happening within your company – once your opinion might have been sought on every big decision, but as organisations grow, if they don’t change, they fail.

What’s essential for companies to remember as they are changing, progressing and growing is how change effects people within the workplace at a human level.  To ensure that change is progressive and positive, time and thought has to be put into planning and implementing growth and change.

How do companies do this?  By acknowledging that people are an essential piece of the jigsaw and maintaining an honest, open, human discourse throughout their development and progress.

Here are some key things to keep in mind:

1. Remember that humans don’t like change – acknowledge people’s feelings and concerns and give them time to share their ideas.

We all have our routines and even the smallest change can upset our working days – if your favourite mug isn’t in the cupboard for the morning tea run your whole morning can feel ‘off’.

So, when big changes are on the horizon, it’s important to communicate why this change is needed, providing as much context as possible, with as much notice and clarity as you can and why this change is needed, proving as much context as possible.  This gives people the time to process their thoughts and feelings, and also allows them to come back with any questions they might have.  As companies go through change, it may not be possible to have all the answers, but allowing people to share their concerns can go some way to alleviating them and establishes an open dialogue.

2. Don’t forget the past – ask your team what they value most about the company and incorporate those core ideas into your plans if you can.

Especially when companies that have been small start-ups expand rapidly, it can feel as if the company is losing touch with its original values and purpose.  So when change happens, ask employees what works in the company?  What do we need to hang on to?  What do we need to dial up to be even better to support the changes we’re making?  These are important questions and critical to the success of the change. Your employees are at the ‘on the ground’ at the coal face speaking to customers every day and have critical insights to offer.

This is not just about ensuring people feel involved, it’s business sense.

Also – celebrate the past.  All the work and learnings from right back to the beginning made your company what it is today.  This history is an important part of your culture and should be acknowledged and built upon. Bring together those individuals who have been at your organisation the longest and in a small group, and ask their advice. What has worked well before?  What hasn’t?Ask them to play an active role with leading the change so it’s successful and lands.

3. Accept that you won’t know everything – you will have to delegate parts of the puzzle to other leaders within your organisation in order to keep growing.

It can be hard to let go of projects and work that’s been important to us, but in a growing company, we can’t know everyone and be involved in everything forever.  This would take away from us doing, experimenting and growing ourselves and prevent us from being future focused on the strategic long term vision and modelling the new way of working. For a growing company, leaders need to focus on their own part of the jigsaw (whilst  working across the entire jigsaw) and creating the environment/purpose for their teams to do their best work for their part of the jigsaw.

Being human and leading your piece of the puzzle will have a big impact.

4. Recognise team member’s work – praise tasks done well to individual team members and communicate to them how the team’s work is contributing to the company’s goals.

As humans we all want recognition that is sincere.  In a rapidly growing company, it’s especially important that leaders recognise and acknowledge everyone’s contributions.  Establishing a culture of saying ‘thank you,’ and speaking about how contributions matter is an important element of establishing a culture where people feel recognised and valued.

Senior leadership should communication how teams contribute to the company meeting its goals, and team leaders should communicate this back to their teams – everyone should know how the piece of the puzzle their working on, should fit in with the whole puzzle.

5. Keep moving forward – a leader’s job is to provide the framework so ideas generated are put into practice.

It’s not only internal changes that impact companies.  External trends and events can impact how the puzzle pieces fit together as well.  As leaders, it’s important when the market changes, we don’t make unilateral changes about how we will approach new challenges without consulting our teams to ask what we should do – two heads, after all, are better than one.  And a team of heads is better than two!  For leaders, it’s also important that we provide the framework that the ideas that are generated and put into practice, and that they don’t remain on a post-it note.  After all – progress is impossible without change!