In the last 3 years, we’ve grown Showpo from 14 staff to over 50 with no external funding. As you can imagine, when you need to build an A team that quickly, you learn a few lessons along the way. Hopefully sharing these learnings might help you build your teams!
#5 Giving big titles too early…
When you’re a small company, it’s tempting to give out “head of” titles. It’s attractive to the candidate, and at the time, it seems like there is no reason why they shouldn’t be “head of” whatever department. The problem here is that as the company grows, so do the requirements of the “head of” role.
The thought process went something like this: paperclips are important to our company, and our current paperclip supply is not up to standard, so I need someone to manage my company’s paperclips.
We want the best candidate for the job, how can we make the job more attractive?
Why not make them Head of Stationery?
They are, after all, the only person in charge of the stationery.
The candidate has the adequate skills to manage our stationery, is paid a fair salary, and the role title is really appealing to get them onboard, who wouldn’t want to be “Head of Stationery”?
Fast forward 2 years… the stationery team is now at 5 staff, and no longer only managing paperclips, they are managing 20 other types of stationery. The role has evolved rapidly as the company has grown. The head of stationery now needs to lead a team, and manage all different kinds of stationery, that they haven’t had experience managing at this scale. We now have a staff member with a “Head of Stationery” title, who doesn’t necessarily have the skills to manage a stationery team for a company of our size.
Looking back… was it wise to give the candidate the “Head of Stationery” title?
Or, should we have advertised the position as “Paperclip Co-ordinator” with career progression into the “Paperclip Management” role? And sold the candidate on all the other reasons they should work for us aside from a great title?
Don’t let the requirements of each role shift too much as the business grows.
Lock down what’s expected in each role, and progress your staff through title changes into new roles.
It’s ok to have once needed a paperclip co-ordinator and to now need a paperclip manager. It’s how you set the expectations around this for your staff member that’s going to make all the difference.
#4 Not defining behavioural requirements for each role…
This mistake can be a slow creeper, beware! A great staff member needs to be both technically competent, and behaviourally competent. We’ve made the mistake of not being aware of, or even officially acknowledging behavioural competencies for the first 5 years of running Showpo. It was always a “gut feel” of why one staff member might be better than another, we used to refer to it as the person’s attitude.
Our Bi-annual performance reviews assessed each staff member on their technical capabilities, but we always felt like there was a piece missing from our review process and what makes a great staff member.
We often had 2 staff members that were both technically equal, yet we felt one deserved a promotion more than the other, but why was that? How could we quantify it in our review process?
This is an image from the speed of trust course we rolled out at Showpo. It shows how you need the right behaviours (character) and technical skills (competence) to be successful.
Turns out the piece we were missing were behavioural requirements for the role. We now define this at Showpo on 3 levels; all staff, our leadership team & our exec team. The behavioural requirements for all staff are things like being adaptable, having a positive outlook and being solutions focused. In addition to these, our leaders have requirements like lead by example, champion collaboration and take calculated risks. The final layer for the exec team has things like leading with vision and purpose, ability to inspire the team, strategic thinking and driving innovation.
Our behavioural requirements are now weighted 40% of a staff members bi-annual performance review (60% is technical competency). What this does is ensure that we have the right behaviours happening across the company, and sets a clear expectation for any staff member looking to progress to a leadership role.
#3 Loading up our staff too much…
So this mistake was felt most acutely in relation to our manager and direct report relationships. We made this mistake on two noticeable fronts:
1. Loading managers too heavily with operational tasks
2. Loading managers with too many direct reports
What this resulted in was managers not having time to train, develop and mentor their staff. We weren’t spending enough time developing the skills of our team, so that they were able to succeed and progress in their roles. Staff weren’t getting enough context on the problems they were trying to solve, and communication wasn’t flowing freely. Managers didn’t have the time to give each staff member what they needed, and this stunted the essential feedback loop between management and direct reports.
Since then, we’ve focused on getting our managers to delegate their operational tasks, and have put limits on how many direct reports each manager can have. This frees up the managers time to give their direct reports the right context and train them up, keeping that dialogue open. It also allows the manager to think more strategically since they aren’t tied up as heavily in operational tasks. #winning!
#2 Not letting people go fast enough…
One of the prior issues I’ve addressed was getting the balance between technical & behavioural competencies, which leads us to the two scenarios where we haven’t let go of staff fast enough.
In the first scenario, we have the brilliant jerk, who smashes their KPI’s, but… well is a bit of a dick to work with. Allowing jerks in the workplace lets negative behaviours seep into your culture. Beware of these people, and exit them fast. Their results aren’t worth the negative impact this will have on your existing team. As leaders, it’s important to remember whatever you allow, you encourage.
In the second, we’ve got the under-performer, who just can’t seem to get on top of their workload, but we keep making allowances and letting things slide because… well if they aren’t doing it, then we would have to, and we don’t have time, and they are a good person at heart. Plus, it’s better having someone doing that job than no one right? WRONG. Keeping around underperformers sends a message to your staff that underperformance is ok and it builds resentment from the existing team who constantly have to compensate for that staff members shortcomings. You have an obligation to your staff to ensure they are working with A players, and whilst having that position open might mean extra work for you, that work is nothing compared to feeling like you’ve lost control of your culture.
#1 Not investing in resourcing early enough…
In 2016, Jane and myself did an 8-day business bootcamp where we mapped out all the issues with the business and how they related to each other… we quickly discovered that almost all our issues could be traced back to people, specifically, under-resourcing. After that, we came back from the boot camp and hired a Head of People and Culture when we only had 15 staff. We knew that if we wanted to grow faster, we needed to be on top of our people.
2 years down the track, we’re still working on improving this. I personally feel we’re still too slow to resource. Some projects were currently focused on are:
- Reducing the time to hire, so we don’t feel pressure to accept anything but the perfect candidate
- Planning our future hires waaaayyyy further in advance, so managers can put feelers out for candidates early, and we are aware of how the role requirements in the business will shift as we grow
- Career progression mapping for all staff members, so we can identify early where staff are heading, and if they are going to be a fit for Showpo in the future
There are a ton more mistakes we’ve made, but these are definitely the top 5. I hope this article helps you build your A-teams!
Words by Alex Durkin, Showpo's General Manager.