She explained at NOSH Live in New York City last month that in today’s competitive environment where the pressure to innovate and grow is cranked all the way up to high, many startups are forced to grow more quickly than in the past, meaning entrepreneurs have less time than they want or need to figure out where their company fits in the competitive landscape and who they need on their team to secure a position of power.
“It is really, really hard to grow fast, and I think many of you are probably experiencing that, which involves trying to understand why we need to change so quickly, what does that mean in terms of people and how do you start to make those transitions as you grow,” she told the entrepreneurs gathered in the room.
While she acknowledged that she doesn’t have all the answers, she shared five tips to help ease inevitable growing pains and streamline the process based on her experience as the former CEO of HannahMax Cookie Chips, ProYo and Charter Baking Company, as well as her time at other large CPG companies working on iconic brands.
Surround yourself with good people, and don’t go it alone
Being a good leader doesn’t mean shouldering all the responsibility – it means delegating it to proficient partners and cultivating a team of “good people,” Miller advised.
To help her do this, Miller said, she uses a matrix that features ‘will,’ or attitude, on the vertical axis, and skill on the horizontal axis. The top right quadrant is the sweet spot – filled with people who have a positive can-do attitude and who are highly skilled. While the bottom left quadrant is the no-go zone with people who have a bad attitude and no skill and should be dropped as quickly as possible, Miller said.
The other two quadrants are “where it gets really, really tricky,” and where “our job as leaders to make change less hard is to really get the people who support us and work for us to move from these two quadrants” into the top right square, she said.
She explained it is easier to motivate the people in the top right quadrant who have positive attitudes but lower skill levels, such as new graduates or people who are changing careers.
“Nurture that person. Get them the right programming, get them great mentors. … Really, really help these people, because if you have great attitudes and you have low technical skills you can train skills – but you can’t train will. So if you have someone in that quadrant, really embrace them,” Miller said.
The folks in the lower left quadrant can be more challenging because if someone has a bad attitude and is unwilling to change it, no matter how technically skilled or “invaluable” their knowledge, Miller said it is best to replace them because they will drag down the team and the organization.
Communication is job #1
Over communication is nearly impossible, Miller said.
She noted that from the top of the org chart leaders are in a unique position to see everything and understand how the pieces fit together – but the same isn’t true for employees at other levels as they usually only see their parts.
Therefore, she said, unless someone explains to them why changes are occurring, they won’t understand and may begrudge the change or be unwilling to support it.
Be empathetic for those impacted by change
Change isn’t easy. Even small changes can bring challenges, and so Miller advised attendees at NOSH Live to put themselves in the shoes of the employees who are experiencing change in order to better understand what they need to be supported.
For example, she noted at Lily’s Sweets, she helped hire teammates with what she thought were the skills necessary to support the growth and planned changes for the company. However, she admitted, she wasn’t prepared for how quickly the company would change and that within a year some of the people she had hired no longer had the skill sets the company needed.
In this case, she learned that change isn’t always about laying people off – sometimes it is about hiring people into jobs that they are not qualified for and then helping them adjust to be successful.
Be honest and transparent
Hand in hand with being empathetic is giving people accurate information about the extent of changes happening at the company and what they might mean for individuals, Miller said.
“Don’t sugarcoat things,” she emphasized.
She recalled when she was at Heinz and the company acquired another company she tried to make the team feel positive by talking about all the innovation and opportunities the future held – but the reality was there would be layoffs and by not clearly communicating that to staff, she placed them at a disadvantage at a personal level and damaged moral at a company level.
Take care of yourself
Miller’s last tip to entrepreneurs is remember to take care of themselves so that they have the energy and resources they need to continue to take care of the company of their teams.
“It takes a lot of energy to be a real leader. It takes a lot of energy to be strong,” and so it is important to fill your life with “the stuff you love” so that when others need to lean on you as a leader you can support them, she said.