What are typical inquiries regarding business scaling?
Many questions regarding growing a business center on hiring, such as how to employ quickly and steer clear of making costly mistakes by selecting the incorrect individuals.
What are the three key issues that every founder looking to scale should be concentrating on resolving?
What comes next is one of the three key questions for startups looking to scale. How can we carry that out? What else is required to support that? strategizing with the understanding that what took them to the initial round of funding might not be what gets them to the following stage.
How can a company design an efficient strategy that leads to the intended result?
Keep a straightforward strategy that changes over time, review it frequently, and concentrate on the 3–8 critical actions that will get you 80% of the way there. Don't attach it too closely to specifics or market research, and be ready for it to change.
How does having real values affect how decisions are made within an organization?
The ability to make harsh judgments and delegate decision-making along the chain of command is made possible by having true beliefs, which serve as a foundation and filter for leadership. Additionally, it makes the organization's operations more efficient and accurate.
Marcus Cauchi: Hello and welcome back to The Inquistor Podcast with me, Marcus Cauchi. Today I'm delighted to have, as my guest, Andrew Bartlow, he's the founder and managing partner of Series B Consulting. He mentors executives in high growth organizations and their HR. Andrew, welcome.
Andrew Bartlow: Thanks a lot, Marcus. Glad to be here.
Marcus Cauchi: Excellent. Would you mind giving the audience 60 seconds on your background please?
Andrew Bartlow: Sure. 25 years of, uh, in-house operations as a human resources leader at companies, big and small, many you've heard of many you haven't. In the past four years or so consulting largely to CEOs and founders and also to HR leaders that are earlier in their career.
Andrew Bartlow: Let my mistakes be their learning.
Marcus Cauchi: Yeah, very useful. I always teach my clients, ask who's already screwed up so you can learn from them, make different mistakes.
What are the common questions people ask you about how to scale?
Marcus Cauchi: So tell me this. What are the, the common questions people ask you about how to scale?
Andrew Bartlow: Yeah, usually the focus is, is on recruitment. That's part of the story.
Andrew Bartlow: So folks will ask. Okay, so who do I hire and how do I hire faster? And the answer is, you know, sadly a, a much bigger, longer answer. There are lots of things connected to just extending offers and putting more butts in seats or in, in front of zoom cameras, nowadays.
Marcus Cauchi: Interestingly enough what I see very often is, as a company scales, because they haven't got a proper plan, because they haven't got the fundamentals in place, what they tend to do is make the single biggest mistake any executives can make, which is compromise on recruitment. And they take the best available candidate rather than the best candidate for the job. So I see many of them crash and burn. Because the single most expensive mistake you can make is wrong hires.
What are the common questions that they bring you that are diverting them from the real issue?
Marcus Cauchi: So talk to me about the other common questions that they, uh, they bring you that perhaps are diverting them from the real issue.
Andrew Bartlow: It's all connected. So it, a common question would be, Hey, when do I hire a department head? When do I layer someone that got me my first round of funding. How do I decide when it's time to hire a VP of whatever versus the people that have been with me along our curve.
Andrew Bartlow: You know, another question and we'll tackle these in whatever order or whatever interests you. Another question is how do I maintain my culture? Boy, it was great before and now things are getting weird or, or challenging or different. And how do we go back to the way it was? Boy, that's rooted in a deep misassumption.
How do you stop the founder from doing it all and becoming a monstrous bottleneck?
Marcus Cauchi: Excellent. Okay. Well, one of the the uh, the mistakes I often see, uh, founders commit is they are the VP of everything. So let let's deal with that particular gremlin. How do you stop the founder from trying to be chief cook, bottle washer, janitor, product developer, head of sales, head of marketing and dipping their nose, um, into everything and becoming a monstrous bottleneck?
Andrew Bartlow: Well, it's, uh, it's a trap. It's a, it's a real trap. I have a pretty simple framework and I stole it from somewhere. I wish I could reference where. Know, willing and able. So awareness that things are changing, you know, the, the famous Marshall Goldsmith book and quote, "What got you here, won't take you there."
Marcus Cauchi: Yeah.
Andrew Bartlow: So awareness around what's required, what's needed. That's useful. Being willing to change your behavior. That's a different story. There may be ego wrapped up in, hey, I like being king of the world, or this is the company that I built and, you know, I need to have my fingers in, in, in every single decision.
Andrew Bartlow: And then the able, a lot of founders, especially in high growth, uh, you know, venture backed organizations just don't have that much real world or business experience. So are they, do they have. The basic domain knowledge to be capable of being the VP of marketing or, you know, VP of engineering.
Marcus Cauchi: It it's really interesting when I, uh, deal with founders.
Marcus Cauchi: I'm always looking for second or third time founders, cuz they don't know everything and they know they don't know everything. Whereas first time founders often suffer from a misguided and over bloated perception that they do.
What are the three big questions that every founder who wants to scale should really be focused on getting answers to?
Marcus Cauchi: So in terms of the questions they really should be asking, what are the three big questions that every founder who wants to scale should really be focused on getting answers to?
Andrew Bartlow: Boy, there's some gold in that, right?
Andrew Bartlow: How about what's next? That's a big, important question. Maybe that's, that's all three wrapped and wrapped up in one. You know what what's next? And what's needed to support that? So the, the concept there is around planning, knowing that, hey, whatever got you, your first round of funding is, and whatever practices or product or people that got you there may not be the same thing that that takes you to the next step.
Andrew Bartlow: So what's next is a really key question. And then how do we deliver on that? I, I think is, is the natural follow on?
