How did you feel when you read about the cultural revelations at Brewdog? And if you’re a founder or leader, how did you feel? With plans to scale these stories hit hard. In recent times though, and not because of Covid19 (or Brewdog), I’ve come to the view that small(ish) is beautiful (the horizon is already receding you’ll be pleased to know). Probably because of a need to prove myself, I thought that success meant Your Own Place had to be huge. Latterly I’ve been of the view that it doesn’t and shouldn’t be. It’s not about getting beer into the mouths of millions, it’s about making a phenomenal difference in the right way.
As we venture into a wider geographical area with a narrower focus on the business offer, scarcely a week goes by when a tale of business woe like that of Brewdog doesn’t make me draw breath. Last month we heard of their cult of personality and what getting it really wrong looks like (and more importantly, feels like). If that doesn’t make you look in the mirror, nothing will.
So it is with relief that we focus on being the right size for the impact we want to make. Nothing about that decision makes any of my efforts to scale well any different. If anything, staying modest in size means there’s nowhere to hide and retaining our quality matters more than ever.
I wanted to share my five-point scaling plan (mostly because I wish someone had shared theirs with me)
1. People – of course it starts (and ends) with us. If the people we support matter then those supporting them have to matter too. We’re not cool (or rich) enough to have a Director of People, but what we do have is oodles of empathy, compassion, passion and strategic thoughtfulness in our team and in the face of our first ever Operational Manager (Jess Luce-Rackham). She sets an amazing precedent for our our first rung of management. Thanks to her (and team as test-bed), all the little (and big) things I have endeavoured to do, are being questioned, embedded, improved and codified (you’ll read that word a lot). From ensuring birthdays are remembered, to time for us (team-time and BBQs) to really developing people because they matter (not just for the business) to giving people the best induction I never add and values-proofing literally every document and decision we make. Our people, even when they p*** me off, will always be looked after. The mantra for how to treat people and how I check myself when I’m starting to feel snarky comes from Michelle Obama – ‘when they go low, we go high’. Our aim then? To attract and nurture the best who want to stay only for as long as they are happy!
2. Belief in and communication of the model – it’s taken a while, but I trust it – implicitly. It’s natural (and healthy) for any of us to get nervous before our facilitation. It’s complex to deliver, we’re often meeting strangers for the first time in a new environment and with unexpected elements due to the barriers our trainees face. What’s vital to remember is that it’s almost never about us. It’s about the model. It works. It’s tested, keeps working and it’s always worked. No matter what or with whom you’re facilitating, with the right preparation and our values, it gets trainees to where you want them t be. As we work in new areas, it’s incredibly satisfying to turn up somewhere new, not knowing much and guess what? It works! This means we have to codify and replicate every core aspect.
3. The back office – yes, it really matters. From our database, our annual leave portal, our email server, our systems for co-working, processes for managing impact, schedules for reviewing our progress, payroll and every last one of the 44 policies, they all have to work whether we have two people in the team or 200 people in the team. Conscious that start-ups grow, iterate and evolve in their founder’s image, it is important now to stress-test the systems and make sure they are effective as we grow and remain cost-effective. Most important is the voice of the team. Through creating a culture of being heard, creativity being encouraged and ideas being acted upon, the team knows best what they need and are crucial in this workstream.
4. Delivery – delivery is the other part of the codification. In order to make a difference, be the best quality and be able to quantify the difference we make, there is a lot more to facilitation than facilitation. Whether it’s engaging new customers, designing new content, engaging trainees, developing resources, devising outcomes frameworks or iterating all the cloud-based systems that sit behind them – this all has to be codified to be replicated. Lose the precision and we lose the impact. In addition, if we’re facilitating in a new area, this means we need to research and understand it too. We may not need to be experts (in our asset-based model that sit with our trainees!), but we need to listen and understand their context in order to be able to respond. As we move into more areas we will codify the questions and approaches we need to take.
5. Finance – I thought I might get in trouble if I left this off! Honestly, I’ve loved becoming a finance person, developing the confidence to have finance conversations, do my own VAT returns and report on profit and loss. The reality of staying small is figuring out what size we have to be to be sustainable, make a profit to make a difference and repay our social investors. This was never about getting rich. Your Own Place was founded on no cash from me or anyone else. It was built up on the side of a full-time job at the council and then upon finding myself suddenly single and leaving the council, hard graft to literally pay my bills on my own. For the endless cold callers that see ‘CEO’ and email me with their offers, unless it’ll make a difference to the team and our people, we probably won’t buy it. Of course that doesn’t mean we don’t have to invest in the back office to free up capacity for the team (including me) to be more effective. As Your Own Place ploughs all its profit back into the mission it’s not my plan to have any money, any time soon. I’ll continue to assume no-one minds me turning up to meetings on my bicycle and feel incredibly lucky to have been nurtured with those values. It means I respect the finances, but am neither obsessed nor impressed by them.
They are a means to a purposeful end and that end is number one again – people.
Have a great summer!