Building great leadership teams

Scaling-up requires a team, make sure you are all pulling in the same direction

While one person can start a business, the scale-ups we interviewed stressed the importance of a team in pushing on from there. An ambitious mindset is fundamental to starting the fast-growth journey, but delivery on these aspirations requires action. The chief executive and leadership team have the capacity to make the key decisions that spark a growing company into one that is scaling.

Scale-up leaders also highlight the importance of networks and peer learning when it comes to gaining the experience that can help their company grow quickly. That's why the CBI developed its ' M-club ' programme which is exclusively for high-level managers of medium sized businesses to network, receive expert advice and share experiences. From the London Stock Exchange ELITE programme to Future Fifty, joining ambitious networks can help pass on valuable experience and contacts.

Scale-up case study

Name: Two Circles

Founded: 2011

Growth: Grown to 60 permanent employees by fourth birthday.

Two Circles is a sport marketing agency whose inspired use of data allows sports organisations to build stronger relationships with their customers. Founded in 2011, the company has achieved linear fast growth and has no intention of slowing down.

Sparking and maintaining such rapid growth was hugely helped by the strong complementary skill-sets of the leadership team. Matt Rogan, CEO, brought commercial strategy and scaling-up experience, while Gareth Balch, MD, and Claire Rogan, FD, provided consumer insight and financial expertise respectively. This core structure provided a strong base, role clarity and harmonised experience to deal with the capacity and capability requirements of scaling-up. Right from the inception of the business, the management team focused on building deep operational and commercial foundations which would ultimately enable sustained fast pace growth as well as a remorseless focus on retention as the smoothest way to grow.

Now moving into international markets, Two Circles recent acquisition by WPP has given them the credibility and market intelligence to do business with some of the largest sports organisations in the world. 4 years into its life-span, Two Circles is now focusing on building the next cadre of talent into the leadership and management of the business as well as harnessing the digital strength of WPP to build a fuller proposition which can genuinely change the game for sports marketing.

What is clear though is that there is no 'one size fits all' approach to a great leadership team. Scale-up companies exhibit a diversity in the way they are managed; some have multiple co-founders that guide the business, while others have the traditional single point of accountability. What unites the different structures though is a clear management structure, an ability to adapt to change, complementary skill sets and trust among the leadership.

Actions for government

Remove the ELQ bar for management qualifications

  • Government can play its part in helping improve the supply of high quality mangers. With 2 out of 3 businesses needing staff with higher level skills to grow in the years ahead, there is a strong need for management qualifications
  • However, with the 2008 'ELQ bar' (equivalent or lower qualification) the part-time studying market declined by 47%. This bar prevents someone who, for example, has previously studied history at an undergraduate level getting a loan for an equivalent degree in management. Removing this bar is key to ensuring the pipeline of management skills that are essential for companies scaling-up.

4 tips for successful scale-up leadership teams

1 Rapid change often accompanies fast growth so ensure the leadership team have a clear cohesive goal the company are working towards

"Being a fast-growth start-up meant that Two Circles has always been in an exciting state of evolution. Change has been a constant. I make sure to write a weekly email – the ''Weekly Podium'' – which keeps everyone engaged in the delivery of our strategic plan. We find it helps keep people focused and in tune with the business as it grows and evolves. Ultimately this results in deeper team engagement levels and smarter decision-making."

1 Matt Rogan, CEO and Co-Founder, Two Circles

2 Make sure you honestly assess and are aware of the respective strengths and weaknesses of the leadership team

"Don't settle for the status quo. In a fast-growing business, every 3 to 6 months you have got to be thinking whether you have the right structure and flow of information for the business."

1 Jon Reynolds, CEO and Co-Founder, SwiftKey

3 Codify culture and stress test the internal processes that spread the information

"Maintaining culture in a fast-growth business is difficult but incredibly important. Our strategy is to codify the key values and then make sure employees are measured and rewarded against these indicators."

1 Mark Smith, Executive Chairman and Founder, The Car Finance Company

4 Build a board which provides strategic direction, ideally includes people with experience in scaling-up companies and has the most appropriate chair

Scale-up case study

Name: Green Energy Options

Founded: 2006

Growth: 6x turnover growth in four years

Green Energy Options (geo) was founded in 2006 with a core aim of helping consumers understand and engage with energy use in their homes. Fundamentally a technology company, cracking the relationships with the utility companies was essential to growth of the company.

Starting the business in Cambridge was important to geo as both the right skills and an entrepreneurial attitude can be found in the area and a Cambridge location is benignly associated with hi-tech business without that needing to be stated explicitly.

As the company grew, getting the right board composition was instrumental in underpinning sustainable growth. Utilising the company's networks, geo secured the ex-chairman of an international energy company with a presence in Westminster, an experienced entrepreneur and a highly knowledge energy expert. The board is light touch but provides enormous experience in guiding the company through its rapid growth that saw revenues double last year.

As a company scale-ups, culture change is natural process that the leadership of a business need to actively address. Flourishing scale-up companies place significant emphasis on codifying their culture and rewarding their employees for demonstrating those values. From talking to a wide variety of scale-up leaders the importance of implementing process for disseminating what makes a business tick in the first place is clear.

Scale-up case study

Name: Southampton FC

Founded: 1885

Growth: Fastest growing brand in world football

Southampton Football Club is a Premier League side renowned for developing potential into excellence, both on and off the pitch. Recently named as the fastest growing brand in world football, the club has a clear and ambitious plan for the next five years.

Playing in the top flight of English football kicked the club onto the next level, but with promotion came the challenge to retain the sustainable philosophy of the club. Strong core values and an ambitious mindset are integral to the club's future and Gareth Rogers, CEO, is dedicated to ensuring these key principles continue to guide the club.

A symbiotic relationship between staff and club has also been essential to the business scaling-up. Recruiting talented people and developing them further is a key attribute of the club and gives them an edge over competitors. Equally, achieving incremental improvements in all aspects of the game – from sport science, to nutrition is crucial to maintaining the growth of the business.

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