I want to tell you a story about a client of mine, who we will refer to as Jesse.

Jesse and I have been working together for nearly three years. And in that time, both of our businesses have evolved. And therefore, so have our learning. That has also led to a friendship where we can be completely vulnerable, honest and challenging to one another, so I really value this relationship.

Jesse has that wonderful problem where he is leading a business that is nearly 30 people strong, yet finding he is still doing a lot operationally just to support them. And that’s because he has 29 strong, technically minded individuals doing what they do well supported by one administration role. And so, here he is wanting to talk through his options so he can not just scale his business operationally, but ultimately scale himself out of the day to day deliverables so he can work on the business and perform the role that would add the most value to the company.

Let the fun times begin!

Here are our steps to how we did that.

Structure your verticals by function and replicate it.

The business offers two flagship offerings and another two services that can be added on to existing work. So essentially he has these sub teams in each function operating the same way — a team lead, a second in charge and then anywhere between 3–5 team members that together make up service delivery. Each team was already cohesive as most teams had worked on at least two projects together. Even when two of those teams are working on the same project (just different aspects), the observation was to not fix what wasn’t broken.

Determine what your support roles are.

The backbone of the company was Melanie. Mel ran all the project meetings, followed up on everyone’s actions, ensured there was organisation across all areas of the business and to boot, even looked after all accounts receivable and payable on multi million dollar projects. If she decided to have a week off though, the whole system would crumble OR it was left to Jesse. I spent a day shadowing her role, asking her questions, observing and I realised she did the equivalent of maybe what 3 full time people could do. She did it well, but only 60% well in each task because that’s as much as she could give. Massive red flag! So we mapped her role out — all of it, and broke it down so we could see what we were really dealing with.

You should always look at your critical roles and have at least another person that can perform it for unplanned events. You should never rely on one person being there all the time. It’s 100% not sustainable. It’s not good for them and it’s not good for business.

Assess all current support roles (done now and would like to have done) and group them.

Put similar tasks together. It’s that simple. So don’t put team building activities with technical support. You should also have a nice balance between process/system roles e.g. compliance, invoicing — the roles that matter to running the business and people/culture roles — the roles that matter if you want anyone to continue working there.

Work out of all support roles, how many hours would be required to support each vertical.

Belinda, who looked after monitoring compliance and audits used a fifth of a time to one particular account. So we could confidently say that at full time capacity, she could support 5 accounts of a similar size and responsibility. Do this with all support roles and map it all out.

Talk to your people and map out where your current talent should (or would like to) work.

If you’re a good leader, you’ll know the answer to where to put your talent. However culturally, I highly recommend having the conversation with each individual impacted by the future restructure so that they have a say. Just because they are good at invoicing, doesn’t mean that’s what they prefer to do. It will give you an idea of where you need to go in the next steps.

Determine your gaps and recruit an agile workforce.

Ok, so here is the future of work nerd coming out in me — flexible workforce for a scaling strategy like this is only going to help you. Consultants, contracts and other flexible work arrangements to work for a number of a reasons. Some key things it will allow you to test include 

a)if they are the right human resources 

b) whether you are happy to offer them permanent roles 

c) give you flexibility to change roles and responsibilities it e.g. combining expertise to the one job description 

d) flexibility on the financial investment. 

It also helps ensure that you don’t have awkward redundancy or restructure talks or worse, avoid the people issue of getting rid of roles and just bleed money for a role that doesn’t need to be there past its due date.

Identify the leadership and guidance required for both the support roles and the leadership for each vertical

Yes! So now that you have your dream team (or at least the plan for it), what do the reporting lines look like? What is the blend in terms of experience and new talent look like per team? What type of leader or leadership style would really suit getting the best performance out of that team. This is a whole other topic and one Jesse and I will have conversations regularly about until we know that each team has the right balance of support and empowerment. Each leader would then be responsible for a succession plan for their part in the business and a development plan for each member of their team. Remember what I said earlier about critical roles? Well, each leader needs to consider that each team member has a “back up plan” and is constantly developing themselves.

So is that it? Is that the best way to scale your business? Does this solve all scaling problems? Well, no. 

Now, this particular plan works for Jesse because of:

  • The size of his business 
  • Where they are in the business cycle (not start up and definitely not at maturity)
  • How profitable his business is right now
  • His level of decision making to make these changes (his board of directors and CEO are very happy for him to review team structures so he had full endorsement)
  • His current expertise and skill set in the business
  • His current resource pool (both financial and non-financial)

So why do I call out these things? Because it’s not as simple as just following the same protocol for every client. So before you look at your next move, make sure to engage with a consultant that has experience with the size of your business and that you trust to workshop ideas with. It can save you a lot of heartache along the way!

If you would like to discuss your scaling story, I would love to hear from you.

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