Roadmap to success
The 17 most important performance management decisions you need to make as a leadership team to build a high-growth organisation. Understand what they are, make them, and your business will thrive.
If you’re awesome, you’ll succeed. If you succeed, you’ll grow. As you grow, the scale will change everything and, then, you won’t be awesome anymore — unless you change a lot of what made you awesome in the first place. This is known as the scale up paradox. In a nutshell, what got you here, won’t get you there! The ability to recognise this and change yourself and your business is what separates great businesses from brands that have faded into obscurity.
Knowing what to change, when to change and how to change is the very essence of scaling up.
Take as an example the way we manage performance. A start-up can run everything on ‘check-ins’. Through frequent check-ins you can zero in on who’s doing what, by when and how. You can keep on top of how things are going and whether you need a course correction. The check-in system is awesome. Until it’s not.
Because you can’t run everything on check-ins when there are 30 people around. The ‘check-in’ system basically means that you are the system. You, the founders, keep everything together. This means you’re the bottleneck. Your personal bandwidth is the ultimate ceiling on your growth. And that is bad news for your health — and your business.
If you’re awesome, and you succeed, and grow, it won’t be long until you can’t sleep because of the many loose threads in your brain: Tasks you need to assign headspace to, projects and people you’re not ‘on top of’, discussions to be had that you can’t get to.
So, to get some sleep, you’ll be forced to take delegation to another level. This is not simply a question of giving away tasks or projects; it means giving away responsibility for entire parts of the business. That’s scary. But if you have great people, it’s also liberating.
Now you’re sleeping again. For a while. Because if your people are awesome, you’ll succeed, and you’ll grow, and pretty soon the balls will be dropping again. You’ll realise that what you assumed people were doing, they’re not doing, just because they assumed they should be doing other things. And you’ll long for the days of the ‘check-in’ system when you could be on top of everything through enough ‘check-ins’. But there’s no going back now. You’re too big. You simply can’t check-in with everyone when you’re at or beyond the 30-person mark.
Maybe you’re having a conversation with someone at that point, and they tell you about OKR: Objectives and Key Results. Now there’s a system you can hang your keys on! A rhythm to align on key priorities and targets every two or four weeks (or every month or quarter, if you’re a bit more mature).
Liberation! Suddenly you can be on top of everything without the check-in overwhelm. It’s a thing of beauty, really. Until it’s not.
Because if you’re awesome, and you succeed, and you grow, the day will come when those balls will once again drop. And it won’t be because the senior team aren’t doing what you agreed when you set your quarterly OKRs. It will be because the business is too complex now for OKRs. OKRs still rely on a lot of manual alignment through collaboration and regular ‘check-ins’ at the operating level. Even simpler than that, the balls are dropping because, suddenly, there are a whole lot of new people issues you have never had to deal with before at this level:
- Accountability vacuums: A rising tendency for important things to fall into ‘no man’s land’ with nobody accountable for them
- Major differences in contribution: A rising number of people in cruise mode while the rest of the team do all the work
- Performance politics: Lots of high performers are unhappy because people aren’t being treated fairly. Slackers are getting good reviews and rewards just because their managers are lenient; high performers, on the other hand, are getting the same as them because their team has higher standards
- Compensation politics: People aren’t satisfied that bonuses and increase decisions are being made fairly
- High Performance Culture slide: All of this is causing relational friction and culture issues that are impacting performance.
So, right now, there’s way too much going on for OKRs and ‘check-ins’ to work. Things need more alignment and coordination than you’re going to get through your team interactions. You need a new way of aligning the different parts of the business without falling into ‘check-in overwhelm’.
You need a performance architecture with more processes and systems that maintain alignment across teams. Big words. Corporate words, which we know entrepreneurs tend to dislike. But let’s understand them.
Basically what they mean is that, around about this time, performance management needs a major upgrade. Why? And how should you do performance management? Isn’t it an awful relic of industrial-age corporate management, which is why so many top employers are moving to something new?
True enough. The dilemma is that a lot of the new age buzz about liberating talent to thrive without backward-looking performance reviews don’t work in most contexts; most often, it will break things even more than a frustrating, antiquated performance management system would.
The reality is that performance management is much more complex than an annual review and, furthermore, is definitely not a ‘one-size fits all’ approach.
If you’re scaling up and keen to build a scalable performance management system that works in your context (and at the same time reinforces your greatest culture assets), here are 17 of the most important performance management decisions you will need to make as a leadership team.