On Planning: Have a simple plan
Marcus Cauchi: Okay. Um, so let let's deal with planning because it's something that I see a, a huge, uh, gulf between what most people consider to be a plan, which is a bunch of meaningless numbers on a spreadsheet and a plan rooted in behavior, research, insight, understanding your customer, understanding your competitive landscape, understanding the context in which you operate.
Marcus Cauchi: And putting a plan together that will actually get you to where you want to get to.
Andrew Bartlow: Um, yes, be useful, but what's realistic. Um, I, I think often perfect becomes the, or, or perfect becomes the enemy of good. And so in when you're in a high growth, high change environment, there's often this resistance to planning because we can't predict, or it could go, you know, whatever direction.
Andrew Bartlow: So why even bothered, why spend the time we've got a thousand things to do let's work on those thousand things, but if you don't have some form of direction, you don't know where you're gonna end up. So, you know, have a, have a simple plan is what I advocate for. Have a simple plan, let it evolve, revisit it regularly.
Andrew Bartlow: If you're tying things too tightly into too much minutia and too much market research, and you're a series A organization, you you're gonna struggle, but keep it simple. So that that's another one of my, you know, key concepts have a plan, be brilliant at the basics. It's a simple plan. That's going to evolve and anticipate that it evolves.
Andrew Bartlow: But if you don't have that plan, you're going nowhere.
Marcus Cauchi: I'm with you a hundred percent. And again, my friend, Gary Mitchell has been doing transformational programs. For the last 35 years, he's never had one fail to deliver the outcomes. And, uh, he always says, what are the five things, five to eight things, and focus on them, that the five to eight things that will get you 80% of where you want to get to.
Andrew Bartlow: Too many, make it three.
Andrew Bartlow: You know, if, if you have eight, chances are you're gonna have sub bullets under each of those eight, like resist the temptation to complicate. You can move 30 things, an inch or three things, a mile. You're much better off effectively executing a full thing so that you don't build up techn technical debt, organizational debt, customer debt.
Andrew Bartlow: It's a concept. I think that's, uh, that's becoming more and more familiar in product and technology, but if you're not building a strong infrastructure and a strong company along the way, if you're halfway doing things, you're gonna pay for it down the road.
Marcus Cauchi: I agree. I mean, I, I think keep it simple.
What are those basics that you have to do exceptionally?
Marcus Cauchi: What are those basics that you have to do exceptionally?
Andrew Bartlow: Plan in a simple way. So yeah, I can't hit that hard enough. Are you bored hearing this yet? Have I hit it hard enough yet? Like plan in a simple way. That's key. Related is prioritization. You can't do a million things effectively, even if you have 10,000 people, even if you have seemingly bottomless dollars, you know, from your latest funding round that you're, you know, often struggling to deploy.
Andrew Bartlow: That doesn't mean it's easier to get more done. It's actually harder to get things done as your company scales. So you need to prioritize better, communicate better so that you can deliver anything. So what are the basics? It's about planning. How many people do you need, where, doing what, that ties to what are we trying to accomplish? If you have some high level company goals and targets, that'll, that'll really help with that. Boy, wouldn't it make sense to tie that to your investor pitch deck? So you're not, not trying to do everything. You're trying to do a few things pretty well. And then you build your org around that.
Andrew Bartlow: It sounds ridiculously simple, but it's hard to execute well. You know, there, the, the animal spirit that brings people to start companies and, you know, get 'em outta the garage and, and raise funding and, you know, hire your first 10, 20, a hundred people that, that takes a certain type of vision and drive. And. You, you need that, you absolutely need that.
Andrew Bartlow: But that often lends itself towards being unwilling, to really focus on some of the operational elements and prioritize and say no to some things. And so that's where again, the Marshall Goldsmith quote, "What got you here, won't take you there." You start to move from the pirates to the Navy, from the barbarians to the bureaucrat.
Andrew Bartlow: And you don't move there overnight. It's a, it's a curve over time, but that's a natural curve. And one that you should accept and predict and not view as a win loss. You know, Steve jobs with Apple and many other founders. There are lots of great stories about these winners who started their company, and they're still leading it down the road.
Andrew Bartlow: That's the exception, not the rule. Be aware of what you're great at. And use that to help your company be successful rather than trying to hang onto your, your, your seat or your way of doing things.
Marcus Cauchi: It strikes me that there are some key issues which, uh, are worth repeating. The first thing is have clarity of vision and direction and put together a simple plan that everybody who you bring on board knows their role and their responsibility within the confines of that plan.
Marcus Cauchi: But be ready to adapt and change because a business of five and 10 people is significantly different to a business of a hundred or a thousand or 10,000. And the plan never survives contact with the enemy. And it's not the plan itself that matters, but the planning and having clarity of direction allows you to focus your attention on the few things that you have to do well.
Marcus Cauchi: In order to achieve both momentum and scale, is that a fair summary?
Andrew Bartlow: Well said, well said clarity is the magic wand in high growth, high change environments clarity.
What drives the direction and focus of the executive team?
Marcus Cauchi: Absolutely. And interestingly enough, um, what, what I see in many organizations and, uh, I know this is a topic near and dear to both of our hearts.
Marcus Cauchi: Is the direction and focus of the executive team. And what drives that? Is it about supporting and delivering the customer's outcome? Or is it about driving a rapid and massive exit? Because you, uh, those two things are normally in direct opposition to one another, and one builds a strong, sustainable business.
Marcus Cauchi: And the other one builds a cast of cards. So let's explore that for a moment.
Andrew Bartlow: I like the term cast of cowards. I don't think I've heard that one before. I was smiling. As you were talking about that. I did say house of cards, but I'll prefer cast of cards. Oh,
Marcus Cauchi: I should be stealing cast of I'll be claiming cast of cowards.
