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Projectworks on Leadership: Leading through growth
Mon, 19th Feb 2024

It's no secret that business growth is bloody hard work. It's sought by many of us and achieved by only a few. With it comes a series of challenges that, until you've been through them, it's hard to have the foresight to plan for or avoid. 

For those of us that are up for the challenge, though, growth is incredibly rewarding to work through and achieve. It's addictive, too – in fact, I heard a quote recently from Jerry Seinfeld which resonated with me and the relationship many of us have with growth. He was talking about writing comedy, but the insight is brilliant:

"It's like going to the gym every day. You know how you walk in every day and you go oh jeez I gotta do this again. It's a tortured life. But you know what, your blessing in life is finding the torture you're comfortable with. Find the torture you're comfortable with and you'll do well" – Jerry Seinfeld

In my time leading through growth, I've learnt a few lessons (usually the hard way). These have had a transformative experience on my experience as a leader, the mindset of the people I've led, and the business growth we've delivered together.

1. Know your strengths & lean into them
Self-awareness in leadership is foundational to your success. It allows you to be more purposeful in the application of your strengths, as well as build a better understanding of how to work well with people who think or operate differently from you. 

In the early stages of high-growth consulting firms, founding team members have a significant hands-on impact across all aspects of their business. As your firm scales, however, it's essential that you empower others to take ownership of areas you no longer have the capacity for. This can be a difficult transition, so it's important you take the time to consider what type of leader you want to be and what areas you want to have greater influence over. Some leaders apply themselves equally across the full breadth of their business, while others remain heavily involved in new business development, technical leadership, operations or finance. Whatever your approach is, be purposeful about it as well as realistic about the capacity it takes to do well.

2. Surround yourself with people who think differently
Understanding yourself well then enables you to know your gaps and surround yourself with a diverse range of people who challenge you openly, as well as expand your collective capability and perspective. People bring a broad range of unique experiences and insight to problem-solving, and when we collaborate well, we're capable of achieving phenomenal outcomes for our customers and businesses.

Growing professional services firms is challenging, however with the right strategy and awareness of your team's capabilities, you can focus on bringing the people onboard that will build your company for scale, and enable you as a leader to have an even greater impact.

3. Invest in your people
As you personally become significantly less hands-on across your business, your reliance on your people hugely increases. With the right people and the right level of investment in them & their tools, your firm will thrive.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to see potential in our teams that they don't yet see in themselves and to motivate and push them to find new ways of solving problems. This can mean challenging them to grow and be accountable for the outcomes they produce commercially, relationally, or in other ways. At times, these can be hard conversations, yet out of a consistent place of caring for them personally and pursuing their potential, your team will embrace the challenge.

A simple way of thinking about this is that your employee experience is your input, and your customer experience is your output. One version of this is all too common: 💩 in equals 💩 out. On the other hand, you can experience an extraordinary multiplier effect when you consistently demonstrate your genuine care and investment in each of your people, they will repay that with a far greater level of care for your customers and business success. 

4. Make yourself (operationally) redundant and systemise for scale
In order to grow a business, you have to enable yourself to think proactively about the problems and opportunities of the future, and that means making yourself operationally redundant over and over again. You may retain the same title, but your role will be fluid, adapting to the challenges of scaling and accelerating towards your vision. 

Operationalising your growth strategy means ensuring that your team's processes and tools for managing project and business performance are easy to use, connected as an ecosystem, and ultimately enable better decision-making. Build in regular operational reviews and feedback loops to ensure your systems are fit for purpose for tomorrow's challenges. This empowers your people to focus on the real work of making great decisions aligned with the direction you provide and removes the risk of high dependency on you or your fellow leaders for the detailed tactical execution of your strategy.

For consulting firms that might mean setting up a transparent and scalable resourcing system that doesn't require your personal time to manage, or ensuring your senior leaders don't have to touch a thing for invoices to go out. Modern PSA software is essential for your business to scale.

5. Culture is the key
Change can be hard for people, yet for a growing business, it's consistent. To truly build momentum, a healthy culture of growth means your team run head-first at it rather than shying away from it. 

Growth needs to be embedded in the DNA of your organisation. This could mean celebrating or incentivising professional achievements, investing in the development of your people through courses & coaching, communicating clearer success measures and progress against them, greater emphasis on a growth mindset in your hiring decisions, retrospectives or feedback loops with your team, or any variety of other ideas. 

Consulting firms should consider what key measures of success are communicated transparently and celebrated because this is at the core of your culture. Examples might be celebrating utilisation rates or project margins, consistently staying on budget, or satisfying clients. It's important for everyone to know what success means in your organisation, so make the decisions you need to in line with your business strategy around what metrics you communicate about and celebrate.

Our Founder and Chief Exec here at Projectworks, Matt Hayter, recently said to me that the role of CEO in a fast-growing business like ours really is a Chief Culture Officer. It's the area he's focused on influencing the most because it helps to shape every decision made across our business.

If you're interested in learning more about optimizing your services business, be sure to check this out: