From start-up creator to SME boss, the human challenge of growth
When you start your business, you usually leave your dreams of American-style success, irresistible and dazzling, to others. We have too much to do to indulge in such fantasies. About thirty employees already seems an inaccessible horizon! And then, one day, we see that not only has this milestone been reached, but that it will be very soon and very much exceeded. Without realizing it, we find ourselves again the boss of an SME with challenges to take up for which we were not necessarily prepared! In any case, that’s what happened to me!
I founded StarDust with two partners in 2011, Delphine and Guillaume. Imperceptibly, we turned an idea into a project, then a project into a small business. StarDust now has over sixty employees. We should be 100 by the end of the year and 150 by the end of 2018. This very strong growth, unimaginable when we started, comes with countless changes for the leaders that we are. Certain things become more complex or may escape us, difficulties are added, solutions are no longer possible … And everything goes so quickly that we rarely take the time to step back and analyze.
As soon as we have reached a larger size, the key issue is to move from efficiency based on individualities to efficiency based on organization. As a business manager and with my two partners, it becomes essential to set it up but also to find our role in it ourselves. After having done almost everything ourselves, and then having taught a few to do it for us, it is up to us to learn to delegate. Both to leave it to specialists to deal with issues that we are no longer able to deal with properly and to provide us with the freedom precisely demanded by the new challenges brought about by the growing size of our company.
Learning to delegate is learning to trust people that you don’t necessarily know very well and who may not react as you would. It is also investing time at times when it is lacking, but it is also admitting that we are no longer the decision-makers on everything: it is now the new employees, who must become autonomous. This new model must not be bypassed by internal teams and external contacts.
As a co-founder, it is sometimes difficult to legitimize managers in the eyes of all and find the right working distance with them so as not to overwhelm them.
For several months now, to support our growth and set up this organization, we have tried to surround ourselves with people who will be able to shoulder their responsibilities and be — each at their level — engines of growth and innovation. Since the start of the year, we have already recruited high added value profiles such as a financial manager, operations manager or a Man Executive Chairman. As president of the company, I then take on the role of recruiter, bearer of good news such as the announcement of internal promotions. More rarely, I also have to make delicate decisions for a business manager: to separate myself from people who are no longer part of our project. One of the great difficulties in this human management is to manage to no longer consider ourselves as a reference, but to open ourselves to other talents and other sensibilities. Internal promotion encourages people to turn to people who do not necessarily have a standard profile but in whom we can have confidence and whom we would like to promote; teams that will thrive, be efficient and contribute to the specificity of the company. By dealing with our strengths and weaknesses in this way, we learn to gradually forge our own culture, so that the company becomes both unique and efficient.
Beyond that, I consider that the internal culture of our company must be a lever of efficiency but also a factor of unity, despite the increase in staff, the geographical dispersion and the new organizational architecture. Certainly, it is not always easy to create a feeling of belonging and proximity between the teams spread between France and Canada, especially between the salespeople – nomads – and other experts – more sedentary. I admit that I took a long time to recognize the distance between these two great profiles; I now strive daily to create a feeling of closeness and common membership among all. Through our statutes of directors and our communication, we have the duty to remain the main inspirers while being attentive to the appearance of cracks, between old and new, or technicians and salesmen.
For example, when we moved into our new premises in Marseille, I made the mistake of creating offices, which gradually established a distance with the teams. It took time to detect this fracture and put in place the means to remedy it and recreate a collective dynamic.
The more the company grows, the more the operational gradually gives way to human questions. And in order to be able to give it all the attention it needs, delegating is inevitable. To do this, making listening one of its first qualities becomes imperative. Listen to the new managers on whom we rely. Listen to our employees and our customers so as not to lose the thread of success. Listen to its associates, its investors or its former collaborators who are as much valuable counterweight. Or even listen to his friends, detached and disinterested. In short, knowing how to accept and seize help wherever it comes from in order to take this personal step forward and be able to continue to lead the company forward.
Francois Joseph Viallon is the CEO of StarDust.
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