Firing up the leaders in fast-growing tech

High growth businesses need high growth people. Technology start-ups and scale-ups are an example of an environment where the rapid growth of the business demands that its employees develop at the same pace.

Fast growth challenges

It’s often the case that in a high growth organisations or teams the individuals who are technically competent or high performing will quickly be promoted to managers. New managers can find their teams growing outwards, requiring their day to day to be dominated by management duties. Yet on many occasions, due to the pace of the business, they’ve never had a chance to think about what management is. Coaching, feedback, and development discussions are crucial skills that all new managers need to bring more conscious awareness to. Fail to allow these new managers to do so and you’ve likely got an engagement and retention issue on your hands, even if it takes a while to show.

Then, just when someone feels like they’ve got their head around management, a key leader may suddenly move on and the individual finds themselves stretched again into a strategic leadership position. With their day to day management hat on, they can’t see where or how they should carve out time for the required higher-level thinking at this next level. It’s important that leaders develop time to review the vision for the future and plan out how to manage the change needed to get there.

Learning in the fast lane

Over the last five months, we’ve been working to develop the leadership and management capability of a growing tech company. We designed and set up a programme to tackle these classic growth challenges where speed still needs to be maintained. We needed to prepare the future leaders for the next step and the step after that, whilst encouraging them to take a more pro-active role in their leadership development.

Yet because this company is much smaller than a FTSE 100, and ambitious in growth with a strong alignment to agile in how they work, we needed to adapt our approach. Instead of a big bang leadership programme that takes staff out of the office for multiple days a time and follows a pre-determined structure, we kept this more fluid. Dare I say it, more agile. So, what exactly did we do differently?

Flexible structure

We ran the programme over 6 months with an allocation of time towards a mix of offsite training, coaching, and drop-in sessions. This allowed us to adjust each month based on what we felt the group needed the most. If there was a collective cry for presentation skills before a company event, we could make it happen. Just-in-time skills development.

Small frequent content touches

For years we’ve been training managers and leaders all over the world – where we have all the learning activities, theoretical concepts and materials well refined. So we lined up some modular content but instead of a full week blast, the learning has been spread over six months and adapted for the SaaS context. The frequent touch-points allowed us to ship some learning and get feedback on how it was working so it could be improved each time. The nature of facilitating content over time in small pieces has also created depth of relationships in the cohort and with the facilitators.

Internal project groups

Alongside the core content of the programme, small groups of participants have also worked on various internal projects as a way for them to practice leadership, team-working and, management outside of their day to day roles. Essentially this serves as a petri-dish for testing out the things they’re learning. Projects like improving female recruitment, corporate social responsibility and onboarding have allowed them to manage change from where they are today.

To conclude…

Next time you feel some of those growing pains in a fast-moving workplace, take a step back and think about how a more agile and creative learning delivery approach may support and better suit the skills development of the future managers and leaders of the organisation.