Marcus Cauchi: Those are, those are good too.
Andrew Bartlow: Well, cast of coward that resonates with me as well, even though I misheard it around, you know, fear is a real factor in the decision making process, both for the investors. As well as for the founders and often for the frontline employees, fear is a factor, fear, failure. Fear of not meeting expectations of your PE or VC firm.
Andrew Bartlow: You have these associates that are making bets on companies that their careers will take off or, or end. You have founders who have their entire personal reputation staked on this company who have often hired friends and family along the way. You have people whose mortgages are depending on the success of the organization whose, you know, significant other knows that they might be making, you know, fewer dollars to make a bet on this organization, really paying off versus working at some giant fortune 500 company.
Andrew Bartlow: So fear is really a factor, uh, for everybody along the way. Maybe even to take this a little more upstream, understanding the motivations of the major players can really help you operate in this environment of ambiguity. What are your investors trying to accomplish? What's your founder trying to accomplish?
Andrew Bartlow: Why do people join your team? Why do they stay? You don't need to be a professional psychologist to figure it all out. Number one, you can ask them, but it also doesn't take that much of a leap to try to understand where they're coming. And once you can figure out the story, at least the broad strokes, then, um, then you can again, figure out how to operate that.
Andrew Bartlow: So think about PE versus VC versus bootstrap organizations, life cycle of a fund, the types of investments that are being made, the types of leaders that operate in those organizations. We can dive into that as, as deep as you want, but again, understanding the motivations of players can help you be more successful in navigating it.
Marcus Cauchi: One of the disappointing and depressing observations that, uh, Bob Hare and Robert Babiak came up with in their study in snakes and suits is the prevalence of corporate psychopathy. And I, I see an awful lot of psychopaths, both in the VC and private equity, uh, community, but also going on the boards of these fast growth companies, where they treat people like a utility to be used and abused.
Marcus Cauchi: And you see this huge turnover, uh, within sales, within middle management, uh, the executive team turnover. That cannot possibly be healthy, uh, for building a sustainable business.
Andrew Bartlow: True.
Why is it that corporate psychopaths seem to get traction and be seen as appealing by investors and founders?
Marcus Cauchi: So what, why is it, why is it that those people seem to get traction and be seen as appealing by investors and founders? When what they do is they destroy the culture, a really good well functioning organization.
Marcus Cauchi: Then they, they drive the wrong behavior.
Andrew Bartlow: It's hard to tell. It's hard to tell until you're looking in the rear view mirror a lot of times. Whether it's somebody's making the right call or the wrong call, you know, how, how compelling is the story that they're telling and the vision that they're, that they're selling, you know, changing out.
Andrew Bartlow: Different players at different parts of the organization. You know, that's often motivated by fear. You're trying to accomplish your goal of growth or profitability or market penetration, whatever it is. And, you know, I'll, I'll use it. Uh, sports analogy. Sadly, my college basketball team is now outta the tournament, but you, you think about different layers of management, making choices, you know. A general manager picks the coach and puts the roster together.
Andrew Bartlow: Coach deploys the players on the field or on the court. The GM is usually the last to get fired. Players get traded first. Then the assistant coaches get blamed. If the offense isn't working or if the defense isn't working, then the coach gets fired. They're really expensive though. And you know, so you don't wanna trade them out very often.
Andrew Bartlow: Usually it's the people, the top that are the last to be changed out. And I think that plays in the, in the corporate world as well. Where if you're on the board, if you're the investor owner, you'll say, hey, we, we need a new head of sales because sales isn't going well. And boy, the head of sales is changing out their sales team before they get changed out because they're feeling the heat.
Andrew Bartlow: It all kind of rolls downhill and there's fear around holding onto their seat or being replaced that that often just mag magnifies the turnover, the forced turnover, whether it's voluntary or involuntary on paper. People feel the heat in these high growth, high change environments. And so the people change pretty frequently and it's hard to tell whether you're making the right call until you're looking at it in the rear view mirror.
Marcus Cauchi: Guy called David Henzel, who I interviewed for the podcast, said five, very successful scale up businesses. And one thing he said, which has really resonated with me is that every decision is filtered through the values upon which the business is built. And if it fits with the values, then we consider it.
Marcus Cauchi: Doesn't always mean that we go with it. But if it doesn't, it's an automatic rejection for, uh, whatever that action is.
How important values are in creating a cohesive team?
Marcus Cauchi: So how important do you feel, uh, values are, uh, in creating a cohesive team that will help you, you to take your business through the vagaries and stresses of, uh, hyper growth?
Andrew Bartlow: I think values have immense potential, but they only really apply, they only really work to that fullest potential in a tiny, tiny fraction of organizations. And here why. I think values are often, problem. Values are often meant to be compelling to everyone. And guess what? When you're trying to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one and it becomes just so much corporate bladder.
Andrew Bartlow: So, unless you're being really thoughtful about "This is us, this is authentic, this is differentiating, this is truly who we are at our core." And by we, don't make the mistake of trying to have your employees bubble it up to the top. You know, it's the leaders, it's, whoever's making the decisions in the org.
Andrew Bartlow: It's really driving the culture. Culture's about decisions and who's calling the shots. And so you cannot delegate or crowdsource your culture. Your culture is driven by your leader. And so that becomes a challenge back to leader around being authentic. Who are we? Who are we not? We're not Google. We're not trying to be somebody down the road.
Andrew Bartlow: We're not trying to appeal to everybody. So that can be scary. So fear enters it again, where, Hey, if you're turning off some potential constituents for stakeholders, that's scary. That's scary to a lot of leaders. Uh, but that's when values become more powerful, more compelling, something that you can actually use to drive decisions, but you have to take some risks to use it to their full, full potential.
