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Calling startups – OD can help you overcome challenges!

The founders of start-ups tend to be some of the most inspiring and energetic people I have met. They have a vision for their company and are totally driven to realise it, and bring together a team of like-minded people to help it come to life. 

This is exactly what you need when getting a business off the ground. You need as much energy, passion and enthusiasm as possible – it helps draw the right people to the business, and keep it going through challenges.

Startups can experience incredibly rapid growth and expansion, sometimes too fast for clarity and structure to keep up. When that happens, startups can engage with me (or another OD practitioner) to ensure they develop the people side of the business. The people aide can dramatically enable performance of your business!

What you might be experiencing and what pain points may be: 

  • Confusion around defining and Implementing values. Often, start-ups will have values scribed from a napkin but not the behaviours that accompany it, or knowledge of how to put these into practice. Values that exist for the sake of having them can’t influence the business, and incorporating them into processes or culture is difficult when there is no precedence for what they mean.
  • Reward schemes or incentives make people scramble for more throughout the year. Finding a way to maintain a sustainable reward or incentive scheme can often feel like a heavy admin task, so knowing how to reward work or behaviour becomes difficult. You may find people asking for more, and no way to sustain more reward, or lack criteria for defining what that looks like. 
  • Being unable to galvanise the teams and newcomers. Founders are really busy, and may not know the best way to communicate their vision and influence their managers or other key staff so they can become champions of the business. 
  • Rapid expansion and team structure. Start-ups experience rapid team growth and success, but may not have a clear structure of how those teams work cross-functionally or what value they add to the client. Teams may end up operating in individual or siloed ways. This can lead to difficulties including turf wars, fighting for ownership, or struggling to meet the demands of the business. 
  • Limited clarity on HR and recruitment processes. Without formal processes in place that establish key foundations for the business, employees can struggle to understand how to show their performance, and managers lack clarity around how to recruit accurately and manage performance. It can become chaos in the long run without putting these formally in place.

A huge advantage start-ups have over existing businesses or those experiencing a merger or takeover is their ‘blank slate’. They don’t have baggage of previous ways of doing things, or extended office politics and power plays. The start-up company can set things out to work in the best way possible, and foster a positive workplace culture that reflects the vision of the founders. 

Employees and businesses need structure and clarity in order to develop in the right way. This doesn’t mean a start-up needs to sacrifice its agile, flexible, and fast-paced energy. It means laying the right foundations and establishing how to do things which allows the business to focus on bringing the energy in a way that is organised and mutually beneficial for employees and the business. 

The way companies look after people can significantly impact the bottom-line – in spend, resource, and quality of work.

If you have been part of a company that has a strong focus on OD, HR or culture, you’ll know how important it is. The impact may have extended your tenure or made you work harder. With a focus on employees there is less risk, and more assistance with wellbeing.

You might ask why engage with an Organisational Psychologist? There are several reasons, and engaging with someone is dependent on their area of expertise but in short, Organisational Psychologists can provide:

  • Evidence-based practice around people development, and what has worked well with other companies;
  • A focus on employees and achieving business objectives – there is a nice harmony that needs to be balanced here;
  • HR development that is informed by psychological theory and HR/Business management information. These fields work in tandem to create more strategic business processes that allow employees to thrive.

What you need in your start up:

  1. Explain your values. Values need to be explained. Values need to have behavioural indicators that describe what it looks like to see this behaviour, what can be expected from leaders, and what employees feel empowered to do. Giving examples of what values look like in action, such as ‘Trust is being able to ask the team what you have missed, or delegating work to employees who can assist with supporting’. ‘Learning looks like identifying any potential problems early and telling the team what can be done’. This helps people to create their own definitions and align with the business vision. 

By doing this, it gives people a practical view of what can be expected from them in terms of ‘living the values’. With more clarity around behaviour, it gives employees more freedom to perform which is empowering. There may also be differences in what people expect that is apparent across national cultures, for example. Allow and support difference – it is all about having the conversation that allows people to personalise values and therefore adopt them. You may have considerations over how HR processes can emphasise these values (and they can be done through performance, reward, and development). 

  1. Consider better performance, reward, and benefit structures. Startups need to think about compensation and benefits – pay scales that show you where and how the organisation can grow. End of year bonus rewards for performance can be useful for long term stability, as opposed to rewarding through promotion or on-the-spot rewards. It is easier to think of promotion in terms of finding out the right job fit for the person’s capacity for the moment – one that allows them to thrive.
  1. Define strategy that aligns with value-added to clients and across teams. Strategy has to be driven from the top, aligned with performance goals driven by the value afforded to the client, and divulged across teams. By communicating with teams around how they contribute to goals, what capacity they have, understanding what value they add to the client, and how they collaborate, it is possible to map team capacity and roles into a strategic, value-driven plan of delivery. Where value processes may not be understood, or overall strategic goals not investigated across teams, silos can develop in the organisation with delivery teams operating entirely separately. 
  1. Implement process and structure to empower managers and employees: 
    1. With more structure and clarity in strategic objectives, as well as HR processes that outline how line managers are responsible for staff, managers are empowered to manage their teams in terms of performance, hire, reward and development. This means there is less pressure on the founding team to manage day-to-day delivery and they can step into a more strategic role.
    2. Having a clear chain of authority and reports is essential for ensuring the right issues, approvals, and escalations are handled correctly. 
    3. Managers should be operating with a handful of direct reports – an overburden here can be detrimental, so levels of staff, team leads, and line managers are important. HR processes will outline what each level is responsible for. 

Engage with an OD practitioner or occupational psychologist early in the conception of a start-up. It reaps huge benefits further down the line. It allows a business to manage their (often explosive and expansive) growth appropriately, create a culture that reflects their values and business vision, hire people who will bring the right skills and attitude into the business, and provide resolution for issues and progression within careers.

Unsure of where to begin with your needs, or keen to chat to someone? Contact us today and speak to one of our experts.

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