Performance management intent: What is the main goal of our performance management system? Accountability for performance, coaching for development and improved performance, or both? Harvard Business Review says this is a 70-year old debate. Don’t assume your other leaders see this the same way you do.
Individual appraisals: Do we believe that focusing on individual appraisals would result in better — or worse — business performance? Does it adversely affect team work and a ‘looking beyond my scorecard’ mentality?
Standardisation: Given that various parts of the business are so different, should we be doing the same thing across the business? How do we do performance management differently (if we even should) in areas as different as engineering, sales and customer service?
Target setting processes: Should targets be set from the top down, bottom up, or some combination of the two?
Nature of targets: Should performance targets be activity targets, behaviour targets, intermediate outcome targets (closest to ultimate outcome, that are fully within control) or ultimate outcome targets (even if not within our control)?
Bonuses: Should we link rewards to personal performance ratings? Some say that you should just pay really well and bake everything into a fixed bonus, or into basic compensation, and fire the non-performers. Which works best?
Bonus pool formula: Which proportion of an individual’s bonus should be determined by either individual contribution versus the performance of their team or division, or the business as a whole?
Long-term incentives: What percentage of variable incentive remuneration (VIR) should be long term, and which should be deferred to future years/long term (LTIR)?
Increases: How should performance ratings affect salary increases?
Formal or informal feedback: What is the right balance between formal appraisal and informal continuous feedback?
Feedback sources: Are there objective measures? If not, who gives input to the appraisal? If there are multiple parties, how are their inputs weighted? Is a line manager’s feedback more important than multiple, non-line individuals or ‘bosses’?
Performance appraisal scale: How do we summarise individual performance assessments?
Appraisal frequency: How often do we appraise performance and give feedback? Would this be per assignment or based on time, such as weekly, monthly, quarterly, bi-annually or annually?
Bonuses versus career investment and opportunity: How do we decide which individuals to prioritise for investment in growth and promotions? How do we balance bonuses versus investment in learning, development and promotions?
Dealing with high performance that doesn’t produce results: What do we do when people perform well, but don’t deliver the business results due to issues outside their control?
Performance management roles: Who does what in the performance management process? What belongs to HR? What belongs to line managers?
Performance management software: When do we move from Excel (or similar) to software products that streamline this process? What are the best packages for our business? (Small Improvements and Engagedly are our top recommendations).
Walter Penfold, MD Everlytic
- Fire faster. Bad performers are toxic for the culture. Use the three-month probation period brutally. The culture impact of firing fast is much superior to that of firing slow.
- Attune to sentiment. Many poor performers are great at upward management. They can look like performers to you, but people around them know the truth. Stay attuned to, and respond to grumblings.
- Give immediate, direct feedback on any performance issues. This should never wait for a formal performance review. We do a formal 360-review once a year.
- Keep it super simple to start — we definitely over-complicated it.
- Centre on weekly one-on-one meetings. Then performance management becomes the way you work, not a chat between strangers once a quarter.
Stuart Townsend, Edge Growth
Be realistic. Our training budgets are not realistic enough to enable people to build the competencies we need them to have to deliver the outcomes we expect.
Brad Magrath, Co-founder, Zoona
- Invest in growing your managers. We over-estimated the ability of young, inexperienced managers to have honest candid constructive conversations. If they suck at having good performance management discussions, the whole system breaks down.
- Non-performers weren’t scored as non-performers, leading to ugly train smashes down the line.
- Bad managers give good ratings to bad performers.
- Invest in creating role clarity. Performance management didn’t work well initially because we lacked role clarity and agreed metrics.
- Focus on behaviours, not just outputs.
- Ensure managers are deliberate around context of feedback: Is it coaching, is it performance, is it brainstorming? Be clear on why the conversation is happening so the message is not mixed.
- Get huge buy in from the beginning — we didn’t do enough of this. Then people don’t actually do appraisals well and the whole system breaks down again.
- What you measure is what you get — A-players like the idea of being performance measured objectively. Make sure the metrics are totally objective and have integrity.
The ability to recognise that what got you here won’t get you there is the first step towards building a high-impact, significant business.
5 Lessons On Scaling Up Your Company From An EOY Winner
It takes a combination of grit, hard work and the right strategies to navigate the challenges of the scale up journey. What do some entrepreneurs do differently to make it to the top?
Building a successful company is really hard. Even when you have made it through the start-up phase – product development, market fit, building a team, earning first traction – the process of scaling up remains a challenging road.
Louw Barnardt CA(SA), recently named the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year at the Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® Awards, shared his five top lessons learnt from fast-growing clients and from their own journey of scaling up Outsourced CFO to twenty five full time professionals.