Andrew Bartlow: If you're not gonna do that, don't waste your time because it just destroys your credibility.
Clarity and authenticity in values
Marcus Cauchi: Okay. So if I'm hearing you correctly, then if you have authentic values, they form a baseline and a filter. For the leadership to be able to make their decisions, to determine who fits, who doesn't. And if you've got those values, uh, clearly set in stone, you understand them, you live them.
Marcus Cauchi: Then that enables you to make even the toughest decisions, especially when you have a team that you might have inherited, for example, or that's kind of grown up with you, but they're no longer fit for purpose. And that then allows you to make those difficult decisions because you filter those decisions through the value system.
Marcus Cauchi: But if you don't, if you don't really buy in, then it's just problem.
Andrew Bartlow: It's a lot like clarity. Again. So the leader is driving the culture and you're able to articulate in a few words or, you know, however you choose to communicate throughout your organization. Here is the framework by which I am, as the leader, making decisions.
Andrew Bartlow: And you can communicate and clarify that to your broader organizations. They will be able to make decisions in the same frame as you would. And so therefore you're able, able to operate faster with more accuracy, less rework, less fear is just, everything works better. Again, it's not about trying to appeal to 99% of the world.
Andrew Bartlow: Or used as some sort of recruitment shortcut. It it's about helping your organization operate the way that you, as the leader wanted to operate. That's where values becomes a force multiplier.
Marcus Cauchi: Okay. So again, to summarize what I've just heard, if you have values that you live by, and that are the foundations upon which you build your business, you can then delegate decision making.
Marcus Cauchi: Down the chain of command because you can now trust people and they are clear about what the boundaries are, as well as what is expected by filtering through the values, which frees up frees you up and the senior executives to do more valuable work.
Andrew Bartlow: You nailed it. Does it make sense?
Marcus Cauchi: Yeah, absolutely.
Andrew Bartlow: Yeah. I mean, this stuff is obvious when you talk about it, but when you're putting into practice, far too many orgs just try to borrow somebody else's values. The best practicing of the corporate world is, uh, it is real shame.
Why is best practice a myth?
Marcus Cauchi: Well, let, let's talk about best practice cuz I know you have some fairly strong views on that.
Marcus Cauchi: Why is best practice a myth?
Andrew Bartlow: Well, because it's gotta be, you gotta be yourself. If it's not authentic to you as an org. Then, how do you know it's gonna work in your org? So let me use maybe an extreme example, a company with 25 people startup and a tech space, they read about Facebook and LinkedIn and Google and blah, blah, blah, all these companies that are doing great.
Andrew Bartlow: And you are worth billions. Oh, wow. They're successful. Let's do what they're doing. So let's pull over, you know, whatever practice they've heard about or, you know, copy their values and put it on our own words. Great. Now we'll be successful too. Wrong. If you're 25 people and they're 25,000, what are the odds that what they're doing is gonna be helpful to you?
Andrew Bartlow: You know, more likely it'll be harmful to your organization. So you gotta, you know, the, the best practicing, I have a, a term called context over content. So that means the environment is more important to success than the practice is. Like, you know, is a, is a hammer, a good tool? Well, maybe if you're trying to pound a nail. Is a hammer, a good tool if you're trying to, uh, put a screw in that you can get the screw in? It's gonna screw it up. Um, so think about what best practice fits you. It's not best in, in any environment outside of, you know, where it's already been tested. That might be a rabbit hole on best practicing, but context over content. And far too many people are going on some executive retreat with the founders of their portfolio.
Andrew Bartlow: Their investors, portfolio companies or reading an HBR article, or I remember a founder I worked with, you know, got all excited about Holocracy from Zappos and let's, okay, let's implement that. It's Monday. It's time to implement Holocracy. Oh my goodness. Wow. That's a single rooftop in Las Vegas with a call center versus our organization, which at the time had 35 different rooftops with 80 different job titles, very different environment. And by the way, Holocracy, didn't work at Zappos. Anyway, needless to say, what might work for one organization is not guaranteed to work for yours unless you're being really thoughtful about what the traits are that caused it to be effective at the other org.
Marcus Cauchi: Let's look at it from a slightly different perspective. One of the things that drives me insane is that the customer seems to be in many scale up organizations and inconvenience they're right at the end of this long chain of the founder, the product, the sales, marketing operations, and everything else.
Marcus Cauchi: And somewhere at the end, as an afterthought, there is the customer. And if, if you want to scale. I fundamentally believe that you need to deliver safety to the buyer. They need to know that they can trust you to have their best interests at heart for you to focus on their outcomes. For you to be consistently and persistently relevant that you are going to serve their needs.
Marcus Cauchi: But if you are a vendor organization that is backed by venture capital or private equity, and their objective is to get out with a massive payout in the next five years, then what you end up with a counterculture of pressure and fear and measurement, uh, that drives all the wrong behaviors. And so the customer.
Marcus Cauchi: Ends up suffering and to paraphrase Henry Ford, a business that is solely focused on money is a bad business, unless you are serving your customer, unless you are serving your employees and your suppliers and your partners, then chances are, you are building your business on very ropey foundations and it will crumble. And we see this a lot in tech where companies scale and grow, and then they crash and burn.
What advice would you give to founders when they are selecting their investors and their executive teams?
Marcus Cauchi: So what advice would you give to founders when they are selecting their investors and their executive teams?
Andrew Bartlow: Well, it, Marcus, I think again, you nail it like just at a minimum, don't forget about your customer.
