Goodbye Startup, Hello Small Business: How to Approach Leadership as Your Startup Transitions Through Growth

As Google continues to grow into one of the largest tech companies we’ve ever seen, more people are interested in where it came from and how it developed into the behemoth we know today. Stories uncovered from Google’s past include staged events to attract media attention, crazy team parties during their annual ski event, employees making fake copies of massage certificates, and leaders strongly considering turning the homepage pink to increase page views.

An early look at Google's team

Google team in 1999. Image credit: Business Insider

As one of the largest companies in the world, Google can’t operate the same way it did several decades ago—nor should any former startup. Many promising early-stage companies have failed to adapt and squandered early momentum and growth. Fortunately for Google’s stockholders, the interesting stories of Google’s past are not a likely reflection of their current operations.

Growth brings change. However, even business owners and entrepreneurs rarely think about the needed changes a business’s leadership should embrace as growth occurs. Here are six ways early-stage leaders should shift when moving from startup to an industry-leader.

  • Personal Growth

Transitioning from startup to small business isn’t a shift solely in the size of a business; it’s an organization-wide change that begins at the top and trickles down to the entire team of employees and stakeholders. “Begins at the top” means it starts with leadership — the founder or CEO.

An executive of a company can’t just turn into a better leader overnight. The leadership team has to take a learning-based approach to this transition, by first recognizing where the business is now, where they want to go, and what steps will lead the business to this goal. To get the buy-in of employees, they then have to lead by example. None of this comes easy, but it can be developed by being intentional about growing into the commander the business needs going forward.

Tip: Surround yourself with other leaders who have led successful companies to a level of growth you’re striving for. Consider joining a mastermind group or tapping into your network to find a mentor (or two) who have an interest in helping you and has experience in overcoming the obstacles you’re facing.

Also Read: 20 Ways to Become a Better Leader Right Now

  • Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Deliver

Communication is key in a growing business. Even business leaders with the best intentions frequently make the same mistake when it comes to making empty and unreasonable promises to employees, investors, and other key stakeholders. When a promise isn’t kept, employees lose trust in leadership and may question their future with the company. When in charge of dozens of employees, or more, business leaders need to carefully communicate their vision, mission, and goals without using promises as their main method of motivating and providing reassurance to their staff.

Tip: When communicating what the future holds for your team and company, set goals instead of making promises. Instead of telling a new hire that you expect the company to double in size in a year, and you would also like to double their salary at that time, outline your growth strategy and how you will deliver incentives when those milestones are reached. Be reasonable in this process because setting lofty goals that you’re unlikely to achieve will impact team morale.

  • Reevaluate Your Team Members and Hierarchy

Thinking strategically about job responsibilities, hiring, and managing your current staff is one of the most important roles of a leader. Not all forms of turnover are a negative. Just as a startup founder may be replaced by a veteran CEO, teams need to be frequently evaluated with the current needs and future goals of the business in mind. The team and hierarchy that got a company to a certain level of success may not be the same team that’s best suited to achieve the next milestone.

  • Delegate
Quote from Google Founder Larry Page on his role as a leader

Small business leadership changes as the business grows

The role of a CEO or founder will change over time. The larger the company grows, the less their job and tasks are focused on daily activities, and the more they shift to the long-term prospects of the company and enabling leaders within the business to lead employees in the right direction. Effective leaders are able to delegate tasks to their executives and managers instead of holding onto them. Letting go of responsibilities within the business is difficult, but a vital aspect of a small business’s growth.

Also Read: 8 Tasks You Should Delegate Today, How Effective Delegation Can Help Your Startup Win, 4 Delegation Strategies for Busy Entrepreneurs

  • Communicate and Be Accessible

Spending an entire day walking around the office and talking to each employee isn’t feasible nor is it efficient, but employees deserve to have access to relevant information that impacts their job as well as access to those overseeing them. Keeping the line of communication open with staff helps employees feel valued and keeps them informed on important business-related items. It will also give the company insight into their work and lives that may help with future decision-making.

Tip: Company newsletters may seem like a trivial exercise, but they serve as a way to keep everyone on the same page and to share important messages. Consider having an employee or contractor write a newsletter with information provided by you or your leadership team. Other ways to be accessible and ensure you’re communicating with your team include holding monthly meetings or having open hours in your office.

Also Read: 25 Ways to Lead, Inspire and Motivate Your Team to Greatness, Empathy is The Most Powerful Leadership Tool

  • Turn Tasks into Processes

Every business relies on processes to drive operations. A startup may be able to survive and grow without an HR department, employee manuals, and outlined steps for each job function, but that doesn’t mean it should. Neglecting defining, refining, and outlining these processes allows for inefficiencies and also puts a business in a tough place when an employee leaves the company, and others are left to learn how a job or tasks are properly completed.

Also Read: The Practical Guide to Creating Bulletproof Processes to Scale Your Business

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