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Managers at high growth companies

Hey People Managers: Stop Overreacting to Headlines

Posted August 21, 2019 By Amy Pooser

This article, by Convene’s Chief People Officer Amy Pooser, originally appeared on HR.com

Trying to keep up with the latest people management trends can be a dizzying task. One expert will say the open office is the future of design, then another says it a failure. A new book will declare the end of performance reviews, then a viral blog post will explain why they’re actually perfect for feedback-hungry millennials. The pendulum swings with every passing headline and buzzy trend—and far too many people managers follow them blindly.

During my career, I’ve worked with many high-growth companies and have been dismayed at how fast company leaders change policy based on the latest trends. One young CEO insisted on implementing Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) at his organization after he read John Doerr’s, Measure What Matters. OKRs are aspirational goals for each employee, a strategy that worked wonders at Intel and Google. But his startup was far too immature and fast-changing for such a program. They didn’t have the infrastructure and oversight to forecast and track multiple goals for every single employee—and employees ended up being judged—and compensated—based on obsolete goals created months earlier. The CEO’s knee-jerk reaction created an organizational whiplash that hurt morale, culture, and productivity—three things that are especially crucial to high-growth companies. In the end, the OKR experiment was a big waste of time and money—and led to a costly turnover and employee engagement problems.

Examples like this are happening all the time. A CEO will read the latest blog post or business book, throw incredible resources at implementing a new program, then watch it fail. Why? Because every management strategy isn’t right for every business—especially in high-growth businesses where change is the only constant.

What’s a high-growth people manager to do? It’s simple: Stop reacting to every trend. Instead, map your people infrastructure—management style, compensation models, and physical space—to your particular business and competitive differentiation. A one-size-fits-all approach just won’t work. Here are five easy ways high-growth organizations can stay calm amidst a storm of generic advice and implement the right programs for their organizations.

Hire people with growth-company DNA.

High-growth companies need smart people with strong emotional intelligence and enduring positivity. Those employees must be able to deal with extreme ambiguity in a fast-changing environment. They’re calm when their job changes every few months, lean into new challenges and figure out ways to continue contributing at high levels. They need people who write the playbook, not execute the playbook. People with growth-company DNA think on their feet, aren’t satisfied with the status quo and relish the opportunity to create new business categories. Most of all, they realize that growth is the be-all-end-all goal.

Expect change and embrace it.

Managing a growth company is very much like parenting. You have to change your parenting style to match your child’s developmental stage. If you parent a two-year-old the same way you parent an 18-year-old, you’re going to be in trouble—and so is your kid. The same is true at high-growth companies. You have to evolve to meet the growing and changing needs of the company and where it is in its maturity cycle.

Implement incentive compensation tied to performance.

High-growth companies don’t have the luxury of paying exorbitant salaries and hoping people succeed. Instead, tie compensation to individual and team performance. Particularly at senior levels, you want people who have an equity stake in the company so they balance the short-term thinking rewarded with their cash bonuses with longer-term thinking that’s good for the company. They have to think like owners of the company and their compensation needs to reflect that. And, as the organization matures and the capitalization table changes accordingly, growth companies must continue to evolve their compensation strategy to match the new company and market dynamics.

Build an agile solution.

Build people infrastructure solutions that are thoughtful but don’t take forever to create and implement. Spending two years and hundreds of thousands on the perfect people management infrastructure is a waste. By the time you finish the project, it’ll be obsolete. Instead, set the expectations with employees that you’re purposely building an agile solution and that change is coming. When you implement a new iteration to the plan, explain why you made the change and why it’s beneficial for the organization.

Know when it’s time to say goodbye.

Some people just aren’t right for a high-growth company. Perhaps they were employees in the early days of a startup who can’t find their footing in a growing organization. Or perhaps they were hired from large companies but don’t mesh well in a company measuring growth over all other metrics. If the company is outpacing them in terms of their development, they have to move to another role without it causing a massive hit to their ego. Or they may need to move out of the company. But that can still be a positive experience for everybody. Your performance management process, and ultimately your separation process, needs to support a healthy uncoupling—the same way evolved adults take a “conscious uncoupling” approach when they divorce. Being honest with them is better for the employee and better for the company.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to people and culture and people infrastructure. The good news is that with some thought and attention to your organization’s stage and competitive differentiation, you can build people systems and processes that deliver outsized outcomes for employees and your business.

Amy Bridget Pooser is Chief People Officer at Convene. She is also the founder of New Fashioned, CEO of Certain Ability, and a board member and Chief People Officer of Product Lab, LLC.


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