Andrew Bartlow: Customers should, should be thought of in your decisions. I was just talking to somebody about this, uh, late last week. Thinking about the customer in terms of giving that customer a seat at your boardroom table or at your executive table, how would this decision affect the, save them a chair, put a zoom picture up.
Andrew Bartlow: If you want to of your, uh, of your typical customer, rather than have your, uh, chief revenue officer, head of marketing, try to represent what the customer would think every time. Don't lose sight of your customer. Maybe I'm indirectly answering your question, but the motivations of VC, you know, technology organization often is field of dreams.
Andrew Bartlow: If you build it, they will come. And so you're constantly trying to build out your product and add features and functionality and, and then the customers will love it. And then we'll find product market fit. And, you know, often product market fit is declared before it's actually attained. And then the dangerous gasoline.
Andrew Bartlow: Which can help your car run faster, further, but can also blow it up is poured in the form of money onto that rapidly scaling organization. So product market fit, necessitates finding, or building that product that the market, your customers really want and need and, and appreciate. So. Being thoughtful around, Hey, when are you getting that next round of funding?
Andrew Bartlow: When are you taking that gasoline in which you know, can be dangerous, but can be that huge, huge growth factor for you? Don't announce product market fit prematurely would be one suggestion. So that's VC. In PE, usually the opportunity in a PE back business is profitability. Maybe it's a family run or founder led organiz organization.
Andrew Bartlow: That's been somewhat bloated or doesn't have profession, you know, quote, air quote, professional management practices in place. And so high quality PE firm will look at operational processes and try to find a way to streamline. Get more critical mass, maybe build up a platform across that organization, add some scale to it, make it more efficient.
Andrew Bartlow: Don't lose sight of your customers in the process. Don't make decisions that could put your customer relationships at risk. So give them that seat at the table. Give them the seat at the boardroom and the executive table. But the value drivers in both of these orgs are, are a little different, right? You, you do need to build it before they'll come.
Andrew Bartlow: And you do need to streamline and professionalize operations. I actually won't won't fight with the idea that that's where the attention needs to be placed, but balance the effect on the customer would be, you know, the piece, just not to, not to lose sight of.
"Think as the customer, not about the customer"
Marcus Cauchi: Uh, person who I ha holding very high regard of probably Mark Shafer says "Think as the customer, not about the customer." And I think one of the things that many vendor organizations fail to do is they don't put themselves into a position of direct accountability with their customer. They are afraid to demand right from the outset, that if they are going to take them on as a customer, there is regular accountability and a cadence of accountability.
Marcus Cauchi: And as a result, they start producing product that becomes irrelevant. Now, if you have that regular accountability, then you end up co-developing the product with the customer and those, you, you look at, um, a company like Salesforce, they've been exceptionally smart in developing their community. And, uh, the masks have gone through the boardroom of the idea of creating a community without trying to impose, generate a large amount of customer involvement in the product development cycle. Those really smart ones speak to the unhappy customers because that massively accelerates your product development cycle.
Marcus Cauchi: In fact, Salesforce's research that came out in December 2020 from, uh, a number of people that they researched indicates that that's increases or accelerates your product development cycle by 600%. And it makes it very relevant. And I think, uh, unfortunately, um, people tend to be fixated on their product and their service.
Marcus Cauchi: And as a result, their marketing is bland, it's just noise, it's invasive and interruptive. Their sales people spend time speaking to people who are not in the market to buy, pestering them, filling their, uh, voicemail as a result, they earned the reputation of just being irrelevant. So, you know, your point about context is so crucial.
If you're a scale up organization without the name brand power of a Google, Facebook, Apple, how are you going to attract and retain a workforce?
Andrew Bartlow: Well, I I'd like to make a connection so much of what we're talking about with customers and I, I'm not a customer expert. I'm a worker and employee in management professional. So much of what you're talking about with customers is relevant to attracting and retaining a workforce. What are you doing that compels them to decide to be your employee?
Andrew Bartlow: If you're a scale up organization without the name brand power of a Google, Facebook, Apple, blah, blah, blah, blah, how are you getting the engineering talent to even build your product to begin with? How are you getting the sales people to sell this thing that they've never heard of? That's often one of the larger challenges that I hear about in the, in the series A stage of an organization is where do I find workers?
Andrew Bartlow: Like, how do I get them? Pay in search firms, you know, ridiculous sums to, you know, headhunt people who then leave me after 12 months, as soon as their first equity tranche vests. Uh, that's really challenging for, you know, high growth early stage works. And it goes back to exactly what you're talking about. Think about your workers, think about your employees and the message that you're sending. What's in it for them?
Andrew Bartlow: What are you offering that's compelling to them? What are you offering that is a reason to join you and leave where they're at? Cause we're at, you know, even with the pandemic we're at near full employment and people are paid pretty well and treated pretty well and they're working from home. So why would they join you and then ask yourself why would they stay?
Andrew Bartlow: And is that about free lunches or meaningless value statements that you're not really doing anything about now. Chances are it's about your manager, having a meaningful connection to you. It's about your work, having some bigger connection to the world, you know, more and more millennials wanna be a force to do good.
Andrew Bartlow: And what's that connection? Don't stretch it too far otherwise you'll lose credibility. Be realistic. But again, I think the customer framing is very similar to the worker framing and that's how you grow as a high growth organization. Make some trade offs, be yourself, be authentic and be really thoughtful about what you can do that would be compelling.
Marcus Cauchi: You've touched on so many issues there. If you are trying to become a destination employer, uh, when you are a small player in a very big pond, there needs to be something more compelling. One of the things that I'm really conscious of is that people, the number one reason why people leave a job is they don't feel that they're able to employ their skills and capabilities or grow.
