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CIX 2024 - Start-Up to Scale-Up - Expert Advice for Building your Leadership Team


At CIX in Toronto on March 27th, Kristina was joined by BrightIron's Rebecca Graham to share advice on growing teams with Canada's top Start-up founders. Here are some Key Takeaways from the session:


Successful Founders Do These Things:

  • Focus on their strengths and where they add the most value. Founders “do it all” in the early days but this doesn’t scale. Strong founders evolve their role and then hire great people with the skills and experience to grow the business.

  • Delegate, trust, and enable others. Once they make a hire and set expectations, a strong founder steps back and lets the new leader do the job that they were brought in to do.

  • Surround themselves with strong advisors and leaders with alignment, experience, and diversity of thought. Careful selection of advisors with relevant experience is important as they’ve gone through the scaling journey and they can share and apply their experiences.

Which Roles Do You Hire and When?

  • Once you determine the most critical experience and skill gaps in your business, you’re ready to recruit strong leaders to build a team capable of scaling. 

  • Balancing needs and budget can be a challenge. Prioritize alignment on goals, experience in a scale-up, and fit with your team. Get creative with comp plans and remember that early hires are ‘investing’.

  • Early leadership hires are often:

  • Head of Product Development

    • As you scale development, define your needs around Technology, Process & People

  • Head of Sales 

    • as you transition away from a founder-led sales, find a builder who will bring revenue, but equally important who will deliver sales foundations and customer learnings.

  • Consider fractional leaders to support the business. This approach engages experts without the need to bring them on full-time. You can scale their time as needed and preserve budget. 


Hiring for Fit/Culture – What Are You Looking For?

  • Strong founders plan not only what product to build and problem to solve, but also how and with whom.

  • Invest time defining culture, so that hiring and ongoing management goes beyond gut feel. 

  • Don’t compromise on values fit. Your culture will evolve with growth but the established values should remain consistent. Values should be threaded through everything from hiring, onboarding, retention, and offboarding.

  • You employees are a team, not a family. Treat your team with the same respect that you’d provide to your best customers.

 


What Can Go Wrong?

  • Be wary of corporate pedigree. Remember that challenges at your stage are quite different from those of a big company.  Knowing what a business looks like at scale is important, but navigating the growth journey is critical. Hire leaders ready for the reality of your resources, structure and market challenges.

  • Trust is key and expectations must be aligned. We’ve never met a strong leader who likes to be micromanaged.

  • When small budget = under-hiring. Avoid giving big titles to junior leaders who are learning as they go.  Leave room in the org chart for the experienced leader you’ll need in the future. Be thoughtful about investing in experience where you need less risk and quicker execution. Consider a Fractional Leader to level-up a strong junior leader.

  • Don’t Oversell. Be transparent with leadership candidates about the challenges, the team and culture. Self-awareness in founders and very clear expectations are the start of every great hire.

  • Seek help. Your investors, advisors, recruitment partners and peers can help ensure a successful outcome.

  • Fail Fast. Making a bad hire is expensive. Keeping a bad leader will bring increasing costs and risks. Learn and move on.


Building Your Startup for Success - What HR Foundations are Key?

  • Your organizational structure matters. It’s important to properly define reporting structure and identify growth opportunities for your team.

  • Get compensation right. Ensure you have reliable market data, determine your position in the market and compensate accordingly and consistently. It’s the easiest way to retain top talent and reduce risk to your business.

  • Policies aren’t the devil, not having them is. Policies will remove ambiguity and ensure transparency. They are like a frequently asked questions resource that helps your employees understand how things work and makes clear any established rules they should be aware of.

  • Have a performance development program. People want to understand their goals and receive feedback on their performance. 

  • Get a solid employment agreement and have your template reviewed and updated regularly. Make sure you have signed employment agreements for everyone – you will need them.


Consider what you need to be doing today, to build towards tomorrow. Build everything with scalability in mind.

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