4 successful CEOs discuss the challenges of hiring for a fast-growing company

Panelists, from left to right: Chris Gray, Gina Lednyak, Jane Lu, Lauren Fried, Michael Frizell and Steve Hui. Photo: Sarah Kimmorley.

Transitioning an early stage startup into a SME has many challenges, especially when it comes to hiring.

As you bring in new team members, how do you maintain your company’s culture? And how do you know when a role has outgrown an employee?

This was a topic of discussion at this week’s Vivid Idea’s panel hosted in collaboration with the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation.

The panelists were Gina Lednyak, founder and CEO of digital strategy agency L&A Social, Lauren Fried, founder of advertising agency Pulse Collective, Michael Frizell founder and CEO of e-commerce site Pet Circle and Jane Lu, founder and CEO online fashion retailer Showpo.

They each shared how their business had experienced challenges with hiring during a high-growth phase.

Here’s what they had to say.

Keeping the culture

Lednyak says she has found it difficult to maintain culture as the business transitions from a 20-person to a 50-person team.

“How to do manage that a really great culture and create a good place for your team to work and thrive when you’re dealing with all the growth changes?” she asked.

As the leader of her business, Lednyak says the culture her company is a key to its success, and if people didn’t enjoy coming to work she would feel personally responsible.

“Probably the best thing about having a company is being about to create this really great place for people the work.”

Having difficult conversations early

Fried, meanwhile, says it’s the difficult conversations that stem from rapid growth that she can find challenging.

As she hires more people at an managerial level, she has realised it’s important to have those difficult conversations quickly.

“That’s a trait that I work on myself… to not talking around a point,” she says.

She has also learned that when inducting new employees she has to clearly explain to her expectations, and hear out theirs.

“My recruitment process has changed so that I talk to them about that I live in the Adelaide Hills, that I sit on these different boards, that my ideal check in rhythm with you would look something like this. I am really up front with my availability too,” she said, adding that it’s important to set the bar earlier rather than later.

Giving the right person the job

For Frizell and Lu, challenges arose when it came to a role outgrowing the employee.

“With the business growing so much over the years it’s somewhat inevitable that you hire great people who can’t necessarily last in the same role forever,” Frizell said.

“Probably the most difficult ones are when great people come for a particular role and then the role just outgrows them.

“You hire someone to run a team of five. Then two years later, it’s 65.

“It’s a difficult discussion because its nothing they can really do in keeping up with that growth. It’s very difficult in getting someone to go from an earlier leader to a great manager of multiple teams.”

The Showpo founder agreed.

She says rapid growth can make it difficult for people who have been with the business from its early days and have great skills, but don’t necessarily have the skills to lead.

She recalls the book, “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, saying: “It talks about how so many good businesses are held back through nepotism, because they want to reward people who have been there the longest, not the people who are the best for that job.”

Vivid Ideas is an annual celebration of innovation, creativity and community, building audiences and markets for the creative industries. It runs as part of Vivid Festival in Sydney from now until June 17.

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