Prescient Consulting, owned by Iowa City’s Jeff Nock, is a planning and growth consulting company that has helped many companies and startups achieve their goals. One thing that Nock has noticed is that many businesses are eager to grow, but their leadership teams aren’t always ready to grow alongside the company. He has some important advice for leadership development that is relevant for all phases of company growth.
Preparing Leadership for Scaling Up
Experienced business leaders know that when a business changes, its leadership needs to evolve. This can be difficult for businesses of all sizes but particularly smaller businesses and new ventures because they may not have experienced leadership at the new larger level and therefore may need coaching and mentoring to learn how to evolve with the company.
Jeff Nock of Iowa has found, as a leader and mentor/consultant to over 200 startups and small businesses, that when beginning to scale, knowing when to adjust your leadership style is difficult. If you adjust too quickly, the new structure can squash the entrepreneurial spirit that is key to ongoing growth and company culture. Wait too long and your team won’t have the structure it needs to take advantage of growth opportunities.
So, Jeff Nock asks, when is the right time to scale your company’s leadership? Often we see startups filled with self-starters who require little direction. These people get things done with incredible speed and freewheeling cowboy spirit.
But Entrepreneur.com shares from their contributors, this works for a while, but as companies grow, they evolve into needing more structure. This can be very hard for startup founders who thrive in these “cowboy” work environments. But there comes a time when company leaders need to in essence grow up and maintain the entrepreneurial company culture while also implementing processes that standardize the companies most common workflows. This allows more work to be completed, more efficiently. In essence, more consistent, high-quality work, less “winging it”.
As the business grows, the leadership structure needs to branch out and specialize. Even if your company still is wholly located in Iowa City, for example, at a certain point, there’s a need for separate departments, then district management, then a more complex system based on regional management and a central headquarters, and so on. Founders and CEOs can’t keep on taking on additional responsibilities themselves: Eventually, they have to hand off those responsibilities to a larger executive team. Company leaders who become more and more and more strategic and fewer doers and empower others to lead the day to day operations scale faster than companies whose founders stay mired in the day today. But what does that look like?
Jeff Nock has three key concepts that these leaders should understand and work on followed by much more detail on Mentorship Programs.
- Learn to lead managers.
One of the biggest transitions a founder will make is from leading individual contributors to leading other leaders or managers. It takes a different skill set and focus to effectively do this.
The most important parts of this transition are strategic planning and training. Be clear with your new managers about what their personal and team responsibilities are, how those responsibilities directly connect to the overall strategic plan, and how you expect the various responsibilities to be prioritized. Secondly, make sure they have the mentoring, learning resources, and support to become effective managers.
Provide a set of good videos/articles/content they can reference, as well as an assigned mentor they can call upon who’s outside of their direct org chart command. As the leader, you set the culture, meaning the morals and values of the company and how work will be done, but once your managers are off and running, let them make mistakes and develop their own leadership styles, rather than trying to impose your own. Everybody leads differently, and it depends on team dynamics and personal styles.
- Transition from presence to process.
When a startup is young, leaders have to be hands-on and physically present every day. Once a company scales, however, a leader’s physical and mental presence needs to transition to leading rather than doing. To focus on the future. One study (Entrepreneur.com) shows managers waste up to 80% of their time on things that have little to no impact on their companies’ long-term value — and micromanaging employees falls squarely into that category.
That is why it’s key to transition your leadership skills from presence to process. Do this by applying organizational processes that ensure clear communication — communication effectiveness is the clear differentiator amongst businesses that scale and those that don’t. It is a key component of successful leadership, especially when founders aren’t able to bump into everyone on a daily basis.
- Prepare to delegate or automate administrative duties.
As your team grows, so will your administrative burden. At some point, you’ll have to decide whether you’re going to continue handling all this administrative work yourself or if you want to delegate the repetitive/trainable tasks to others.
- Tasks such as expense reports and payroll can be taken off your plate by delegating them to the department level.
- Lead by trust and verify. Let others do the day to day things they are probably better at than you anyway and use online reporting and other tools to verify everything is going as planned.
- Don’t micro-manage, trust, verify, and reward good work.
