Life in a start-up can be a blessing or a curse depending on your personal work style. If you like speed, wearing multiple hats, and a high degree of individual accountability, the start-up work environment is a slice of heaven. On the other hand, if you prefer rules, formal hierarchy, and predictability, start-ups will drive you nuts.
Successful start-ups invariably grow up. In fact, a fast-paced start-up that is well managed, well funded, and in a great industry space, can see a meteoric rise in headcount, revenue, and visibility. As a result, the internal demands placed on employees to keep pace with constant change may reveal cracks in performance and ability. Simply put - as a company scales, employees need to scale too.
Identifying an employee unable to scale isn’t easy. Addressing performance of someone who was a great contributor when the company grew from 20 to 100 people but suddenly starts failing as the company rockets past 250+, creates a significant managerial dilemma. The following tips can help you determine whether you can salvage a good performer or if it is time to do some pruning to keep the business humming.
1. Redefine expectations
When a company grows and changes, so do job roles. In a smaller company, titles can be loosely defined and don’t reflect actual depth or level of contribution. Regardless, when a role gets bigger and requires more effort, managers should take a moment to identify where incremental changes need to occur in performance. This approach allows a manager to partner and coach an employee through the growth spurt not be left to sink or swim.
2. Reinforce core values
A key attraction to a new venture is the foundational beliefs used to drive the vision and mission of the company. One aspect of those values (in most cases) is the desire to be successful and to achieve fantastic results that either lead to building a soon-to-be great organization or construct a palatable case for acquisition. A heavier workload that includes a few more rules and structure doesn’t deter from this thinking and should run parallel to achieving greatness. Sometimes employees need to be reminded that what they are working for remains intact regardless of company size and as a result their performance should reflect this.
3. Address performance misses early
Performance problems can sneak up on managers. Often the default reaction is to ignore patterns, avoid conflict and hope things smooth out. The blips and red flags that are ignored avalanche into larger issues especially in young companies. Repetitive mistakes, missed goals, or strange behavioral reactions should be managed immediately with the appropriate feedback or corrective action.
4. Have a heart-to-heart talk about making a change
When you see output and attitude continue to decrease despite feedback, it might be time to sit down with the employee and face the problem directly. The role may have evolved to a point where a different skill set is required to move the operation to the next level. This is not an indictment of the employee’s abilities as much as it is a reality of the individual’s experience and capability applied to different stages of a company’s growth. Rather than dismantle the memory of past achievements, create a transition plan that both retain the individual’s self worth and doesn’t severely disrupt the business.
Scaling any organization, especially a start-up, takes time, patience, and the right mix of skills and experience. Different inflection points along the growth path of a company reflect success that needs to be maintained and strengthened. In order to do this, being realistic about the talent you have and knowing when to make an employee change may be the difference between boom or bust.