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Growing Companies Can Still Excite Employees with Startup Energy Even When No Longer a Startup

Those early days are a blast but at some point, the fun becomes work. This entrepreneur figured out how to maintain the same excitement in later stages.

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BY Kevin Daum - 06 Jan 2018

Growing Companies Can Still Excite Employees with Startup Energy Even When No Longer a Startup

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Many employees are attracted to startups at the very beginning, when the company seems to be bursting with the energy of possibility. Potential hires are drawn to the inspiring story and strong leadership. But as your business grows, you need to continue the excitement for employees both new and old. Keeping employees psyched becomes difficult as they confront the realities of a maturing business. There is constant change and constant pressure to maintain growth. You want to keep the same enthusiasm that defined your original employees.

YPO member Scott Harper made it through the difficult navigation from startup to thriving business several times. Along the way he’s found ways to maintain passion in all his employees, regardless of tenure. And his efforts are being recognized: Harper received a 2016 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award. His current company, Dialexa, which designs custom technology solutions, was named to the Entrepreneur.com 2017 Entrepreneur360 list of The Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America.

Harper has learned from experience how to keep veterans enthusiastic and get new hires to buy in. Here are hiss tips for onboarding new employees without losing that startup edge:

1. Don’t Lose What Made Your Company Unique

Balancing the old and new is a difficult part of company growth. Harper says leaders need to identify what should stay and what needs to go. He advises, “Accept what can’t scale, and if it’s important, find ways to evolve it. Be a megaphone of what makes your company special and unique.” But here he offers a warning, too: “Don’t let nostalgia hold your culture hostage as your company scales. Your company culture will change, so manage it with each new hire and achievement milestone.” Make culture a company priority. When change inevitably comes, adopt what’s good, and immediately halt what doesn’t fit.

2. Share the Company History

Harper reminds entrepreneurs that new employees can’t embrace a history they don’t know. “Record your company history, and share it regularly,” Harper says. “Spend time with new employees and make sure they understand where your company comes from and how it has grown. Then, reference it frequently in company communications.” Make this history part of your company’s institutional knowledge that’s passed down with each new onboard. Keep the knowledge fresh so everyone stays connected to the roots.

3. Don’t Hire Too Far Ahead…

Harper loves growing companies, but he preaches caution when it comes to hiring. “Look at what talent you need for the next few years, not the next 10 years,” he advises. “Otherwise you risk bringing on people whose skills you don’t yet need. And if you do that, their value will not be recognized and manifested,” he says. Harper offers sales as an example: “Building a sales team is critical to growth. But make sure they’re selling what you actually do and who you actually are.” Even if you hire the best talent, hiring a position your company isn’t ready for may make you less efficient.

4. …And Shift Your Hiring As You Grow

At the birth of a business, Harper stresses hard work. “Initially, you want to hire a team full of workers who will make that attitude part of the culture.” But as your company grows and changes, so must your hires. Harper says, “Eventually, leadership and managers will need to become delegators, so they can scale and provide opportunities for team members to expand their own skillsets.” Further, growing companies need to shift from generalist employees to specialists. Harper explains, “The typical structure of most startups is that everyone does everything, from sales, marketing, and execution, to cleaning the workspace and picking up supplies. But as you grow, you need to bring in specialized talent to accelerate growth.” Finally, Harper considers operations and organization at the same time. He warns, “If you are not careful, you can end up with an inefficient organizational structure that does not meet your future operational needs - which can impede growth.” This is no easy process, and leadership must manage it carefully and constantly.

5. No Company Is Big Enough for Big Egos

Size matters. In a startup or an established business, huge egos don’t leave room for anyone else. So Harper allows no space for it. “It doesn’t matter how important the hire is,” he says. “If they have too much of an ego and it disrupts your culture, they have to go.” He further warns that “if they’re all talk and no work, they need to go.” To Harper, leadership’s job is to monitor closely. He says, “There’s nothing wrong with bringing fresh energy into the company to help with accelerating to new levels and energizing the broader company. But you need to stay vigilant and manage where necessary.” Take action immediately, before even a hint of rot sets in.

6. Sometimes Addition Requires Subtraction

No manager has a perfect hiring record, and sometimes the health of the company requires uncomfortable change. Harper is familiar with this reality, explaining, “Unfortunately as you grow, you may lose some of your original team members, or find that new hires simply don’t fit. Sometimes the company grows bigger than their skills can handle, or they aren’t able to focus their skills where the business needs them.” You may find that a more dramatic shift requiring new leadership is necessary. Whatever happens, Harper says to be straightforward: “When these changes are necessary, be transparent about it. Explain how these changes will help the company grow, and help the individuals grow as well.” Be frank with your employees. They will respect your honesty, and hopefully evaluate their own performance, too.

Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside YPO, the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.

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