The CEOs & Founders I meet are amazing multi-taskers. They’ve grown their business hands on – doing everything from product and strategy development, to marketing & BD, to managing the office and even to being the go-to IT helpdesk person for their team. 

When it comes time to scale though, one of the biggest shifts for most of us is how to make that transition from the necessary hands on ownership of that detail, to letting others in the team step into that space. 

Not just a difficult shift for the person used to holding the all strings – it’s often an exciting but challenging time for the other team members who are stepping up to the plate too. 

What’s our mission Captain?

A recent piece of research by HBR has suggested one of the best early steps a CEO or Founder can take to prepare the path for that future change is to think early on about having an overt and well communicated clear purpose – not an investor or customer purpose, but a purpose for the business that truly aligns their team around a common call to action, their over-arching mission. 

“The sense of being part of something greater than yourself can lead to high levels of engagement, high levels of creativity, and the willingness to partner across functional and product boundaries within a company, which are hugely powerful,” said Rebecca Henderson, Professor at Harvard Business School. 

“Once they’re past a certain financial threshold, many people are as motivated by intrinsic meaning and the sense that they are contributing to something worthwhile as much as they are by financial returns or status.” 

Engaged and fulfilled team members have potential to become the company’s best brand advocates. Having the autonomy to build, test and learn for themselves creates the type of employee activism that will inspire employee engagement, foster a better customer experience and ultimately, boost company performance. 

As they get to know the business (almost!) as well as the Founders, they’ll be able to play a valuable role in keeping customers, and other employees, engaged.

“Keeping people engaged and advocating for your brand means giving them some autonomous authority to make the difference between an OK customer experience and a great customer experience. People inherently need to feel that they’re contributing value to the organization. Without that, what do you have? A disengaged workforce doesn’t bode well for the customer or the organization. Establish clear guidelines as to what that freedom is and under what circumstances decisions can be made on behalf of achieving high customer satisfaction.”  Says Rob Danna, SVP of Sales and Marketing at engagement solutions provider ITA Group

He concludes “Find examples where employee activism resulted in an excellent customer journey and communicate that across the organization to develop role models for others to emulate.”

A bit of self-love

It’s a natural human instinct to carry on with the formula that works, but once scale up starts and those new hires join, the trigger for relinquishing some control and giving others the autonomy to be successful is more than just handing over a job title and a role description, it often requires some pretty fundamental changes to how the CEO/Founder has been used to working as well – but the effort invested into that can be a worthwhile investment into your own capacity later on.

“I knew a CEO who was the leader of one of the world’s largest global organizations. He received feedback that he was too stubborn and opinionated. He learned that he needed to do a better job of letting others to make decisions and to focus less on being right himself.” saysMarshall Goldsmith, author of ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

“He practiced this simple technique for one year: before speaking, he would take a breath and ask himself, “Is it worth it?” He learned that 50% of the time his comments may have been right on, but they weren’t worth it. He quickly began focusing more on empowering others and letting them take ownership and commitment for decisions, and less on his own need to add value.”Goldsmith concludes.

The world keeps moving on – so what then?

The detail does matter – but it shouldn’t derail a scale up leader from focusing on the priorities. No matter what stage scale up is at, if the business can find talented people who share their values and who are as excited about the business as Founder(s) are, then the business is on the right track. 

But, as the scale up gathers pace, what then? The sad reality is that not everyone on the bus at the beginning will come all the way to the destination, and that needs to be ok.

According to experts a start-up team will likely turn over three times on the journey to becoming a business of scale. 

“The people you need at your side when you are just getting started are generally not the people you will need at your side when you have five hundred or a thousand employees. Your technical co-founder who built much of your first product is not likely to be your VP Engineering when you have a couple hundred engineers. Your first salesperson who brings in your first customer is not likely to be your VP Sales. And your first community person is not likely to be your VP Marketing.” Comments Fred Wilson, co-founder of Wilson Square Ventures

Entrepreneur Bianca Miller-Cole takes us to the last word.. “My advice to any scaling business is not to be afraid to ask questions and always approach growth as a chance to innovate and change as you grow. Ultimately, from my experience, scaling is growth for the greater good – but inevitably there will be challenges along the way, plan for them and learn from them.”