You're a startup that just stepped into a new phase of hypergrowth and achieved your vision of creating impact. So what’s next?
While it's easy to be carried away by the excitement of getting here, you mustn't lose sight of what's important: the people who have gotten you here and the valuable leadership skills necessary to keep the team running smoothly. After all, what are companies, if not the people who form the heart and soul of them?
For this edition of Middle Matters, leaders from Atome, Hypefast, ReverseAds, and Hello Health Group will share what every hypergrowth leader needs to know when traversing these uncharted waters.
Get Plugged In
An essential skill that leaders must possess is humility to stay plugged in and empathetic to their team.
For Dan Harvey, the Head of Growth at ReverseAds, an essential part of being a manager is understanding what the people you're managing are dealing with.
He learned this lesson as a young manager working at a large hospitality brand when he spent his first month working in every role, be it in the kitchen, the front of house, or anywhere else. The goal was for managers to work with the people they would be managing to understand their daily work and the pressures they face in their roles.
"That's something I've probably carried through to now — trying to ensure that whenever I'm working with people and managing or leading people, I'm understanding what they're going through and what the day-to-day of their role entails as to why they may be feeling pressure and things like that."
As a leader, Yasher Fadhli, Head of Brand Activation at Hypefast tries to "empty his cup" before advising his team: "I don't want to join them to tell them what to do. I really respect their experience because they are more specialised."
"I'm not the leader who tells you what to do. I like to ask you what we are going to do about it," he explains. For Yasher, leaders must be empathetic, clearly communicate the objective and try to find a solution together.
Being a leader during the hypergrowth stage of a startup means dealing with many unknowns. This period involves a lot of ambiguity, explains Hien Lane, Senior Vice President of APAC and Regional Partnerships at Hello Health Group:
"There is no roadmap. There's no black-and-white answer yet, because technically, you're meant to be pioneering a new space or doing something new. So you've got to be comfortable with ambiguity."
As a leader in a hypergrowth startup, Hien says, you must also identify people comfortable working in ambiguity. She explains that she looks for people with a growth mindset who are solution-oriented and adaptable: "Identifying people with a growth mindset for me is more paramount than functional skills."
"You need people who are prepared to stretch mentally with their curiosity," she adds. Hien believes these are also the people who will have resilience during more difficult times and "go the extra mile to learn" during those periods.
Create a Safe Space for Growth
The importance that company culture plays in the team's success is a topic that many of the leaders alluded to.
Jeremy Wong, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Atome, emphasises the value of empowering employees to learn on the job without fear of asking "stupid questions" or making mistakes, especially early in the role.
"Mistakes are the best way for you to learn — it is not successes, it's actually mistakes. Because we then realise that maybe we could've done something better."
Yasher also believes in allowing his team to make mistakes to help them grow: "I try to say to my team, 'If you make a mistake, I am responsible for this. You are safe with me to make mistakes. But you have to learn from that.'"
Jeremy adds that he takes the approach of "radical candour", a term coined by author and former Google and Apple executive Kim Scott which is defined as "guidance that's both kind and clear, specific and sincere".
Jeremy shares how he implements radical candour in his team: "Basically, the way we communicate among the team is to be very open to challenges and disagreements, in a very respectful way, of course."
"I feel that as we are growing together as a team and as a company, we can't have yes-men and we can't have teams that just say 'Yes, I will follow whatever my boss tells me."
"The other thing I'm really, really passionate about — and I learned it very early in my own leadership journey — is putting people where they shine. Play to their strengths. And even if they don't realise what their strengths are, tell them it's their strengths and kind of put them on that trajectory." - Hien Lane
Strong leadership is a crucial element to a startup's success. Intentionally implementing best practices such as staying humble, keeping a flexible mindset, and creating a healthy company culture, as shared by Hien, Dan, Yasher, and Jeremy, can make all the difference.
- What takes up the time and causes stress for your direct reports? What steps do you have in place to deeply understand their work?
- How comfortable do you feel with not having a clear roadmap during times of hypergrowth? How might you change your mindset about that?
- What is your company's culture like in terms of making mistakes? How might you help make your team members feel comfortable asking questions and making mistakes?