“There are many stumbling blocks that hinder exponential growth at the scale up phase. Successful start-up founders do not always have the right skill set and experience to build a business from five to fifty people or from twenty to two hundred.”
Louw and his team have taken the concept of an ‘Outsourced CFO’ – a go-to finance person for emerging companies – and built a very exciting business from it. “There are hundreds of lessons one learns on the journey of building a scale-up company. These five stand out among all of the biggest lessons learnt.
1. Invest in People
Doing business is all about people. In start-up phase, founders are able to manage almost everything. From the social media post to the invoicing to the recruitment – it all falls on you. One founder can manage this for a short while and a founder team for a bit longer, but somewhere between five and twenty people this changes. The founders can no longer make every call, have every meeting, answer every client query.
It’s critical to build a solid leadership team and then to equip them with enough autonomy and authority to run with the various portfolio’s within the company. Put a head of HR, head of sales, head of client engagements, head of operation and head of finance in place as soon as you can and keep investing in them – it’s the only way to scale out of start-up mode.
2. Manage Cash Flow
The finance function sits at the heart of every business. If the numbers don’t add up, everything comes to nothing quite fast. Founders need to make sure that they have a firm eye fixed on financials. New cloud systems enable entrepreneurs to have access to every detail of revenue, profitability, debtors and cash flow in real time.
That’s right – exact live financial information at your fingertips for decision-making. Foreseeing cash crunches ahead of time and actively being able to navigate to avoid them makes all the difference in the scale-up process. Growth eats cash, so be sure to manage yours on the way up.
3. Streamline and Automate
A start-up can afford to do what needs to be done in the moment. Scale-ups cannot. Automation of company processes is key to enable scale in various company functions.
Automate your sales process with a tool like Sales Force or HubSpot. Automate your marketing with a tool like Hootsuite. Automate your finance with a tool like Xero. Automate your company culture input with a tool like Hi5. Putting a good system in place and investing in the understanding and utilisation of all of its functions is a prerequisite for high growth.
4. Prioritise Strategy
As execution becomes a bigger and bigger part of your company, the strategy that directs that execution plays an ever-increasing role. The most successful management teams set and stick to good habits around strategy: Annual breakaways to direct long term strategy. Quarterly strategy days to cement key strategic priorities for the next 90 days and the likes.
It may seem counterintuitive to have your full management team out of action for so many full days of work, but putting the right strategy in place to execute is the real deep work required to scale.
5. Brand and Awareness is key
The value of owning a top brand and of being top of mind with all your stakeholders cannot be overstated. A stronger brand lifts the market’s perceived value of your offering. Continuously starting conversations and finding ways of reminding your networks and target market of who you are and what amazing things you are doing opens up ever-bigger opportunities that play a huge part in creating scale for our top entrepreneurs.
“Building a company is hard work. But if you do it smartly, the juice is worth the squeeze many times over. Make these five lessons your own to hack the scale up journey as you build the business of your dreams.”
Use Growth To Help You Live Like A Hero
Often strengths become weaknesses as we progress through our business journey. If you want to remain the hero, you need to focus on growth.
“Do our heroes fall from grace? Sometimes.
However, what makes them a hero is that they fight and crawl their way back to the top. You aren’t a hero because you were once great. You are a hero because you continually strive to be great.”
I am a big Batman fan. The 2008 film, The Dark Knight, gave us an iconic line. In it Harvey Dent, who later becomes Two Face, says, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
It’s a cutting view of a fall from grace: How our heroes often become vilified through their actions or our perceptions of them.
But I would like to suggest a different context for this quote. As an entrepreneur, you must develop certain qualities and characteristics to become successful. The problem is that those same qualities and characteristics, once the tools that pushed you to success, can at a later stage become the stumbling blocks that prevent you from progress.
Growth beyond abilities
Here’s a quick example. You wake up one morning with a great idea. Soon after, your idea has been translated into action and your business is up and running. You find yourself jumping between different roles. Sales. Marketing. Accounting. Operations. All your time and energy gets funnelled into the business. You work late at night. Sure, it impacts your social life but at least you don’t have a family to worry about.
Then, growth. Things change. And your superpowers become weaknesses. You need to hire a team to help with the increasing demand on the business. But you struggle to let go. You want to hang on to your ability to control every aspect of the business. It’s how you have always done it. It’s what led you to success. However, the business requires you to change with it. To learn a new skill; finding the right team and trusting them with your dream.