Marcus Cauchi: Often it's cited that the number one reason people leave is their manager. And that is a, a, a contributing factor, but people want to do important and meaningful work. We spend 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 hours a day at work. If it's not stretching us, if it's not giving us meaning and purpose, chances are, uh, we will be disengaged.
Marcus Cauchi: And you look at the Gallup research on this.
Andrew Bartlow: Yeah.
How can a founder make a culture that genuinely values talent, that is appealing and attractive for people who could be making big bucks elsewhere?
Marcus Cauchi: Only 13, 1,3% of employees are highly engaged in their work. Now the single biggest contributing factor to a customer achieving their outcome and the customer's success is at levels of employee engagement and experience. So why would you not make people your central focus?
Marcus Cauchi: The Dilbert cartoon unfortunately, is accurate that they aren't your most important asset. They come ninth after paper clips in most organizations. So if you are a, uh, founder or an owner, how can you make sure that your culture is one that genuinely values talent and makes it an appealing and attractive place for people who could be making big bucks elsewhere to sacrifice the money in return for more fulfilling work?
Andrew Bartlow: Well, it starts with the leader, knowing that that's important, being willing to make it a priority and then carving out the budget and changing or designing the processes to support it. That's the able part of it. And I see this working with lots of high growth companies, so many give it lip service employees are the most important thing.
Andrew Bartlow: We wanna be an employer of choice, great workforce we'll hire a, you know, an under skilled HR leader to, you know, take over culture for us. That's not really effective. You gotta really buy in. You gotta really, authentically support that. Otherwise it's meaningless. And in fact hurts you because you lose trust and credibility.
Andrew Bartlow: If you just give stuff, lip service and, and don't back up. So it starts with the leader authentically, genuinely believing it. And I'd suggest that technical founders are often less oriented towards the, you know, people management. It's an overgeneralization, but tends to be a little bit more challenging for them to think about to, to be able to wear the hat of the average worker in their organization to figure out what's appealing to them and why they would come, why they would stay. And then not project your own values onto them.
Andrew Bartlow: So, oh, I'm, I'm doing this because I wanna be important or I wanna make a ton of money. And for them it might be a little different, like after you get your first round of funding, you as a founder, you're pretty much set. You don't need to worry about paying a mortgage probably for the rest of your life.
Andrew Bartlow: If you've raised money in a, in a reasonably thoughtful way. But your frontline employees, your mid-level managers, the first department heads that you've hired, they've got a lot more risk. So don't project your values onto them. You project values to allow people on your team to make decisions the way that you would make decisions.
Andrew Bartlow: Think about the customer. You think about your employee to be a compelling employer to them. And so that I think we may be calling out an important distinction here. As you're trying to build a workforce, you need to understand what's compelling. There's a term with them "What's in it for me?" In the human resources world we also call that an EVP, an Employment Value Proposition. Why would somebody come? Why would somebody stay? And just very rationally and logically thinking about it. Is it because they get free benefits? Well, everybody has free benefits. Is it because they get free lunch? Everybody has free lunch. Uh, is it because you pay pretty well?
Andrew Bartlow: Well, lots of places pay well. Is it growth? To your point earlier Marcus is a really common factor. It's a little bit of a flywheel effect where if a company is growing, then the people that you hire are more likely to get promoted more rapidly, and they're more likely to see pay and equity opportunities at an accelerated pace than they would at some giant org.
Andrew Bartlow: And so that's one of the more compelling and frankly, more common. With thems EVPs sell stories what, whatever you wanna call it to workers at a early stage high growth organization. You'll have accelerated experience, accelerated development, accelerated income growth versus your alternatives. That's a pretty good story.
Andrew Bartlow: That's pretty compelling. Now where it gets challenging is if they're you're in, you know, the valley. I'm in the San Francisco bay area. And there are 200 funded growth stage startups around here that can offer that same offering. So how will you further differentiate yourself? And usually it's about the people. Usually it's about, does this feel like a good place to work?
Andrew Bartlow: Am I treated well? Do I like the people that I work with?
Marcus Cauchi: You've touched on so many important things and really very insightful. I have a question because I think the syntax in which departments or, uh, areas of the business are higher than built maybe be adding to the problem. Because typically a founder, often technical, doesn't really like to sell.
Marcus Cauchi: So their first hire is a salesperson and then they burn through half a dozen or a dozen of them until they find one that's vaguely competent. And then the next hire is someone in marketing. The next hire is someone in finance. And then, you know, as they grow, they realize they have all these people issues and they recruit HR.
Marcus Cauchi: And realistically in an early stage business marketing is subordinate to sales and HR is normally or often subordinate to finance. And I think that's the wrong way round because everything that touches the customer in any way, shape or form is marketing. And finance is not the place for people to be managed from and where people appear on the balance sheet is also problematic because they appear as a cost.
Marcus Cauchi: They are not an asset. And the smartest founders that I know always see people as an investment. And sure they make bad investments occasionally, but hiring well and developing those people and giving them interesting and meaningful work and a great career path can be the biggest multiplier that any business can have.
Marcus Cauchi: So my question is this. If we really design our plan to ensure that we take the advice of a, a good, knowledgeable HR professional, as we are designing the positions that we are going to need in six months, a year, two years, three years, five years down the road. And we start with that as the foundation stone of building our plan so that we know that we are going to go from X to Y over the next five years.
Marcus Cauchi: And in order to reach Y we have to have these positions in place and the qualities of those people. Will be, um, you know, whatever we, uh, design into those roles. To me that strikes me as being a much more intelligent way to design your business based around those positions, knowing that you are going to face certain challenges along the way, because they're very predictable.