Creating Coaching and Mentorship Programs
Jeff Nock of Iowa reports that companies are increasingly investing in career mentorship for their leadership team to boost:
- Employee retention
- Succession planning
Whether you’re a startup, a small Iowa company, or a fast-growing global workforce, Jeff Nock recommends offering a mentorship program as a leadership perk to fuel company growth and hire and retain great talent–because all your employees’ friends work at companies who are investing in their career growth. In addition, as companies grow, diversity becomes more and more important. From thought, experience, and geographical perspectives, great growing companies embrace people from all ethnic and strategic backgrounds.
According to Inc.com, whether you are located in Iowa or in a major tech hub, mentorship as a perk is the new La Croix–except that it’s a lot more meaningful and effective in breaking silos and building a productive workforce. That said most mentorship programs fail because of:
- Poor program management
- Lack of executive buy-in
- Poor mentor-mentee matching
- Lack of structure and resources for mentors and mentees to navigate their conversations.
Pulling from Inc.com and personal experience, Jeff Nock of Iowa offers five basic fundamentals to help you build a mentorship program that actually works.
- Start with “Why?”
The most important part of setting up a mentorship program is explaining to mentors why they as individuals will benefit from participating. For example, you can email all potential mentors (in this case they are outside the company) and share with them how valuable you feel their leadership knowledge is and that it would be truly rewarding to be able to help the next generation of leaders learn from their experience. Most successful people enjoy sharing their experiences with others. They also enjoy free meals and beverages so promising mentors get-togethers that offer such libations, as well as good networking, is also a draw. For mentees, they can get ongoing mentorship from a more experienced leader who has already accomplished what they want to accomplish.
In the end, yes the mentorship program is meant to help fuel company growth, but it also must be clear that the program will be enjoyable for the mentors and help each mentee with their career growth. To effectively communicate this to leaders, you need to establish your program goals first. Why do you want to develop leaders? If it is because your leadership team is weak then you have another problem. All leadership teams and all people can improve. It needs to be made clear that the company is in the process of going from one level to the next and the mentor program is intended to help all leaders achieve their own personal potential. No matter how much experience a person has, there is always someone who has more. And you as the leader need to set the tone by having a mentor as well.
- Match based on mentee/company goals
Jeff Nock recommends matching leaders based on both their goals and the company’s strategic goals. As each individual leader will want to productively spend their time in mentor sessions that are clearly benefiting their future and as the company will be monitoring traction made in the strategic plan, this mentor program strategy ensures that leaders show up with a sense of urgency and actually follow through otherwise the relationship will fizzle out. So, as a second layer, Jeff Nock of Iowa recommends taking into account logistical preferences for matching mentors with mentees. Some people are comfortable with online ZOOM meetings meaning their mentor can be located anywhere, others prefer to actually meet in person (so if the company is in Iowa City, for example, the mentor needs to live in the area). What has the mentor accomplished that both the mentee and the company will learn from? Consider the mentees’ preference for their preferences for being matched with a fellow person of color, parent, immigrant, etc.
- Equip them with conversation topics
According to Inc.com, most mentees don’t know how to navigate these conversations. Often, mentors don’t know how to build momentum and give guidance. Jeff Nock of Iowa recommends a brief 30-minute training video be shared with all mentees at the launch of the program to go over the basics of mentorship and what’s expected of both mentors and mentees. After you make the matches, you can send them a document suggesting conversation topics for the first three meetings.
- Train them to follow through
The thing that bothers mentors the most is when mentees don’t follow-through on what they agree to do between meetings. It’s extremely important that mentees understand the importance of respecting the mentors’ time and to do what they say they are going to do. Mentees must focus on driving the relationship (that means sending follow up thank-you notes, scheduling the next meeting, sending their agenda before the meeting, and so on) and hold mentors accountable to treat mentorship meetings as they would treat an important work meeting.
- Celebrate success stories
Finally, celebrate success stories! Something as small as giving a shoutout to impactful mentors at your company all-hands meeting or hosting a luncheon for the mentors and mentees to network with the entire cohort will go a long way.
In summary, Jeff Nock of Iowa explains companies that want to scale need to make sure their leadership team scales first. The best way to do that is to establish new work processes that standardize consistent, high-quality outputs and let leaders spend more time leading and less time doing. In addition, every leader benefits from a strong mentor. Someone who has already done what the leader wants to do. We all need to reserve the right to get smarter and good leadership development helps both the company and the leader get smarter and better!