You might then find yourself in a serious relationship or married. Perhaps even a kid. And the amount of time that you can dedicate to the business is impacted. You must find ways of staying productive at work while making time for your family and close relationships. Your previous ability to pull all-nighters becomes futile in the face of new expectations as you need to divide your time in a meaningful way.
What once was a strength now becomes a weakness, and this happens much faster than you might think. So, how do you prevent your superhero abilities from withering?
Truth in reflection
Everything we do starts from knowing. You would be surprised to know how much of your behaviour is driven by subconscious programming that you grew over the years.
Since this behaviour becomes a part of your identity it becomes almost impossible to see how it affects the way you interact with the world and those around you.
So, the only way to really create a new set of behaviours is to pause the auto-play function. And for this to happen you need self-awareness and reflection. You do this by creating time for meditation, journaling, and spending time with a coach or mentor.
In my experience, entrepreneurs are pretty good at learning new things. Especially in the early days. So, as your business grows, you need to grow with it. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs get left behind. It’s much more ideal if your growth drives business growth than the other way around.
I am not going to harp on about this because I think there are more than enough resources that can help you to evolve your thinking, and they aren’t hard to find, in fact you are holding such a resource in your hands right now.
People Are Mirrors Too
The people around you are pretty good at holding a mirror up to you. They aren’t always aware that they are doing so. They hold up the mirror by reacting to you in a certain way and by speaking to and about you in a certain way.
If you are paying attention, then you will pick up on the clues that they leave behind. You will be able to read between the lines and hear their cries for support, encouragement, and trust. But of course, what you are seeing is not a reflection of them but rather a reflection of you.
What part of your identity is robbing people of support? What have you done that created a culture of mistrust?
It all comes back to you and the way you have been conditioned and how you are, in turn, conditioning those around you.
You can stay the hero
That’s why you can’t give up. Heroes don’t give up. — Kiera Cass
The Secret To Growth For SMEs May Be Found In An Audit
Despite the cost vs benefit argument and the burden that obtaining an audit places on the company, the advantages may outweigh the disadvantages.
An audit is an inspection of your business accounts, including accounting systems documents and invoices. The goal of an audit is to determine if the financial statements are representing an accurate view of the company. However, not all businesses need to be audited. In the case of companies, the Companies Act (“the Act”) clearly stipulates which companies require an audit and the requirements are confined more to larger companies.
These requirements exclude a large number of small companies, which contribute 98% to the South African economy and they deliver approximately 28% of jobs in the country (Business Tech; 2018). Small companies are excluded because there is generally no distinction between ownership and management, so the audit objective of giving assurance to the owners becomes less important. Where the owners are not the managers but the company is still small, the Act provides a less onerous “Independent Review” option.
However, some smaller companies still benefit from an audit process as opposed to a review. Keeping in mind the cost vs benefit counter argument, recent publications in The Accountant (2018) and by Roberge (2017) explain some of the major benefits are as follows:
- Assists in obtaining funding from investors and banks – Providing these parties with audited financials will provide them with certainty and comfort that investors will get a return on their investments and more certainty that the loans will be repaid.
- Identifies problems and weaknesses within the company’s accounting system where the system might not be tracking certain transactions correctly.
- Uncovers fraud – This includes instances where employees or management are stealing inventory or other assets from the company. An auditor may be able to identify discrepancies and assist the company in implementing systems that will eliminate these problems in future.
- Identify poor accounting practices – It is hard to see these issues unless you can view the overall picture, which is possible with an audit.
- Improves tax planning – An external audit can assist in ensuring that you are ready for tax season and that you are leveraging tax write-offs and benefits as much as possible. By having proper records and planning, taxes are less stressful and easier to file.
- Strengthens the credibility of the company’s financial records – This is important if you are planning to sell the business in a couple of years time. When you have documented information that demonstrates the success and progress of your company over multiple years, then it will be easier to prove the financial security of the business and make it more appealing to buyers.
- Provides a clear understanding of the financial situation of your company – A good audit will ensure that your accounting records give you a precise picture of everything that is occurring within your business so you can make accurate judgements about the financial situation of your company.
- Educates business owners by emphasising the importance of accounting information in business – Auditors may provide business owners with information on current accounting issues, educational seminars to improve their companies’ accounting process, and other “added value” services.
Despite the cost vs benefit argument and the burden that obtaining an audit places on the company, the advantages may outweigh the disadvantages. Therefore small companies should carefully consider the above points and, if appropriate, volunteer to be audited. This will not only assist them as they grow, it will also yield other welcome unexpected benefits.
Read next: My Business Is Growing… What Now?
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