Marcus Cauchi: Uh, you know that as you start to grow and scale, you're going to have to have a strong marketing function to feed the sales operation. You know, that you're gonna need a good account growth team and customer success team. So all of this can be planned for, but most of it in my experience is just a bunch of numbers on a spread sheet.
Marcus Cauchi: With a business plan, which is basically a document that your investors tell you you need. And they never look at. Because, uh, the reality is the only thing they care about is the number at the end of the quarter.
Far too often you have a first time founder, CEO, that doesn't really know what they don't know
Andrew Bartlow: Let's start with one of the assumptions that, that you shared, that you have a, a highly qualified human resources leader, and even further upstream that you have a business leader, a CEO founder that knows what they need. Far too often you have a first time founder, CEO, that doesn't really know what they don't know. They know they need to recruit people. They know they don't wanna deal with employee relations issues. They know management, you know, is something that they need to learn more about. And so, so many high growth human resources leaders are in their role for the first time.
Andrew Bartlow: So a first time CEO that doesn't know what they don't know. And a first time HR leader who might be from Stanford, Yale, whatever, might have spent a couple years at McKinsey, maybe they came up from the office manager track, maybe they came out of recruiting. Very, very few HR leaders at high growth companies have been in it multiple times.
Andrew Bartlow: Very few. Would you hire a CFO to be the head of your company that's never done it before? Would you hire head of marketing that's never done it before? For some reason we're willing to do that for HR.
Marcus Cauchi: Sounds answer to that question often is yes, as well though. Again, what we're looking for, I think is intelligent scarf issue that's learnt and is also willing to take advice because I, I think as a leadership team, in a scale up, you need to have people who are open minded, who are willing to enter into often quite violent, constructive I think is the leader clear about that? And they don't mind being challenged. That's important. An ego is absolutely the enemy.
More experienced HR
Andrew Bartlow: I would argue that you need a more experienced. It's a bigger job, HR is a bigger job at an earlier stage company than it is in a later stage company.
Andrew Bartlow: You're doing the foundation building. You're doing the influence often with a CEO founder who has less of a frame of reference. They're not stupid. They're not bad people, not at all by far the opposite, but to have the influence in those early stage design steps, if you haven't been there done that, it's really, it's really challenging.
Andrew Bartlow: You end up being more of the order taker. Yes, let's go throw more parties. Yes, let's go have more events. That's not the big effect. It's job design. It's you know, how, how does everything align? It's pushing back on, on process and approach. And that's a bigger job where you need somebody way more experienced to increase the chance of success.
Andrew Bartlow: Now I'm not pitching myself to go sit in those jobs. I've done them and like many people, you do it once or twice and you don't wanna do it again. It's a, it's a tough slog. I started a exec ed program for first time HR leaders. Because so many of these, these folks are, are really bright working really hard, but they just don't have the frame or reference of what's needed.
People Leader Accelerator
Andrew Bartlow: So I started something called People Leader Accelerator that teaches HR leaders at high growth organizations, basically how to do the job, what to look for, how to influence their leaders, that sort of thing. And I feel like that's a way to up level the profession. Increase the chance of success of those people.
Andrew Bartlow: And increase the chance of success of those organizations. Until we start hiring, or until we start building more, really high quality experienced HR leaders that are willing to go into those jobs, we need to support the people that are in them and get them the skills and the experience to be successful.
Marcus Cauchi: Well, I, I fundamentally believe that good HR is worth its weight in gold. Unfortunately, the reality is that most organizations treat HR as the cheap substitute for poor legal advice. They, uh, have people who are basically dealing with crap, like disciplinary contracts and all of that stuff, which is important.
Marcus Cauchi: But if you don't start with the premise that people are crucial to your success, then chances are HR will be subverted from its real purpose, which is to, um, help you grow and develop and attract the quality of person that you need in order to achieve your mission and purpose. And instead it's a symptom of having made those early mistakes, and then it's effectively putting a sticking plaster on a cancer.
Marcus Cauchi: And you're just trying to mitigate some of the damage and collateral damage that can be created by firing people or by not providing them with the resources that they need to grow and develop. And that I think is, uh, putting the cart before the horse.
Andrew Bartlow: Uh, classic startup approach is test and learn, and iterate quickly.
Andrew Bartlow: You can do that when you're doing performance marketing. You have, you know, some sort of Google AdWords or Facebook performance marketing, and you know that that works. You do your AB test. Oh, okay. Something else works. It's a lot harder to do that with people. They have long memories. It's not like a B to C business where there are hundreds of millions of potential customers for you.
Andrew Bartlow: And if it doesn't work with customer X, it might work with customer Y. If you've got your 50 people and you've screwed something up, or it hasn't really landed well, you don't just try the next thing. They have memories. And that has an impact on your organization. You all I'll make another comparison. Do you want an HR person that is more operational and more functionally oriented?
Andrew Bartlow: It's like hiring an accountant to, to be your CFO. They can count the beans, but can they raise the capital and pitch your organization and structure your capital stack in such a way that it adds value to your overall enterprise? Or hiring an advertiser as your Chief Marketing Officer, you miss out on the brand, you miss out on the storytelling, you miss out on the integration with sales and product.
Andrew Bartlow: So the opportunity for these people roles for these human resources roles is the broader alignment, the design thinking, figuring out how it all works together. And yes, you can get by on common sense, you can get pretty far, but chances are you'll have a shaky foundation. As, just as things start to get harder for you at the 50 to 150-person level, that's where cracks in the foundation or gaps that were never solved for really start to show up.
What are you struggling with? What are you wrestling with at the moment?
Marcus Cauchi: Right. Again, fabulous insight. Andrew we've come to time, unfortunately, cuz I could talk to you for hours. Tell me this. What are you struggling with? What are you wrestling with at the moment?
