When your business is growing quickly, of course that’s great. But there is also the danger you dilute the culture that put you in that position in the first place.
This is something we’ve long been aware of at Zaizi. Even more so over the last 12 months, during which we’ve grown by 50%.
In this post, I share some of the key lessons I’ve learned as we’ve scaled up over the years. And also, how we’ve adapted our structure in recent months to embed the purpose and values that have contributed to our success so far.
It’s all about people, so define your purpose and mission early
Recent research by the Scaleup Institute has shown that 80% of scale up businesses in the UK are currently finding it a challenge to recruit the right people.
When Zaizi first started out, we felt the need to define our purpose and mission to help solve this issue.
We already had a collaborative working culture structure that our people and customers loved. We knew, because they told us so. People from our clients came to work for us. But why was this happening? It seemed like it was almost by accident rather than design. We found it hard to articulate our culture and why it was bringing us success.
To rectify this, we worked hard to set out our purpose – Realising Potential Together – which is about how we work for each other, for our public sector clients and for the UK as whole. It was our culture in a nutshell, but directed pointedly at what we were trying to achieve as a business and as individuals.
At the same time we developed our mission – to make the UK the best and safest place to live and work.
Together our purpose and our mission give us our North Star. This has guided all our decision making ever since.
Crucially, it has also helped us continue to recruit amazing people who are passionate about the difference data empowered digital public services can make to people’s lives.
Beware of hierarchies – keep the right people close to your clients
One of the biggest issues when you start to expand significantly is that your workforce becomes stretched. Some of your most senior people move further away from the project coalface than they should. You begin to think about introducing a middle management layer to coordinate and supervise a larger team. Hierarchies develop – the exact opposite of the flat management structure that appealed to your clients before.
I’ve learned through experience that this is a mistake. As a leader you start to hear things second hand. You make errors of judgement, sometimes taking on a project that wasn’t really viable in the first place.
To solve this problem, in the last few months we have shifted our structure to a Team of Teams approach. We called them Clubs after another digital consultancy. Why reinvent the wheel? Each club is led by a Club Executive, who guides their team in delivering superior services to a related group of public sector clients. And each of our club teams is a flat-structured, cross-functional group made up of designers, user researchers, solution architects and engineers – all of whom have equal standing and input.
READ: Zaizi strengthens its public sector digital service expertise
The advantage for us, and our clients, is that each Club is empowered to look at every customer holistically. The only constant is our purpose, mission and values. All the things that underpin our strong culture. Most importantly, they are empowered to deliver effectively without the hierarchical governance structures that tend to delay or negatively impact projects.
As we grow further – we are now looking to expand into different areas of the public sector like healthcare and defence – we can simply add more clubs that are geared to meeting the needs of those purposeful organisations. This will ensure that our business and our decision making doesn’t spread too thinly.
Interested in finding out more?
The last year has been a welcome challenge for us at Zaizi. As I mentioned at the top, we grew by 50%. We’d only predicted 30%. Next year we’re targeting 50% again. Demand for the government digital services we design and build is such that I believe this target is realistic and reasonable. We may exceed our target again.
To help drive growth and lead our new Clubs, we recently appointed Clayton Smith, previously Deputy Director for Change and Digital Delivery at the Cabinet Office, and Esther O’Sullivan, who was recently Head of Digital at the Legal Aid Agency, Ministry of Justice.
If you like to find out more about how we’re scaling up for this growth in a sustainable way – or would like to join our team – please get in touch.
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