The ultimate trick to scale your company internally

Just recently, the Chief-editor of Sprout, a Dutch platform covering everything happening around start-ups and scaleups, wrote in his column that Dutch companies have a lack of ambition. Ambition poverty is the term.

Because why would you want to keep growing as a company? It brings all sorts of risks and headaches: entering new markets, bringing in new people, changing the organizational structure and managing your cash flow management.  

The reason that the Netherlands isn’t the birth country of more companies like Adyen, WeTransfer or Rituals is not that their founders possess a unique DNA that the rest does not.

He argues that this has more to do with a lack of trust that their product or service will make a difference on the world stage.

And we agree.

Without trust in their product, Philips would never have been able to light up every corner of the earth and James Bond wouldn’t have a green bottle of Heineken to enjoy after a hard day of work.

 

So how do you scale a company internally?

The trick is empowering people through responsibility and accountability.

Still vague but I’ll explain the how and the what, starting with telling you what it’s not.

Giving away responsibility and making people accountable does not mean nurturing a free for all sandbox environment.

I posted an image on Linkedin recently that sums up what we at Story of AMS believe is how you should look at leadership. As a support structure.

 

Leadership StructureLeadership Structure

 

The nuance here is that you do set a clear direction of where the company needs to grow towards, and provide the resources to get there. Then point out what needs to happen.

We want our entire team to feel empowered to go out and do their best work, while also holding each other accountable for goals, growth, and success.

How does this look like in practice?

  • Teammates are empowered to mentor their peers
  • Teammates are empowered and encouraged to provide praise and constructive feedback
  • Teammates are empowered to own their professional growth at Story of AMS

The role of leaders at AMS is to encourage and support the decision-making environment for team members and to give them the tools and knowledge they need to make and act on their own decisions.

This will happen naturally as a small company starting up, but as you scale up the team, you’ll need to invest time in this process.

We have noticed that it’s only when making sure people feel psychologically safe that they feel empowered to make decisions and try new things.

So the real key to scaling your company successfully is by fostering psychological safety in your workplace.

Google developed a list of the 5 key dynamics that make great teams successful.

At the top is psychological safety which happens when team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.

Followed by dependability, structure & clarity, meaning, and impact.

 

Psychological SafetyPsychological Safety

 

Steps to take that encourage psychological safety

According to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, who coined the term:

“Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

Simply put, teams that make more mistakes were actually more successful than others. Why? Because creating an environment in which people feel comfortable to take risks is key to fostering innovation in the workplace.

Empowered teammates are more likely to be powerful, confident individuals who are committed to meaningful goals and who demonstrate initiative and creativity to achieve them. They typically have the freedom to generate novel ideas and the confidence that these ideas will be valued.

Have you ever been in a meeting where no one voiced their opinions, there was not much discussion, and people simply went along with what their manager said? A solid team should be able to bounce ideas off each other, strengthen action plans, help solve issues and provide support to each other.

Just some ideas on how you can encourage empowered accountability within a team.

 

Encourage and support empowerment by literally giving people power.

Let people do their job and don’t second-guess decisions.  If people have the power to make their own decisions, they can take responsibility for their actions on which they can be held accountable.

Do not confuse this with a way for finger pointing. It’s not about that. It’s about knowing who you should talk to for improving what should be done better, and doing more of what is done great.

The whole reason companies want to become more data-driven is so they can see the why, how and what of a certain event happening in the business. To make informed decisions to steer the company in the right direction.

Examples at Story of AMS range from people changing the tool, structure, and tone of voice that we use to write our project proposals to implementing new ways on how finished projects are presented to the client.

 

Show, don’t tell.

Anyone in a position of responsibility should set the example for the rest of the company. This is applicable from senior management, down to team leads and managers. If done properly, the set of behaviors should become a norm across the company.

A couple of things to focus on are acknowledging your mistakes, being open to opinions different than your own, be approachable, and ask for feedback of subordinates.

This is something you have to practice in every facet of leading a team and we like to start as early as we can. After your first week at AMS, you will have a feedback meeting with the CEO and our Head of People where you have to at least answer two questions:

  1. What is something you experienced at AMS, that you would like to see more of?
  2. What is something you missed or experienced at AMS that you think could be done better?

To really set the stage for transparency and remove roadblocks for getting honest feedback, we provide them with answers given by other members of the team who’ve had that conversation a while ago.

The learnings we got from this have been amazing.

 

Articulate the size of one’s ownership  

Outline the scope and area of someone’s responsibility. Someone should not feel like they have to do everything and someone should not have to feel like there work doesn’t make any impact.

 

Creating a safe environment

In order to break free of judgment and strengthen the relationship between team members, it’s important to have an open mindset. Often we look at things from our own lens, but approaching them from a different angle can help bring perspective.

One of the keys to psychological safety is that people feel comfortable voicing their opinions and do not fear being judged. Ideas should be accepted equally and never judged.

Something we did recently to broaden our perspective (not necessarily business related) is that we invited Armen, a Syrian refugee to our office to share his story with us. Nothing gives you more context than seeing how positive someone can be after losing everything.

 

Ultimately, no one knows for sure.

Starting, building, and growing a company is a learning experience for everyone. Even for the most experienced among us. Therefore experimenting is part of the journey.

The hardest thing to scale within a company is communication. But it is also the most important one.

We definitely have not figured this out yet since we believe there are always ways to do it better. But our fast growth and the awesome people that work at Story of AMS truly make it an excellent environment to keep experimenting and finding ways to do things better.