Andrew Bartlow: I'm trying to figure out how to be more useful. I'm a life lifelong operator, been inside organ organizations and HR leadership roles sometimes at the top, sometimes in the middle.
Andrew Bartlow: And I've been consulting for the past four years or so. I'm leading this accelerator program, uh, to help HR leaders at high growth orgs be better, but it's super high touch. I, I have call it a dozen people in the program at any given time. So I'm trying to touch more people. I'm trying to be more useful to more people.
Andrew Bartlow: That's why I'm appearing on, you know, your podcast and, you know, a handful of others. That's why I wrote the book Scaling for Success. It comes out in, uh, in July. Pre-orders should be available on Amazon any day now. Columbia university business school is publishing it really proud to be associated with them.
Andrew Bartlow: What am I struggling with? I'm trying to figure out how to be more useful in less of a hand to hand, individual way and get a little, little broader reach. I've been really lucky. I had a great exit from a, from a real estate tech company, you know, so it's less about trying to make the next nickel for me.
Andrew Bartlow: It's about trying to up level my profession and, and having bigger impact.
What are your customers telling you will make you more useful?
Marcus Cauchi: What are your customers telling you will make you more useful?
Andrew Bartlow: My customers want more of my time and you know, that's what is a non-renewable resource. So that's where I'm trying to get some higher leverage, go through some higher leveraged, uh, avenues like this program where I can talk to a dozen people a time or a podcast where, you know, you, you have thousands of listeners.
Andrew Bartlow: So that's where I'm trying to just be a look for those force multipliers.
What useful advice you would've given to a 23-year old Andrew that he would probably ignored?
Marcus Cauchi: Okay. Great stuff. So tell me this, you've got a golden ticket and you can whisper in the ear of the idiot Andrew aged 23. What one choice bit of advice would you give him that, you know, he would've found useful, but probably ignored?
Andrew Bartlow: Oh boy. It's something along the lines of "Don't be so hard on yourself." It's okay to have a little bit of patience. I left a lot of jobs. So in 20 something years of working inside companies, I think I, I think I quit jobs to go take the next job that was one level up on the career ladder 7, 8, 9 times, a lot of times.
Andrew Bartlow: So I never stayed anywhere more than four, four and a half years. And, uh, and it's okay to go through a couple of cycles. It's okay to deal with a, a manager that isn't your favorite manager of all time. And I think, uh, don't be so hard on yourself. Continue to have a long term view. I think that would, uh, have helped the 23 year old Andrew enjoy the ride a lot more.
Andrew Bartlow: I'm enjoying things a lot right now, but that's because I got lucky along the way. And my wish for more people that do what I do is that they don't have to get lucky. Is that they can chart their path and be successful with some persistence and some, and some patience. And everything's much smoother for them.
Marcus Cauchi: I have a belief that wisdom is wasted on the old and youth is wasted on the young.
Andrew Bartlow: Pretty good one.
Marcus Cauchi: Wrong way round.
How can people get a hold of you?
Marcus Cauchi: Excellent. Uh, Andrew, how can people get a hold of you?
Andrew Bartlow: My website is series B as in boy consulting.com, seriesbconsulting.com. Drop me an email. I publish articles there. I have a LinkedIn, uh, page through Series B Consulting. That's the best way to get in touch. And if you're interested in the, uh, HR leader exec ed program, you can find out more about it there as well.
What would you recommend people read so that they understand more effectively how they can leverage people as their greatest asset?
Marcus Cauchi: Excellent. And one final question then, what would you recommend people read so that they understand more effectively how they can, uh, leverage people as their greatest asset?
Andrew Bartlow: Wow. Let's start with my book. Scaling for Success. I'm just so thankful to have been, uh, that, that it was read and, and recommended by some of the greatest practitioners in my field from Lin Oldham, the head of HR at Zoom, AJ Thomas, the head of HR at Google X The Moonshot Factory, Dave Ulrich, the father of modern HR, John Boudro. Like all, all these people said, "Hey, this doesn't really exist." We have lots of books on management and we have lots of anecdotes on rocket ship startups. But what we don't have is something bridging the gap of academic and practical and what really works in terms of management practices at high growth works.
Andrew Bartlow: And so start there, I haven't come across anything that, that fills that donut hole yet. Closest thing to it is probably Elad Gil's High Growth Handbook. That's gold. I reference that a number of times in my work, he has a much broader view with product and sales and marketing. And whereas I focus primarily on people management, but Elad Gill's book is, is fantastic as well.
Marcus Cauchi: Excellent. Andrew Bartlow, thank you.
Andrew Bartlow: Marcus, my pleasure.
Marcus Cauchi: Excellent. So this is Marcus Cauchi signing off once again from The Inquisitor Podcast. If you found this useful and insightful, then please do like, comment, share, and subscribe. Now, if you are the owner or the CEO of a tech company, and your goal is to grow your business and achieve genuine sustainable hypergrowth by all means contact Andrew, but also get in touch with me.
Marcus Cauchi: Especially if you want highly engaged and highly productive sales, marketing, customer success and account growth team. And if you wanna keep customers for decades, then get in touch with me. My email is email@example.com or direct message me on LinkedIn. And for those of you who aren't yet familiar, we've launched a global community called Sales: A force for good.
Marcus Cauchi: And our mission is to remind us why we exist because of, not in spite of the cutomer. Its to serve, to raise selling as a profession and make it an aspirational career choice. So if you would like to get involved in that, if you buy into that mission, then look for the #Salesaforceforgood or #saffg and DM me or email me.
Marcus Cauchi: In the meantime, stay safe and happy selling. Bye-bye.